Windows 7 is proof-positive that Microsoft (eventually?) manages to get its operating system ducks in a row! Unfortunately the run up to perfection means users must suffer the various feature delivery mis-steps that seem governed by marketing needs to release at least one software version every year.
As a user of both Linux and Windows systems I can personally testify that Linux too rarely gets it right the first time for any version. This quarter I have been trying to work with Ubuntu 8.10 and its 9.04 Beta versions. Unfortunately both feature a buggy network manager applet that loses all custom settings on restart. Fedora 10 too suffers networking blahs. Yet Fedora 11 Alpha works fine!
And then we come to Windows 7 Ultimate Beta (Seven). W-O-W! I setup the 32-bit beta (Build 7000) version on a hand-me-down Compaq Presario SR1000 (Pentium 4 HT @ 2.93 GHz with 1 GB RAM, 80 GB HDD and no ReadyBoost). Although the system reports a Windows Experience Rating of 1.0, the Seven Beta buzzes along more happily than the same system with Vista Business SP1 installed.
Setting up Seven was real easy. Once I had successfully managed to download the bootable DVD ISO from Microsoft’s over-loaded servers that is. On first run after a successful setup, Seven checks the system security status and (will immediately) alert you about no antivirus. Clicking the message balloon opens an IE session linking to a Microsoft page where you can choose between Kaspersky 8 (Beta), Norton 360 v3 (time-limited trial) or AVG 8 Security Suite (time-limited trial). There are no prompts for firewall or anti-spy ware because both applications are included (Windows Firewall and Windows Defender respectively).
Kaspersky 8 Beta trial was my first choice. But I uninstalled it 2 days later as its trial never seemed to be able to update signatures! In general I steer clear of Symantec consumer security solutions. Plus it was a very large download 🙂 I also considered trying AVG but decided against it since it was another 30-day trial. Instead on a whim, I decided to try the free-for-home-use Avast! Anti Virus Home Edition. This has been now running fault free this past month and its also auto-updates its signature.
Windows 7’s Firewall is impressive. It supports multiple separate but simultaneous profiles instead of the XP/Vista style of one rule fits all. I defined two separate rules sets. For example, my Public network (inbound blocked, limited outbound) uses the on-board network interface to connects to the Internet using an ADSL modem. My home LAN (Private) connects through an add-on card and supports full inbound and outbound traffic so I can share files and remotely manage the test system through Remote Desktop.
There are loads of changes to the user interface. To bundled applications and services. And most importantly to the underlying architecture. Which is why I think Seven is going to be to Vista what XP was to Windows 95. I wonder when the feeding frenzy to release Seven-compatible software is beginning. I’m positive we’ll soon encounter computers sporting ‘Designed for Windows 7’ logos. I’m not sure if application software needs to be recast because I can run apps developed for Windows XP and Vista without any problems. So here’s my take on new stuff, my likes, and annoyances I hope are resolved before Seven goes Gold.
I love the new Wordpad interface with its stripped-down but still Word 2007-like interface. Complete with the ability to show quick menus above or below the ribbon. And minimize the ribbon itself. Under the hood things have improved. Wordpad now (open new and) saves to OpenOffice OOXML and ODT formats. But it’s still missing a simple spell checker (included in Firefox and Opera web browsers). And I could’nt use the open-source ASpell solution either because it and Wordpad’s RTF format are incompatible. Also missing is a tabbed document view. You can open multiple documents but each runs in its own (separately launched) Wordpad instance. No visible changes to Notepad. I do wonder why this doesn’t support a tabbed view either. Considering the number of 3rd-party tabbed replacements released from the XP era?
Taskbar layout and behavior have improved. There’s no longer a default Show Desktop icon. Instead, clicking the extreme right edge of the Taskbar opens the desktop. Click again to go back to whatever open windows you had. The Taskbar displays icons for IE and Windows Media Player by default. And instead of add other icons to a Quick Launch toolbar. From within Windows Explorer you can directly pin to the Start menu or add to the Taskbar. Taskbar behavior for a group of links has changed as well. Unlike Vista where you could access multiple instances of a specific application. In Seven, the icon displays an on-mouse over pop up of all related windows, including open property dialogs and embedded into each pop up is a close process button. In IE, the pop up displays all open tabs allowing you to jump to any specific URL.
I really like the updated navigation system that supports mouse gestures. Drag an active window to the left (or right) screen edge until a transparent overlay appears causes the window to resize to 50% of screen real-estate. Dragging an application window to the top edge reverts to full screen view. Other new shortcuts include Windows Key+Home (clears all but active window) and Windows Key+Space (all windows to transparent). As well as Windows Key+ (+/-) for Zoom controls and Shift+Click Taskbar to open a new instance. There also supposed to be a mouse-activated shake ‘n hide function but I couldn’t get it going.
In other visual improvements, the Desktop can now auto-rotate background images. The theme system’s been upgraded to use complete Theme Packs (desktop background, colors, sounds, mouse pointers, screen savers) reminiscent of Windows 95 Plus. Each Seven setup includes Themes specific to country of release. But it’s possible to download packs from other countries too. The (to me) annoying default Vista Sidebar has been replaced by Gadgets that you can drag ‘n drop anyplace you want on the Desktop.
Internet Explorer 8 RC1 is the default browser. But there’s no included email or messaging tools. Instead you have to separately download and install Windows Live Essentials () (i.e. Windows Live Photo Gallery, Mail, Messenger, Movie Maker, etc). In my setup, Live Essentials also installed Silverlight (Microsoft’s Flash alternate).
The Seven Beta features an inline feedback link associated with every window and dialog box. The service is contextual only for Windows 7 components. Everything else (including installed 3rd-party software) is routed to a default form. I mention this feedback link because its an annoyance when running older software like LeechFTP. This app runs fine under Windows 7 until you try to resize or close the application window without the feedback form blocking all attempts! And contrary to expectation the Vista-style UAC dialog still exists. It’s was as annoying to this reviewer as its Vista counterpart. I’m not sure if UAC is a good feature since just about every user I know clicks the OK button without checking why they are being prompted for permission.
I’m looking forward to the forthcoming RC1 release. And of course to the actual Gold release after Fall 2009.
And for Windows Vista and XP users wondering about the visual hype, you can install a free transformation pack to make your desktop and menus look and work like Seven. Download NiwradSoft’s Seven Remix or Seven Remix XP. I installed the XP version and am already more productive 🙂