Windows 7 - Revolutionary or evolutionary?

Windows 7 - Revolutionary or evolutionary?

Summary: I was lucky enough to get my hands on the Windows 7 beta 1 before Christmas, and I have to say that the more I use the new OS, the more I like it. But what's new in Windows 7, and will this be enough to convince users to embrace the new OS?


Note: A couple of weeks ago Ed Bott and I decided that we'd each write a piece offering up our view of what's new in Windows 7. This is my piece. You can find Ed Bott's thoughts on the subject here. I think that it's interesting that we both agree on two things - that performance is key in Windows 7, and that the new OS has no single killer feature.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on the Windows 7 beta 1 before Christmas, and I have to say that the more I use the new OS, the more I like it. But what's new in Windows 7, and will this be enough to convince users to embrace the new OS?

Gallery: Windows 7 beta 1

Revolutionary or evolutionary?

Is the new Taskbar revolutionary? In my mind no. It consists of little more than a few evolutionary tweaks, and I can't help but feel that most of which are of dubious benefit to the end userOne thing that Windows 7 brings with it is a revamped interface, and since this is the first thing that most people will notice about 7, it's Microsoft's first opportunity to create a good impression. In this refresh of the Windows OS Microsoft has made some radical changes, such as introducing a new Taskbar that's not only visually different to the XP or Vista Taskbar, it also brings with it new features such as Jump Lists and a revamped Preview Pane. Is the new Taskbar revolutionary? In my mind no. It consists of little more than a few evolutionary tweaks, and I can't help but feel that most of these changes are of dubious benefit to the end user.

The revamping of the UI goes much deeper than making visual changes, and Microsoft has added new methods of managing Windows through technologies such as Aero Shake (shaking a window to minimize other windows that are visible), Aero Peek (a way of seeing your desktop without minimizing open windows), and new ways of maximizing and tiling windows. These additions, while small, are in fact revolutionary and something that I found myself quickly growing fond of and missing when I moved to Vista or XP (or Mac and Linux for that matter). Technologies such as Shake and Peek do in fact feel revolutionary in that they change the way you interact with applications.

Another feature that's not entirely revolutionary but has the scope to changing the way that people interact with the OS are the new multi-touch features. Personally I've not too sure as to how widespread support for multi-touch will be, so it's hard to gauge just how much of an impact it will have over the lifespan of the OS, especially given that Tablet PCs are more of a niche product than ever and interest has shifted to low-cost ultra-portables.

Windows Explorer also sees some changes. Two that stand out are libraries, which are used to aggregate content as documents, music, pictures, and videos into virtual folders, and federated search which takes search beyond the hard drive. Revolutionary? No. Useful? I'm undecided on that one. While both no doubt offer some degree of upside, both also have the scope to confuse the end user.

For those times when things go wrong, Microsoft has developed some new and innovative troubleshooting tools that attempts to diagnose and fix problems. While they're not perfect, but they're a darn sight better than any troubleshooter previously shipped with Windows so that puts them into the revolutionary category.

Then there are changes to the core of the OS itself. I'm not going to bore you by listing all the minutia because there's one change and one change alone that will benefit everyone - increased performance.  With Windows 7 Microsoft took the revolutionary step of making performance the top priority. Great end user performance is, without a doubt, the killer feature of Windows 7. It's the killer feature because it's one that everyone benefits from. Not everyone will like the new Taskbar, and not everyone will bother to learn how to get the most out of features such as Peek and Shake, but every single Windows 7 user will benefit from the performance improvements. Users will experience a performance boost when they boot up their system, work with files, run applications, play games. In fact, almost every single aspect of the OS benefits from improved performance.

Next -->

Windows 7 - Vista 2.0 or XP killer?

Here's the killer question - is Windows 7 just Vista with a new wrapper, or is it the OS that will finally put the nail in XP's coffin?

Gallery: Windows 7 install/UI

Beta 1 is well-polished, robust, reliable and highly backward compatible with the current hardware and software ecosystemTo answer this question we need to go back in time a few years and look at why Windows Vista got the bad reputation that it did. Rather than rehash the whole debacle, I think that the main issue comes down to the RTM release being plagued by performance and compatibility issues that took Microsoft a good year to fully address. By that time the early adopters had made their mind up about the OS, made sure plenty of people knew how they felt, and that sealed the fate of the OS.

