Windows 7: A desktop user’s take

In two short months, Microsoft will release a new operating system, and Vista will fade from pre-built PCs and retail shelves like an unhappy memory. Windows 7 has already gotten an inordinate amount of exposure, with two public test releases and mass coverage in the tech press. When it comes out, it will supplant not just Vista on desktops, notebooks, and media-center PCs, but also Windows XP on netbooks—and, quite possibly, on the machines of enthusiasts who’ve so far refused to switch.

Since everyone is so excited, we decided to take Windows 7 for a prolonged spin. Specifically, I installed the final, release-to-manufacturing version of the OS on my primary desktop computer and used it for around three weeks, jotting down notes as I went along. What follows is not a complete overview with benchmarks of the new OS, but a look at what features make Windows 7 worth the switch on the desktop in particular and how well they work.

We’ll also be looking at the various editions of Windows 7 and giving you pointers on which one to pick up. Let the experiment begin!

Windows 6.1

Microsoft may have settled on the Windows 7 name for this release, but popping open the command prompt or checking the “About Windows” dialog reveals a different version number: 6.1.

Version numbers may have disappeared from Windows product boxes after NT 4, but Microsoft has continued to use them internally. Windows 2000 was almost called Windows NT 5.0, while Windows XP was really version 5.1, and Vista was version 6.0.

I’m pointing this out because it really highlights where Windows 7 stands compared to its predecessor. Despite all of the negative press it garnered, Vista incorporated a slew of major changes, both cosmetic and under the hood. Those included the new Aero interface, User Access Control, instant search, and the sidebar, of course, but Microsoft also introduced the Windows Display Driver Model and DirectX 10, vastly improved I/O prioritization and memory caching (see: SuperFetch), a new networking stack, enhanced power-management functionality, and much, much more.

Paradoxically, Microsoft’s decision to take such a leap forward greatly contributed to Vista’s cold reception. Many of us remember our first brushes with immature graphics drivers, absent printer drivers, and malfunctioning legacy applications—all direct results of those radical changes. That situation was hard to avoid after a five-year gap between Windows client releases, mind you. Microsoft had a lot of catching up to do, and third-party developers seemed to have gotten a tad complacent.

As evidenced by its actual version number, Windows 7 is nowhere near as big an upgrade. Sure, there’s the revamped taskbar, DirectX 11, new additions here and there, and a generous dose of polish, but the underlying foundation hasn’t changed very much. Heck, Windows 7 could almost be called Windows Vista SE. Users should therefore enjoy better backward-compatibility with the previous release (for the most part, at least; we’ll get into that in a little while) as well as a gentler learning curve.

In a way, the transition from Vista to Windows 7 is a lot like what Mac users have been seeing for the past few years: evolutionary upgrades that come out not too long after one another and improve the user experience without shattering compatibility. What a refreshing change of pace after Vista and XP—both earth-shaking, compatibility-destroying transitions over the client releases that preceded them.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Windows 7’s major new features and see if they live up to the hype.

The new taskbar

Despite being more evolutionary than revolutionary, Windows 7 does bring about one very radical change to the user experience: the new taskbar. After 14 years of maintaining and refining the same concept, Microsoft apparently chose to throw caution to the wind and shake things up.

Now, rather than listing window names, the taskbar shows application icons. If an app only has a single window tied to it, then clicking the icon will switch to that window, just as you’d expect. With more than one window, clicking the app icon will show thumbnails for all windows belonging to the app. Think of it as taskbar grouping on steroids; instead of waiting until the taskbar fills up, Windows defaults to the grouping behavior, and it doesn’t show window titles until you get to the thumbnail part. You can even close a window without switching to it by either middle-clicking on the thumbnail or hitting the little X at the top right.

There’s more. Microsoft has effectively merged the old QuickLaunch area with the main taskbar, so you can now “pin” your application shortcuts on there. When you click on a shortcut, the icon becomes highlighted and starts behaving like a regular window group. You can also re-order pinned shortcuts and window groups as you please. At last! Those of us with mild OCD no longer have to close and re-open apps obsessively to get them in the right order.

