Windows 7 Is a Snooze
Oct 29, 2009 4:00 AM PT
Windows 7 is on my wish list.
I wish Microsoft didn't raise the equipment ante required to run its new operating system. I wish Microsoft built in an easy upgrade path from Windows XP. I wish Microsoft provided Windows 7 with some kind of Wow Factor that gave me a compelling reason to change my computing strategy.
Instead, all I got in my experience with Microsoft's latest OS release is a yawn.
OK, Microsoft seems to have gotten it right this time around. I expected as much. With nearly a full year of intense user feedback through seemingly countless beta and RC releases, the Microsoft Windows 7 development team prevented the massive market embarrassment that would have resulted from a Vista II debacle.
Still, the lack of a single killer app built into Windows 7 or a must-have new feature left me unconvinced about migrating to the new OS.
Windows 7 Outcasts
My first hands-on experience with Windows 7 came in February. Back then, I was an avid Windows XP user. Much like mom and pop shops -- and even larger company operations today -- my work as a technology journalist accumulated a hardware inventory that is slowly aging. Now, if I decide to adopt Windows 7 as my workhorse OS, I'll face countless hours of work manually reinstalling and testing dozens of peripherals and applications that may or may not work in Windows 7, with or without its XP Mode feature.
If the Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor software is accurate, most of my computer inventory, though not really all that old, would require component upgrades just to play nice with the Windows 7 Ultimate edition Microsoft sent me as the basis for this review.
My two main work computers -- a desktop and a 17-inch wide-screen laptop -- have RAM or video card issues. A second desktop's integrated motherboard components make adapting it for a Windows 7 installation an impossibility. My newest laptop addition, bought last year with Vista installed, is the only one of my computers that will run Windows 7.
Having worked in the new OS for the last week, nearly around the clock, I am sure that die-hard Windows XP users will hate Windows 7. I am also certain that frustrated Windows Vista users will love Windows 7, once they adjust to its nuances.
One reason for this is the radical change in the GUI (graphical user interface) between Windows XP and Windows 7. Vista started to break away from legacy compatibility and user procedures. Windows 7 continues those usability breaks.
Actually, I have a little of both of those computing personalities. I have a love/hate relationship with Windows 7. If installing this new OS on my newest laptop were the only hardware issue, as a consumer, I would seriously consider migrating to the new OS. However, sometime after my experience with the Windows 7 beta, I migrated to Linux rather than replace my aging home office hardware.
I still have Windows XP running on my workhorse laptop and one desktop using a dual boot with a Linux OS. Open source Linux distributions are free, and they work perfectly with my legacy hardware. I have them configured to duplicate much of the look and feel of the Windows environment. They provide some impressive bells and whistles, along with some features not available in Windows.
Now that my confession is public about my Linux leanings, I should note that I like much of what I experienced with Windows 7. It installed on a virgin partition on my Vista laptop in under 20 minutes. The installation routine automatically configured a dual boot so I could access both Vista and Windows 7 on the same computer.
I downloaded the OpenOffice suite, free AVG virus protection, the Firefox Web browser, and several other open source apps in minutes. Windows 7 performed surprising fast, given that Microsoft Vista imitates molasses running uphill on the same computer.
Bootup and shutdown both take about 40 seconds. Programs I use all the time such as a Web browser, word processing, and image file manipulation work fast and reliably.
I encountered something of a learning curve, though, in adjusting to the new file management system Windows 7 uses. The library folders allow different types of files to be saved by the category of content in them, so related types of files wind up in the same place.
It also took some time getting used to new features that do not exist in Windows XP or worked differently than in Vista. Essentially, though, I was able to start several working tasks as I would in Windows XP and Vista and then get familiar with the changes.
My biggest dislike in Windows 7 is the Homegroups file-sharing feature. I erred in responding to a prompt during installation that asked if I wanted to have Windows 7 share files with other users. I selected no, but I later figured out I should have selected yes. I still have not found how to undo that transgression.
Even using the menu options in Control Panel, Windows 7 blocked my access to existing files and folders on the Vista partition housed on Drive C. Windows 7 resides on Drive D.
An annoyance occurs each time I install a program. By default, the installation routine wants to put the folder entry in "C:/Program Files" even though Windows 7 is installed on drive D. I have to remember to change this default setting or take extra time to uninstall and reinstall the applications.
Despite what other reviewers have professed, Windows 7 is very much the look and feel of Windows Vista. Granted, the glitches are largely fixed. Still, having an interface that strongly resembles its clunkier predecessor does little to build my trust and confidence in upgrading.
The User Account Control (UAC) is still a bother in Windows 7, but Microsoft now makes it possible to lessen the annoyance when installing new programs or changing user settings. However, the file search feature is now fully integrated into the OS and actually provides useful, speedy results.
Perhaps the task bar in Windows 7 is one of the most noticeable improvements over both Windows XP and Windows Vista. Its new design might even be an improvement over the system Macs use. Users can distinguish quick launch icons from icons of minimized programs already running, for example. Much more launch functionality is built into the task bar as well, such as full-screen previews of thumbnails.
Generally, I tired of trying to relearn what Microsoft fixed or changed in its latest OS release. When something didn't work the same way it did in XP or Vista, it took too much time to figure out.
Microsoft added too many new things for me to learn. For instance, how do I find and use all of the new tools? How can I use wizards and dialog boxes more effectively?
Is the Windows firewall any better, or do I still need to use a third-party firewall app? What about Windows 7's new Problem Steps Recorder (PSR)?
No Hurt Feelings?
I could dump Linux along with Windows XP and my one installation of Vista and start all over again with Windows 7. After all, Microsoft gave me two program keys, so I can activate Windows 7 and continue to use it on two computers. So thanks for the free revamped OS.
Please do not be offended, Mr. Microsoft, if I slide that installation DVD on the shelf over my test bench and remove the D: drive partition when the 30-day trail period expires. No, I didn't use the activation keys.
Canonical's Ubuntu is debuting a new version of that open source OS on Thursday, and the Puppy Linux distro I use is also readying an upgrade.
Windows 7, I'll get back to you when I'm done checking out the really free alternatives.