commentary Windows 7 will be one of Microsoft's greatest operating
systems, if it fulfils the promise shown by the unofficial beta
version (build 7000) we have been testing for the past couple of days.
(Credit: Renai LeMay/ZDNet.com.au)
Let me preface these quick impressions of Redmond's latest opus
by saying that I came to Windows 7 after having
happily run the much-maligned Windows Vista on my
Intel Core 2 Duo-based PC for the past 18 months (alongside
I found Vista to be a worthy upgrade from
Windows XP SP2. Despite its obvious flaws (can you say "resource
hog"?) and acknowledging that some of its features need to be
disabled by default, Vista at heart is a much more stable and
usable operating system than XP, which was first released
back in 2001.
Coming from this background, I have been pleased to discover
over the past several days that Microsoft appears to have built on
Vista's strengths and addressed most of its weaknesses with the
beta release of Windows 7.
Windows 7 beta was a painless install. Out
of the box driver support on our test machine was perfect, and it
only took half an hour and two quick reboots to begin running
a stable desktop environment, although we wondered why Windows 7 created a 200MB partition in addition to its main partition.
The 33MB of updates quickly came down the pipe upon loading the desktop.
Basic desktop performance was strong; the reports that
Windows 7 is simply faster than Vista appear to be true. Certainly
Windows 7 had no problem simultaneously installing and launching
applications, downloading files, web browsing and carrying out
other tasks on our modest 2.8GHz Pentium 4, which only has an 80GB
IDE hard disk and 512MB of RAM.
Vista's most visible annoyance, User Account Control, has been pared right back on its default setting, and we
only encountered it a couple of times throughout a whole morning of
installing applications. However, if you feel nostalgic for UAC's
old behaviour, you can easily change it back via Windows 7's new
Action Center, which now centralises all of the security, update
and warning alerts that Windows throws your way.
Windows 7 recommended we install a third-party antivirus
package (it suggested Kaspersky and AVG), but its anti-spyware
package Defender comes pre-installed. Microsoft appears to have
an antivirus package installed under the hood; when downloading
new software with Firefox we were told that our downloads were
being scanned for viruses.
(Credit: Renai LeMay/ZDNet.com.au)
I particularly like the new photo-realistic device icons, and
the overhaul of the way Windows handles and ejects USB storage
devices. Microsoft appears to have wiped out a lot of the Windows
XP-era interface quirks of Vista; the result is a much more
simplistic, unified experience for common tasks.
I also enjoyed the overhaul of the Windows taskbar,
especially the slick graphics, but a bug prevented us from being
able to use the preview function (it showed a black rectangle
instead), and you'll want to play with the taskbar settings to get
this piece of the Windows 7 puzzle just right. It's easy to get
minimised windows mixed up with launcher buttons, for example.
I want to stress that we didn't test Windows 7 beta
exhaustively, and business users will need to closely examine deployment software and how
the operating system integrates into their existing environments,
as well as its ability to work well with third-party software. For
example, we couldn't get Adobe CS3 to install on Windows 7 beta;
the installer told us we needed to quit Internet Explorer
But perhaps the most important thing to note about the software
is that at first glance it has much more of that nebulous "Windows
XP feel" than Vista ever did. Even on our modest
machine, Windows 7 didn't thrash the hard disk or feel
unresponsive, except when we were installing Apple's iTunes, a
notorious pain on Windows systems.
In general, this signals that Microsoft has spent a lot of effort with Windows 7 on delivering a solid operating system that won't "wow" anyone, but will satisfy them on a much deeper level. In other words, just what the doctor, and the customers, ordered.