I should probably talk about jump lists, too, even though only software included with Windows 7 seems to use them right now. Right-clicking on the icon for, say, Windows Explorer now presents you with a list of “pinned” locations. Other apps might show recent locations and common tasks, sort of like a mystery treasure chest of menu items. Third-party apps will probably start using these sooner or later, but for now, right-clicking an icon will generally present you with only three options: open the app, un-pin it from the taskbar, or close its windows.

Over on the right lies the new system tray. It looks a lot like the old system tray, except third-party icons stay hidden by default. To unhide them, click the little arrow menu and drag them into the taskbar. Clicking “customize” will let you set specific behaviors, like if you want the Bonzai Buddy icon to show up for notifications but hide the rest of the time. This is definitely an interesting solution to the almost grotesque tray-icon overuse in modern Windows applications. Combined with the other taskbar changes, this new behavior will hopefully force developers to make more spartan use of the tray, which should make using a new pre-built PC (or troubleshooting grandma’s computer) a more enjoyable experience.

Until developers change their thinking, though, you may end up with some strange redundancy between the tray and taskbar icons. Let’s take Valve’s Steam as an example. It always shows a tray icon, even with the main window closed. When that window is open, however, your taskbar may present you with two Steam icons—a big one on the left for the Steam window group, and a small one on the right for the application. Awkward. Even more awkward, if you have Steam pinned to your taskbar, closing the main window causes the big icon to lose its highlight. By all rights, you’d think the application was closed. But no, it’s still sitting there in the tray.

The right thing would be to use the big icon for everything, obviously, but I believe the redundancy also showcases a general issue with the new taskbar. You see, Windows has a window-centric user interface by design. The old taskbar reflected that by showing an entry for each window and clearly identifying window clusters. The new taskbar shows application icons, a practice taken straight out of the Mac OS X playbook—except OS X has more of an application-centric interface, and those icons in the Dock really do represent apps. Windows 7’s taskbar icons represent both app-launching shortcuts and window groups, which sort of melds the two design philosophies in a strange and potentially confusing way.

From a productivity standpoint, the Windows 7 taskbar has its ups and downs. You can now cram way more icons in there, so you shouldn’t run out of space unless you’re some sort of multitasking maniac. However, switching between windows—the whole point of the taskbar—now involves an extra step in certain cases. The Pidgin instant-messaging client, for instance, shows both a buddy list and a conversation window. Switching from a web browser to the conversation window involves clicking Pidgin’s taskbar icon once (or hovering over it) to bring up the window thumbnails, picking out the thumbnail that corresponds to the conversation window, and clicking on it. That extra step can be frustrating when you need to switch back and forth a lot.

Thankfully, old-school types can disable the new grouping behavior and set the taskbar to display small icons, yielding something similar (but not identical) to the old Vista taskbar. You’ll still get thumbnails if you hover, and grouping still goes on, so new windows don’t always show up at the far right. Also, pinned icons will now show up amidst your windows.

I have mixed feelings about the new taskbar. As one of those folks who used a two-row taskbar in Vista, I can definitely appreciate the grouping. Before, I’d often keep opening windows for the same directory, forgetting I already had one or two open in the background. Windows 7 not only prevents that, but it leaves room for more window groups, and it lets you launch commonly used programs with a single click. I also love the ability to re-order icons, both in the main area and in the tray, and the fact that you can middle-click the taskbar icon to open a new instance or window of an already-running program.

With all of those improvements in mind, the two-time switching behavior (click the icon, click the thumbnail) still bugs me sometimes, and the thumbnails can make switching between similar-looking windows confusing. I really wish Microsoft provided an option to make icons truly represent applications, so you could either click to open all of an app’s windows or right-click to get a thumbnail view and pick a specific one.

Windows Explorer and Libraries

Microsoft’s humble file manager hasn’t gotten a complete top-to-bottom revamp like the taskbar, but it still dons a fresh coat of paint. The side pane no longer contains only “favorite links” above a collapsible tree view, and Windows no longer distinguishes between “exploring” and navigating. What I mean is that, in Vista, opening a folder in a new window involves bringing up the contextual menu and choosing “Explore,” which invariably gives you a window with an open directory tree on the left. In Windows 7, the “Explore” contextual menu item has given way to “Open in new window,” which just opens a new darned window with the same format as the old one. Was that really so hard?

