You've got Windows 7 questions, I've got answers

You've got Windows 7 questions, I've got answers

Summary: My first look at the pre-beta PDC release of Windows 7 inspired plenty of great feedback and questions, along with an understandable amount of confusion and apprehension. Is it really faster? Is the new desktop/taskbar UI just a fresh coat of paint on the Vista interface? What's in it for corporate customers? I’ll address some of the most common questions and comments in this post.


Special Report: Windows 7

It’s impossible to offer a comprehensive evaluation of a product as big and sprawling as Windows 7 with just screenshots and specs. That’s doubly true when looking at a preliminary release that’s still missing some key features. My first look at the pre-beta PDC release of Windows 7 inspired plenty of great feedback and questions, along with an understandable amount of confusion and apprehension. I’ll address some of the most prevalent questions and comments in this post.

Isn’t the new Windows 7 user interface just a coat of paint slapped over the Vista UI?

Short answer: no. The build I have to work with is very Vista-like, missing the new Start menu, desktop, and taskbar enhancements. The demos I’ve seen here at PDC use more recent builds where those features are available. Those features will reach users in the form of a beta “early next year.”

In the past 48 hours, I've had a chance to get a closer look at those new UI features. One thing becomes obvious after only a few minutes of playing with the new interface: The Windows 7 design team has paid an enormous amount of attention to small details and have focused on workflows and end-to-end experiences, not just on dialog boxes and feature sets. The result feels comfortingly familiar to any Windows user, although the overall experience is often significantly different when you break down its small details.

One example that illustrates the point is the difference between Backup programs in Windows Vista and Windows 7. The Windows 7 version, shown below, includes a key feature missing from its Vista predecessor – the ability to include or exclude a folder from a backup set. But that’s not all: the entire workflow of the backup process has been streamlined dramatically. It takes 10-15 clicks to perform an image backup in Windows Vista; on a Windows 7 notebook I tested, the operating system offered to perform a backup when I plugged in an external hard drive. The entire process took three clicks and less than 10 minutes. The customization screen shown here added only two clicks to the entire process.

Windows 7 backup utility

Is it faster? Really?

Measuring performance is tough enough with released code. For something billed as a “pre-beta” release and offered primarily for developers, it’s inappropriate and frankly foolish to even attempt granular measurements of speeds and startup times. My subjective impression is that this OS feels quick and impressively responsive, but I’m not prepared to break out the stopwatch until I have a more polished build.

In fact, when I sat down with Windows boss Steven Sinofsky for a one-on-one chat on Monday, he noted that much of the work Microsoft has done with Windows 7 involves interaction with hardware OEMs, helping them see how decisions they make – tuning the BIOS, choosing drivers, and pre-installing software – impact overall performance.

Sinofsky noted that the system I’m currently traveling with – a Sony Vaio TZ2000 with Windows Vista Business – will start up the PDC build of Windows 7 in 15 seconds. I’ll be installing the Windows 7 bits on this machine to see that level of performance for myself.

Isn’t this just a blatant ripoff of OS X/KDE/etc.?

Tracing the ancestry of UI innovations is tricky. There are, after all, only so many ways to interact with pixels on a screen to make things happen. And it’s foolish not to pay attention to what competitors past and present have done. As I pointed out in my first look, the new taskbar clearly borrows some concepts from the OS X dock, but it retains the Windows DNA and adds some smart behaviors that one-up Apple, most notably Jump Lists and live, clickable previews.

Ironically, the company with the most right to complain about UI ripoffs is Microsoft itself. In a presentation at PDC yesterday, Microsoft Senior Program Manager Chaitanya Sareen traced the lineage of those big taskbar buttons back to Windows 1.01, which was released in 1985. Desktop gadgets? Those were a key part of IE4’s Active Desktop in 1997.

What’s in it for corporate customers?

If you’re an IT pro who’s chosen to stick with XP and eschew Vista, many of the enterprise-focused benefits of Windows 7 are features you could have gotten with a Vista deployment, most notably improvements in group policy and image-based deployment. But there's plenty of good stuff in Windows 7 as well, as my ZDNet colleague Mary Jo Foley outlined earlier today.

Microsoft hasn’t spent a lot of its Windows 7 demo time on corporate features. But the most noteworthy addition I've seen so far is native support for virtual hard drive (VHD) images. Using Windows 7, you’ll be able to mount a VHD as a local drive and, more importantly, boot from that virtual image. The most obvious application is rolling out a standard corporate image to remote workers, such as those in a call center, who don’t require local data storage and are capable of working in a strictly managed, locked-down configuration.

Is the Shut Down button fixed?

Yes. It’s not in the PDC builds, but the new Start menu that will be available in the beta release next year has replaced the confusing Vista power-button icon with an easy-to-customize alternative, shown here.

Windows 7 shutdown button

I know that you, dear readers, have questions of your own. Hit the Talkback button and ask away. I’ll answer the most interesting questions in my next installment.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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  • No images in the article.

    IMAGE is in place of the photos.
    • Fixed

      You managed to get there in the two minutes between the original post and the update. ;)

      Ed Bott
    • Redundant article title

      "I've got answers", short for "I have got answers" is redundant. It should be written "I have answers".
      Thanks to AOL "you've got mail", we all are losing our ability to communicate correctly.
      • NOT redundant; grammatically correct.

