Windows 7: Microsoft Gets Back on Track
Most people like to fix their mistakes, especially the big ones. Anyone who has had even a casual point-and-click encounter with Vista would know that, indeed, Microsoft made a blunder. But my experience with Windows 7 suggests Microsoft is back on track. Here’s what’s right with the new operating system.
The road to Windows 7 wasn’t easy. You might remember that Vista’s campaign slogan was “the WOW starts now.” But the WOW we got wasn’t the kind of excited exuberance from something new. No, it was a much more subdued sardonic “…wow…”
It was bad. A resource hog, a bloated OS install, and the God-awful UAC that nearly asked you if you were sure you wanted to open a .jpeg file.
Return to Form
So enter 2009: After getting slaughtered by John Hodgman in Mac vs. PC ads, Microsoft kicked into high gear and reworked their (in?)famous OS. While hardly the seventh iteration of anything Windows-related; they dubbed it “Windows 7.” Come October 22nd, it will grace computers everywhere.
For those of us who were eager to start the relationship earlier, the release candidate was available for download. I courted the young OS for a while and found it quite mature for its age.
Anyway, quirky euphemisms aside, it’s a really solid platform. The first thing that came to mind while using it was the word “snappy.” The actual install of Windows didn’t take terribly long, and even the first boot up felt relatively quick compared to a lengthy post-install boot I’d come to expect from Windows XP. All my hardware on my ‘Franken-Dell’ desktop was recognized. I was rocking Windows 7 and it felt good. What’s better — it felt easy.
I didn’t run it through a bunch of bench marking programs or any of that good stuff, but I did install some of my favorite browsers (Chrome, FireFox, Opera), a game (Counter Strike Source), and poked through the user interface thoroughly. There’s some nice new features like native support for burning ISOs, mounting virtual hard drives and a virtual XP mode (if your CPU supports virtualization).
The biggest deal is the re-worked taskbar that aggregates applications into an icon block — not a long rectangular task. The icons can also be ‘pinned’ to the taskbar, making them a permanent feature (since quick-launch is now defunct).The other drool-inducing feature is an abundant use of transparencies, more so than Vista. A special “Aero Peek” feature fades all open windows to a near invisible opacity to reveal the desktop. Like Vista, the taskbar will show live thumbnails of the programs running when hovered over with the pointer.
Unlike Vista, Windows 7 adheres to the idea that a usable experience is capable from the minimum system requirements. (1GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM) That’s where the R&D polish shines. A colleague of mine had nothing but good news on a crummy old Celeron with a gig of RAM. He used the built-in XP migration tool and reported all his applications functioning just fine. My neighbor said it ran flawlessly on his ASUS netbook and found it more usable than XP. The specs I ran it on were pretty modest, too: P4 2.4GHz, 1GB RAM and an old AGP video card.
And while this is just anecdotal evidence, take into account: to get a marginally usable experience out of Windows Vista required at least 2GB of RAM. The very fact that the OS doesn’t feel ‘bogged down’ correlates directly with productivity and general happiness with your computing experience. And in case you didn’t feel cozy enough, Windows 7 has come with a bucket-load of new themes, backgrounds and sound schemes. Once upon a time it was called “Windows 98 PLUS!” but now it’s free and built in. Thanks, Microsoft.
But it’s not all roses, you see. Windows 7, despite being the redemption of the Windows platform, still suffers some silly issues. Pet peeve of mine: there’s still no spell check in Notepad. Why? Also: to quote John Sebastian “the names have all changed since you’ve hung around” — an annoying little tidbit is that the location of a lot of well-known Control Panel features have been renamed, regrouped or altogether changed. Vista did this too, but it seemed to me that Windows 7 did it again. Lastly, WinFS has been delayed (correction: killed). No surprise there.
But the big deal is that with Windows 7 being more lightweight and usable, hardware and software can both be positioned without ridiculous requirements. A tablet computer with an Atom processor will run Windows 7 just as snappy as your gaming rig with an Intel i7. And that’s just grand.
Good Product, Bad Marketing
So kudos to Microsoft. You got your OS down pat. It’s about time. There’s just one snag. You messed up the marketing again. Dear Reader, are you interesting in hosting a Windows 7 Launch House Party?
Start your “wow” anytime after clicking that link.
And I think we know what kind of “wow” that’ll be.