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Microsoft product without at least one little step back. Here, the Windows team has gotten rid of column headers outside of the details view, so changing a directory’s sorting mode will usually involve a trip through the contextual menu—no more sorting by date by clicking the column header in icon or tile view. Taking out the headers does save a few vertical pixels, though. Perhaps that’s better for cramped laptop and netbook displays.

Speaking of folder view modes, Windows 7 adds a new one called Content—a bit of a hybrid between the tiles and details views, where you can see small-ish thumbnails on the left and a stack of information about the file, like its creation date, size, dimension (for images), and tags, on the right. A thin horizontal line separates each entry. This view comes in especially handy when you do a search, because it displays excerpts from text files.

Oh, and Microsoft has thrown in a preview pane, which you can toggle on and off with a button in the toolbar. That pane lets you take a quick peek at a text file, image, video clip, or a song’s album art without opening it—very OS X, and very handy if you’re sifting through photos or text files.

I could go on about the new Explorer’s little improvements, but one major new feature deserves our attention: Libraries. Where Vista turned the old My Documents directory into Documents, Windows 7 reinstates My Documents along with My Music, My Pictures, and My Videos. Except you’ll rarely have to deal with those directly.

Rather, Windows Explorer now includes a brand-new Libraries section with links to Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. Clicking one of those will show you the contents of the matching “My …” directory in your user folder, but you’re free to tie more directories to it or make your own Library from scratch. In this way, Explorer lets you access multiple folders spanning a single category of content in a single location.

These meta-folders are a godsend when you’re dealing with media, because if you’re like me, you have multiple directories filled with music and images scattered all over your hard drives. Best of all, Windows 7’s backup feature safeguards all of your libraries by default, so you almost don’t have to think about where you actually store your files.

I like libraries, but here, too, I have one small complaint. When sorting a regular directory by date in descending order, individual files show up first, chronologically, followed by subdirectories, also chronologically. Windows XP and Windows Vista work in that way, too. But in Libraries, sorting by date in folder view will always display directories first—and as far as I can tell, Microsoft doesn’t provide a way to revert to the more common behavior.

You don’t have to constrain yourself to boring old folder view, of course. With photos, for example, it’s possible to sort a whole library by day or month, which will pool all images together and display them in chronological order. How cool is that? Too bad Windows 7 still has no native support for RAW images, unlike Mac OS X.

The new window-management features

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Aero looks way better than Luna. Sorry, XP fans, but that’s just the way it is—I’ll take sleek semi-transparent glass over cartoonish blue widgets any day. In Vista, though, Aero didn’t do much besides looking pretty. Oh, sure, you got live window thumbnails and that semi-pointless Flip 3D feature, but folks running the Basic interface weren’t missing out on much other than eye candy.

Things have changed in Windows 7. The new Aero Peek feature lets you, well, peek at either a single window or the desktop by turning other windows into translucent glass outlines—and you can’t use it unless you have at least Windows 7 Home Premium and reasonably modern graphics hardware. Too bad for netbook users, most of whom will likely end up with Windows 7 Starter.

Remember what I said about taskbar thumbnails for similar-looking windows being hard to tell apart? Aero Peek can help with that, because it skips the middle man and just shows the window in its natural habitat. The same feature kicks into action when you Alt-Tab—wait a second or two, and only the window you’ve highlighted becomes visible. For a bizarro version of Exposé, just hit control-alt-tab, take your hand off the keyboard, and skim through your window collection with the mouse.

With Gadgets having migrated from the sidebar to the desktop in Windows 7, you’ll want a way to glance at the desktop quickly without minimizing everything. That’s what the embossed rectangle at the far right of the taskbar does. Leave your cursor hovering over it, and Aero Peek does its thing, turning all open windows to glass. Click the rectangle, and all windows get minimized instantly, like with the old “Show the desktop” Quick Launch shortcut. If you happen to have a second monitor at your right, however, get ready to practice your mousing accuracy, because you’re gonna be missing the little rectangle a lot. Trust me on that.