        Ed wrote the title in <i>present</i> participle tense: "I have got answers". You wrote your retort in <i>present</i> tense: "I have answers". It's a matter of creative choice. Though you may feel one is clumsier than the other, both are correct; neither is redundant. Quit nitpicking and go back to your English 101 class.
        Flying Pig
      • Re: Redundancy Issues

        a) tgibson, you are absolutely correct, in that many of the "marketing" phrases used in today's culture have a tendency to ruin our grammar and usage of english. As a college student (AA in CIS), it irks me to see things like that overlooked, but, to add to the sinking quality of english... "it is what it is".

        b) I'm not sure when AOL's "you've got mail" wav was first deployed, but I was [u]required[/u] to use "You've got questions, we've got answers", by Tandy (Radio Shack), back in 1990, so the source of that particular phrase may not indeed by AOL's fault ;)

        c) He wrote a really decent post. Why is it necessary, considering he's offering some helpful (to me, anyway) insight on a topic we're all interested in, that you have to bash the guy on grammatical issues?

        Yeah, okay, I'm as miffed as you that english is being turned into a garbage language in its common usage, today... but c'mon, it's a tech blog.
        Thanks for keeping us aware of the future of Win-7, Ed (Bott), and I'll continue to "got more questions".

        • Thanks for that (and a note on copy editing)

          I started my career in journalism more than 30 years ago as a proofreader and copy editor for some very high powered national magazines. I've memorized mny share of style books. Over time, I've learned that casual usage is fine and that clear communication is much more important than grammatical purity. That said, my tteth still grate when I hear "between you and I" ...

          Ed Bott
          • Not sure if you're trying to be funny but...

            I'm not sure if you're trying to be funny but reading this comment made me chuckle!
  • Shadow copy....

    is the Shadow Copy interface easier to work with for end users?

    Is the Network and Sharing Center still terrible?
    • Watch the keynote videos

      If you watched the keynote videos you would know the
      answers to your questions.

      1 - Yes its slightly "better" although none of our
      users have any problems with it - maybe your's are
      just dumb? or you haven't trained them properly?

      2 - Firstly, Network and Sharing Center is not
      terrible, you are just use to doing things the old way
      - please LEARN (and understand) how to make use of it
      and you will find that its a far better method.
      Secondly, yes there have been changes to it but the
      changes are only for integration of the new HomeGroup
      support etc. Overall, the layout is still much the
      same - and it works perfectly fine in my would.
      • Network and Sharing Center is a mess in Vista

        They wouldn't have changed it if it wasn't terrible, really. A lot of people complain about it; I'm not a big fan, either.

        I have nightmares when it comes to networking in Vista. I connect to the internet via PPPoE, and it's dead slow. The same computer connects instantly in Mac OS X, so it's an OS problem.

        Are there any changes in Windows 7 regarding PPPoE? For instance, can you autodial on OS startup?
        • Huh?

          "They wouldn't have changed it if it wasn't terrible"

          Of course they would. Something doesn't have to be terrible for Microsoft to improve it based on how they observe customers using the it. Compared to the black-hole that is pre-Vista networking, Network & Sharing Center is a big improvement. And it gets even better in Win7!

          If you're having issues with PPPoE, I suggest that it's not Vista! As per WikiPedia:

          Since the point to point connection established has an MTU lower than that of standard Ethernet (typically 1492 vs Ethernet's 1500), it can sometimes cause problems when Path MTU discovery is defeated by poorly configured firewalls.

          I STRONGLY encourage you to offload your PPPoE to a router box (they're really cheap these days) which can also improve your security and safety and simplify your configuration.
      • Is this satire?

        Or are you just rude?

        Shadow copy and Networking are both overcomplicated.
  • DPI scaling of gadgets

    I'm amazed Microsoft seems to be ignoring the fact that desktop gadgets do not scale with DPI. This is going to become a major problem as screens get larger. This is also very disappointing considering the number of posts on the E7 blog discussing DPI awareness throughout Windows. Any chance you could ask someone for some more info on this? And if it will change by RTM?

    Thanks for the great coverage by the way Ed!
    • huh?

      Do you have proof that gadgets don't scale/resize?
      • yes

        see this post:

        and compare the gadget sizes in the first two images - they are identical
        • Not even the latest version of the GUI

          I hope that you have noticed that the GUI used on the
          pictures of your link is the one of the build 6801
          while the latest build,the one shown at the PDC2008,
          is the build 6933.

          Assuming that the GUI of the latest build is in a
          noticable way more sophisticated than the one on the
          pictures you linked, it is safe to assume that the
          behavior of Gadgets with different DPI will change or
          has already changed.
          • I hope you have noticed...

            that the poster was ASKING about whether or not the problem was being addressed.
            Telling him he's not using the latest version is pointless, it doesn't answer his question.

            " is safe to assume that the behavior of Gadgets with different DPI will change or has already changed."

            In other words, you have no idea and are just making a wild guess.
          • Well

            It was perhaps too hard for you to find out that the
            main point of my answer was that the GUI is still
          • ok...

            then you should have made your post a reply to the story because it sure as h#ll wasn't a valid answer to the question he asked

            and if your making remarks that don't in any way answer the question asked whether you mean to or not your just trolling
    • I think you'll like the Beta

      'nuff said ;)