There's very little doubt in my mind that Windows 7 is different. The pre-beta and beta builds that I've handled are some of the best code I've seen come out of Microsoft for a long time. Beta 1 is well-polished, robust, reliable and highly backward compatible with the current hardware and software ecosystem. On top of that, the improvements that it brings, while not all being revolutionary, are good additions rather than being hollow and superficial (I'm looking at you Aero!). That said, a system that's still running XP because it couldn't handle Vista is unlikely to be much better with 7. OK, performance-wise, things might be a little better, but the fact remains that the XP to 7 upgrade is likely to mean spending on new hardware and software - which might be too much of a price to pay under the current economic climate. If you're looking at 7 and thinking that it's a magic bullet for compatibility headaches then you're in for a disappointment.

Windows 7 still needs to pass the real-world security test (it'll be interesting to see what effect the tweaked UAC will have on security) but that's a test that every OS is continually up against. Here it's hard to offer up any more than a "wait and see" ...

But what will existing XP and Vista users make of 7? So far, feedback from people running Beta 1 has been very positive indeed, and there doesn't seem to be any one feature that's attracted too much negative feedback.

So far, so good. Roll on the RC release ...

<< Home >>

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, IT Employment, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • certainly evolutionary.

    The last revolution in an OS gui was WIMP, which we are still using today.

    The last revolution in functionality in an OS was a GUI.

    Linux and OSX are in the same boat, despite their protests.
    • Yawn...Yawn...Another attempt to flog Vista.

      Big FAT Yawn!

      Windows 7 = Vista SP1

      Seriously though, you all should try OpenSUSE or Kubuntu. Makes silly old Windows users seem like dinosaurs that are looking for another hit of their placebo crack, hoping it will do the trick. Boo on Windows 7.

      I say MS should merge Windows in to some form of LinuxWindows hybrid. That would get my dollars.
      • Windows 7, sad case of "Penguin Envy"

        C'mon Microsoft, just get past it and admit already that you just have a simple case of Penguin Envy.
        • OpenSUSE...Viva la Novell

          Actaully, if you look at it, now that Novell has finally figured out that nobody wants NetWare, they're finally starting to make some headway in the market place. They have a really great, and fully comprehensive suite of IT tools.

          Yeah, fine, call me OpenSUSE's little drummer boy. Whatever. I speak from experience that it's a contender. Now if only someone would come up with some good RAD tools for Linux they way VB and Delphi revolutionized Windows development.
          • You teach people to talk to themselves?

            What part of tutoring in marketing says threading your own troll is smart?
          • You teach people to talk to themselves?

            At least he is unanimous in his thought process :)
          • I'm hoping that

            he forgot to change to his sock puppet before posting the first response, not that the voices in his head all agree. ;-)
          • too bad for Novell

            UYnfortunately Novell will never be capable of the kind of advances that are required in todays work as long as they limit the expandabilty and configuration options available to their users thats why the are going by the way of the dinosaur if you don't continue to evolve extinction is your only remaining future.
        • lol Penguin envy? Rediculous....

          how can there be any envy for a product which is vastly superior to your supposed iconic penguin. You might want to learn enough about the base functionality oof the OS before you make assinine statements such as this as it only makes you look like an idiot.
      • Poor Marketing My friend.

        Strange way of marketing a product by insulting someones opinion. Especially given your username.

        Here is a bit of "marketing" advice. Try and entice your potential clients over to your way of thinking. Works a hell of a lot better than calling them "silly old Windows users"

        And therein lies the problem with Linux. If it was not for people such as yourself frequenting the forums then the uptake of Linux may be greater.

        I myself would like to get into Linux, but I don't like being called "a silly windows user". In fact I don't like being called "silly" at any point. Therefore I am now less likely to try linux because I associate it with rude, juvenile and egotistical geeks.

        Sorry, but the Linux community keeps shooting itself in the foot.

        You do realise that you are merely alienating the people Linux NEEDS.

        MarketingTutor. How ironic.
        • Unfortunately they don't realize that.

          Being thouroughly familiar and profficient in the Linux arena I have to agree with Bozzer. Even though I have used both systems I have found that the new Windows OS is goin to leave Linux in the dust relgated to the realm of the obtuse. All uyou linux user who keep blowin the horn without any true understanding of how things really work are just helping the dinosaur to its grave so just keep on spouting nonsense so we can finally be done with all the BS and lies which you guys seem so fond of spreading.
  • RE: Windows 7 - Revolutionary or evolutionary?

    The whole touch orientation is probably more evolutionary, but is addictive. Because we are developing touch screen software, I have a touch monitor parked next to my normal screened notebook. Once you get used to not looking for the cursor, but rather touching the Outlook message you want to read, it is tough to go back. At times when I am away from my desk and operating on the notebook screen I find myself fruitlessly poking at my notebook screen. And multi-touch is only going to make that better.

    But it is a chicken and egg, hardware vs. software phenomenon -- Once every screen becomes touch, it will just be accepted. There aren't a lot of black and white screens around anymore and they are cheaper to make than color.