I like the idea behind Aero Peek, and I’ve already used it a few times to check if any new messages popped into my inbox. More often than not, though, this feature kicks in uninvited. When my mouse ventures too far up north when choosing taskbar thumbnails, for instance, or when I take slightly too long to alt-tab, all my windows disappear in an unsettling way. Well, I probably just need to get used to it.

Windows 7 includes two other new Aero-branded features, Aero Shake and Aero Snap, although neither is exclusive to the Aero interface. In fact, both will work fine even if you decide to take a trip down memory lane and switch to the Windows Classic theme. Ah, good old Windows 2000.

Aero Shake is another play on the old “show desktop” shortcut. Just grab hold of a window, shake it all around, and poof! Other windows behind it vanish. To bring them back up, shake the same window again. As with “show desktop,” however, if you happen to open another window after the first maneuver, then you’ll have to restore minimized windows one by one. I guess Microsoft is being consistent here, at least.

Aero Snap is much cooler. Drag a window to the left or right edge of your screen, and a translucent glass frame spanning half of your desktop will appear. Let go of the mouse button, and your window will adopt that same shape. If you want another window to take up the other half of the screen, just drag it to the opposite edge. Anyone who’s ever had to compare or shuffle data between two documents should understand the appeal here.

You can use a similar procedure to maximize a window—just drag it to the top of the screen. To restore any snapped or maximized window to its former size, simply drag the title bar away from the edge. Easy.

Finally, to make a window span all available vertical space, simply move your mouse to its top or bottom edge (where your cursor turns into a pair of arrows), then either drag or double-click. Users of dual-monitor setups will probably use this method the most, because the drag-to-the-sides vertical snap only applies to the very edges of the desktop. As far as Windows is concerned, if you’re stretching your workspace across two displays, the display edges in between don’t count.

Oh, and Flip 3D is still pointless. Seriously. It still doesn’t show more than 10 windows in a row, and it still obscures the shape (not to mention most of the surface area) of individual windows, making them harder to identify. Can’t Microsoft stop beating around the bush and clone Exposé already?

HomeGroups

Many of us use Windows File Sharing at home, but that’s usually in spite of, rather than thanks to, Windows. Microsoft’s operating systems just seem to have a mind of their own when it comes to file sharing, especially when you’re trying to hook up different PCs running different versions of Windows. Headaches ahoy.

The Windows team aimed to take much of the complexity out of consumer file sharing with HomeGroups, which you could also call “My First Windows File and Printer Sharing,” if you were that kind of person.

Windows 7 prompts you to create a HomeGroup right after the installation, and it offers to share default libraries—pictures, music, videos, and documents—as well as printers. (Shares are read-only by default, naturally.) The setup wizard then spits out a randomly generated password, which it encourages you to print out. If you lose it, you can go back and view the password anytime through the control panel.

The thinking here is that you can give out the password to other users in your household, and they can join your HomeGroup by simply opening a Windows Explorer window, clicking the HomeGroup link in the left pane, and entering that password. Everyone in the HomeGroup can see each others’ shared libraries by default, and Windows 7 provides a convenient “Share with” contextual menu to restrict certain libraries to certain users—or unshare some libraries and directories altogether.

Another nice touch: Windows Media Player 12 lets you browse and search inside the HomeGroup, so enjoying somebody else’s music or video collections involves hardly any work. In a nutshell, the HomeGroup feature lets you pool together media from your entire household—much to the dismay of the MPAA and RIAA, we expect.

Not everything is rosy in HomeGroup land, though. For one, the feature just doesn’t work with older Windows versions or other operating systems. Unless you spring for Windows 7 licenses for the whole family, chances are you’ll need to juggle between HomeGroups and old-fashioned Windows file sharing. And that, my friends, is where things get hairy.

HomeGroups tie in with Windows File Sharing in odd and slightly schizophrenic ways. For instance, sharing libraries has the effect of making your computer’s entire Users directory accessible through the conventional file-sharing interface. That would be great, except your User directory also contains all of your configuration files, and any knowledgeable user can just dig in and copy your e-mail, browser bookmarks, saved passwords, and so on.

To make matters worse, Microsoft has inexplicably gotten rid of the little “people” icon that identified shared directories, so you can’t even tell which directories are shared unless you click on them and look at the details pane. That pane isn’t even completely reliable, because it doesn’t seem to identify directories shared through the “Advanced Sharing…” interface as actually shared. Worse yet, your user directory always has a little padlock icon on it—the same one as in the “Share with nobody” menu item—even when it’s actually shared.

As far as I can tell, the only way to get a clear overview of shared directories is to go through the Computer Management console. However, Microsoft hasn’t upgraded that console for HomeGroups, so it won’t show you any shared libraries. Yeah, “slightly schizophrenic” doesn’t even do that justice.

I’ve run into a number of other little snags (like how un-sharing directories on my auxiliary storage drive mysteriously adorns the icon with a padlock), but let me just stop here and give you my advice: if you’re in an all-Windows 7 environment, then by all means, give HomeGroups a shot. You’ll probably like them. Otherwise, just stick with the old-school file-sharing scheme and save yourself the additional headaches.

Windows Media Player 12

If you’re like me, you’ll feel the urge to install an all-purpose video player like VLC or Media Player Classic, QuickTime, and perhaps a codec pack after upgrading to Windows 7. Doing all that made plenty of sense with Vista and XP. Windows Media Player certainly didn’t work with everything, and the user interface was, well, not for everybody.

Windows Media Player 12 is a different animal. It’ll eat up XviD and QuickTime videos without batting an eye, and the new user interface is as simplistic as it gets: a plain window frame, and a set of rudimentary controls that pop up after a mouse sweep. Clearly, Microsoft sought to make WMP12 play as much content as possible while getting in the way as little as possible, and it’s done a pretty fine job of it.

Of course, you might still need to install VLC—WMP12 doesn’t jive with funky video container formats (like MKV and OGG) or weird proprietary ones (like RealMedia). Still, there’s something awfully nice about being able to play the latest high-def Rage trailer in all of its hardware-accelerated H.264 glory without having to deal with QuickTime. Too bad the latest WMP video plug-in doesn’t work with Apple’s trailer site. But hey, baby steps.

WMP12 will play your music, too, but I just can’t bring myself to care all that much. Folks with iPods will probably want to use iTunes. Shut-ins like myself will be content with something like foobar2000, which is much more customizable and very lightweight. As for users of Microsoft’s own Zune media players, they’ll still have to use the Zune player software to purchase music and copy it to the device. WMP looks plenty capable, though, and I’m sure it’ll satisfy users who don’t fit into those categories.

Device Stage

I haven’t been able to test this feature fully because none of my cameras, music players, printers, or phones support it yet. We’re admittedly a little ways away from the official Windows 7 release, so that situation may change by October 22. I hope it does, too, because the concept seems pretty snazzy: a central location that regroups all of your external devices, from printers to cell phones, in a single, easily accessible location.

Unlike the Device Manager, which is pretty much guaranteed to confuse grandma, Device Stage is supposed to present you with big, friendly icons as well as lists of common tasks and information for each device. Plugging in a supported music player or camera should make an icon pop up right in the taskbar, and you should even be able to use the jump-lists feature with it.

Also, don’t tell anyone, but while talking with Nvidia a couple months ago, I got the impression that Device Stage profiles for certain handheld media players will let you transcode videos using the GPU via DirectX 11 Compute Shader. Think Badaboom or Avivo Video Converter, except automated, seamless, and not tied to a particular brand of graphics processor.

For the time being, though, Windows 7’s new Devices and Printers control panel serves as little more than a glorified replacement for the Printers control panel from Vista. At least my Canon Pixma iP4200 is now kicking it with “USB RECEIVER,” “HP LP2475w Wide LCD Monitor,” and “VX2025wm.”

DirectX 11

I suppose a Windows 7 review like this one ought to include something about DirectX 11, but I’m drawing a blank. Truth is, graphics hardware makers seem to be hyping up DX11 a lot more than Microsoft. Don’t believe me? Try searching for “DirectX 11” on the official Windows 7 site. Yep.