    But then, I am a big fan of Vista and love most of its features, so what do I know?
  • Revolutionary.

    1. The kind of focus MS is giving to performance is revolutionary. Its the first time that an OS is performing faster than its predecessor.:). Example in case - a 1.86 GHz single core Celeron Processor, 2 GB 553 MHz RAM, Intel 965 Express chipset machine is able to run Windows 7 B1 Ultimate with full aero effects, and snappily so.
    2. The nook-to-cranny overhaul, to make the system easier to use, and I really mean easier, is revolutionary. I will state a small example. My ISP requires me to plug-in a LAN wire and then launch the browser to land at a login page which loaded automatically since my browser is set to go to ubiquitious MSN at every start. Sometimes this login page would load correctly and sometimes it just refused to load on Vista, even after manually entering the URL. Now with windows 7, I just have to plug-in the LAN wire and I get a nice small pop-up in the tray telling me to click to login. And surely with one click it all works. Not an earth shattering change, but inspires confidence.
    There are numerous other bits - and all of them work together to enhance the overall experience.
    Thank God for Vista debacle which really forced MS to look at things from a user`s perspective.

    P.S. - I dont know how MS managed to do it but Indexing Process works a lot faster on 7 than it did on Vista.
    P.S.2 - I cant imagine why Defender does not have a software explorer anymore.
  • Perhaps your opinion will be taken into account

    by someone at Microsoft. I would certainly hope so.

    Your colleague, Mr. Bott, seems to believe that the new menu (and I mean menu, not taskbar, in total) is somehow more productive. He is entitled to that opinion, but as I told him, any of his reports are purely anecdotal from my (or any other reader's) standpoint.

    My objections, which he carefully sidestepped, are that the changes from Microsoft are seemingly without reason, and capricious, to show the user that they will code the OS any way they please. The goal should be to please as many as possible, but knowing that pleasing everyone is never possible, a reasonable explanation to assuage the bad feelings of those not happy with the changes should be offered.

    This is called customer service, and MS should realize that, though they own 90% of the OS market, that percentage is dwindling, slowly but surely. This cannot be making them happy, and it should be addressed.

    He also replied that the code was not available to offer the old and the new style side by side. He must think that none of his readers understand how coding is done, and how to cut and paste. Moreover, his assertions are silly, since within XP, what I am, and others are, asking for was done. This same treatment of the situation in Windows 7 would garner a much larger audience willing to fork out the money to upgrade.
    • You can't please everyone...

      ...I like Vista's interface and wouldn't go back to Classic.

      MS may alienate some customers but that's a risk they're prepared to take and, frankly, it'll be a good call in the end.
      Sleeper Service
    • Hmmm...

      [i]"My objections, which he carefully sidestepped, are that the changes from Microsoft are seemingly without reason, and capricious, to show the user that they will code the OS any way they please."[/i]

      If you spend any time on the Engineering Windows 7 Blog you would find out it was not change for the sake of change. Microsoft actually does do research on this stuff.

      [i]"...code was not available to offer the old and the new style side by coding is done, and how to cut and paste...since within XP...[it] was done."[/i]

      In Windows XP the start menu was not rewritten only modified from the Windows 2000 code. In Windows 7 completely rewritten, it is not a simple copy and paste to return to the classic start menu. Completely different code all together.
    • Sorry but you just dont know what you are talkin about

      as to your assertion that XP is more or even comprably efficient compared to Win7 is rediculous, not only is the new system more effient it is also infinately more configurable according to user preferences. This is a fact you would be aware of if you had actually taken the time to look at the new OS please don't put in your 2 cents if they are not based on fact and in reality arent worth a single cent.
      • Since it's infinitely more configurable

        I don't like square windows, I prefer a circular ones. So, can I configure the desktop to show a circular window. Also, I would like to be able to configure each application window to open up as a half-circle. I also would like the dialogs to open as triangles with hexagonal buttons. Since the OS is "infinitely configurable", this should be a cinch to do.
        • Sure you can do that...

          with the graphical subsystem that runs Aero, however you have to hack those settings into it. But yes, you can potentially do that.

          In Vista/7 the desktop is nothing more then a full-screen Direct3D surface.
  • Window dressing

    What more do you expect from MundaneSoft with most of the new GUI ideas stolen from OSX, KDE4 and compiz. As for touch, wow that's a great new idea - in 1974 (pat US3798370)

    You couldn't get much worse than Vista RTM so an improvement on dreadful isn't that hard and I bet it will be still expensive, certainly for a retail edition for a four PC home setup.
    Alan Smithie