We already know a fair amount about hardware designed for the new programming interface, of course. AMD has shown the new tessellation and general-purpose computing features in action (the latter both inside and outside of games), and we’ve read that DX11 will also make it easier for games tap into multiple processor cores. If developers use it to its full potential, DirectX 11 should give us better-looking 3D models and environments, smarter artificial intelligence, more realistic physics, and so forth.

That said, unlike DirectX 10, this new DirectX release should be backward-compatible with Vista, so you may not even need to change operating systems for it. Some DX11 features will even work happily on current-generation graphics processors. At least, that’s assuming developers harness those features when developing PC versions of their games—current-gen consoles don’t offer the same functionality.

For those reasons, I don’t see DX11 as much of a reason to get excited about Windows 7 in particular. Not yet, anyway. The DirectX Compute Shader stuff is definitely neat, though, especially if it does get integrated with Device Stage as we talked about earlier.

Polish and general improvements

We’re already four pages of words and screenshots in, but one might say we’ve only just scratched the surface. Operating systems are pretty complex animals, and we could probably fill a whole book with some of the more minor or less-obvious improvements Windows 7 brings to the table. We can sum up a few of those in a slightly more concise way, though.

First among Windows 7’s less immediately obvious enhancements, Microsoft touts improved performance and a smaller memory footprint compared to Vista. We may run some benchmarks in the future to put that claim to the test, but from a seat-of-the-pants perspective, I’d say the new OS really does feel snappier. Searches happen quicker, control panels (like “Uninstall or change a program”) load up faster, and digging through large folders feels smoother. Vista isn’t anywhere near as sluggish as some claim, of course, and much of its purportedly excessive memory usage is due to SuperFetch, but Windows 7 still feels like an improvement.

Users with Core i7 systems should see tangible performance improvements, too, thanks to SMT Parking. Microsoft and Intel collaborated on that feature to improve Windows’ behavior with multi-core, multithreaded CPUs. Now, applications should no longer attempt to run two threads on one core when another core is idle.

Users and pundits alike gave Vista grief for its hyperactive User Account Control scheme, as well. I’ve long maintained that the feature does much more good than harm. The overzealous prompts still annoyed me from time to time, though, and I know they’ve led some people to disable UAC altogether.

Instead of a basic on-off switch, Windows 7 lets you choose UAC’s level of zeal with a nice, user-friendly slider spanning four different notches. The top one ought to emulate Vista’s behavior, while the default setting is one notch down, and it’ll tell UAC not to bug you unless a program tries to change your system. Notch number three will do the same minus the screen dimming, and notch number four corresponds to the “off” setting in Vista. The default seems good enough to me—effective, yet discreet enough to stay out of a power user’s way.

Microsoft has gone and cleaned up old nooks and crannies, too, including little bundled apps like WordPad and Paint. Both don fresh new interfaces clearly inspired by Office 2007, and you’ll find them filled with new little improvements. (See the new brush types in Paint above.) Even the Calculator has gotten a makeover, with an updated interface and new-found support for date calculations and unit conversions, not to mention “worksheets” to help you work out fuel efficiency and mortgage payments. Everyone will probably keep using Google for quick conversions, though.

Other improvements and additions are legion. There’s the Windows Disc Image Burner, which will take care of burning ISO files for you. A new Personalization control panel lets you make custom themes with wallpaper slide shows. Microsoft has clearly been working on multi-monitor support; I was quite impressed when, right out of the box, Windows 7 automatically stretched its desktop across my two displays. That same desktop now remembers your icon positions after resolution changes—great for driver installs and the aftermath of Remote Desktop sessions.

Speaking of Remote Desktop, the taskbar jump lists feature lets you pick hosts quickly, and you can now watch high-definition movies and play games across an RDC session, as well. Many recent 3D titles flat out refused to work for me, but running Trackmania United across Wi-Fi was still a sight to behold (albeit a laggy one). Switching over to wired Ethernet reduced the lag to the point where the game was actually quite playable, although frame rates still weren’t exceptional. My laptop’s GeForce 9400M graphics processor is probably to blame for that, though; RDC seems to forward API calls to the client hardware, so the game wasn’t actually taking advantage of my desktop PC’s faster hardware.

There’s Windows XP Mode, too. Should you encounter an application that doesn’t work with Windows 7, you can head to the Windows XP Mode page on Microsoft’s website, download a couple of installers, and enjoy a fully functional, virtualized copy of Windows XP with minimal configuration. Unlike other virtualization software, this tool doesn’t require an XP CD or a license key, and it doesn’t force you to sit through the OS installation process. Better yet, you can run virtualized XP apps right inside your Winodws 7 desktop. I tested out the XP Mode release candidate back in May, and I can’t say I wasn’t impressed, even if the virtual application concept is a tad counter-intuitive. The fact that XP Mode requires a processor with virtualization support may limit its usefulness with older (and not-so-old) systems, too.

Eat your heart out, Time Machine!

Apple has been flaunting OS X’s fancy-looking Time Machine feature for almost two years, and Windows 7 finally offers a worthy alternative. Not only has Microsoft vastly improved upon the old Vista backup interface, but much of the same functionality (with the exception of network backups) is now available in Windows 7 Home Premium, as well.

Windows 7’s Backup and Restore control panel gives you the option to safeguard a copy of your libraries, an image of your system drive, and any other directories you’d care to add. You simply pick these out in a list, after which the configuration wizard presents you with scheduling options: daily, weekly, or monthly, and at what time. You can save backups on external drives, network shares, or DVDs.

We were quite taken with Vista’s backup interface, but it wasn’t anywhere near this straightforward. You had to spring for Vista Business to get backup scheduling functionality in the first place. Then, safeguarding the operating system involved using the Complete PC Backup control panel, whose graphical interface didn’t offer scheduling options. Finally, you could forget about backing up specific directories (let alone entire drives) outside of your user folder.

Windows 7 gets rid of these little snags and, in a surprising move, offers the improved package to home users. You’ll even get alerts in your system tray prompting you to set up automated backups. Suddenly, it seems, Microsoft cares about downtime and data integrity on home PCs. Maybe Steve Ballmer got sick of all that Time Machine hype and threw a chair at someone.

Before we forget, we should note that Windows 7 Home Premium includes Shadow Copy, as well—another feature formerly exclusive to Business and Ultimate editions. Shadow Copy, now called Previous Versions, keeps track of a file’s state as you modify it, and it allows you to restore previous states easily through the Properties dialog (which, admittedly, isn’t quite as cool as Time Machine). This feature comes enabled right out of the box, and it only seems to take up 3% of your system drive by default. Previous Versions also allows users to restore from copies of files or directories made during Windows backups.

Compatibility

Windows 7 isn’t all sunshine and kittens, naturally. At the beginning of the article, I noted that, by virtue of being a gradual evolutionary step over Vista, this release would have much better backward-compatibility. I’ve found that to be generally true—pretty much all my software installed and ran okay, as did my Creative sound card and Nvidia graphics card. Actually, even older drivers intended for Vista installed without much trouble.

With that said, I did run into a handful of little quirks. The latest release of VLC gave me the most trouble: file associations set through the program wouldn’t take, using the controls in full-screen mode made the taskbar show up, and playback was pixelated for some reason. (Other Windows 7 users are complaining about that last problem in the VideoLAN forums.) Skype wouldn’t let me install add-ons directly from the application, either, and in Firefox 3.5, the Adobe Reader plug-in randomly decided to show a blank alert and not render PDFs. Reinstalling the plug-in seemed to fix that, but it starts happening again every so often.

One day, after rebooting, my desktop icons even refused to show up. I rebooted again and spent a little while trying to find an explanation, but apparently, the “Show desktop icons” setting under the “View” contextual menu had spontaneously unticked itself. That’s happened twice so far, and I have no idea why.

I can’t really be mad at Windows 7 for these quirks, because it runs admirably well overall, and I’ve yet to run into any serious stability or compatibility problems. Still, don’t upgrade thinking everything will work flawlessly out of the box—or do; I don’t know. Maybe these issues will be resolved by October 22.

One edition to rule them all

So, that’s Windows 7. Where do you sign up? First of all, we should stress that this operating system isn’t actually coming out until October 22. (We were given access to the complete, release-to-manufacturing version ahead of time.) You can either wait a couple months or pre-order now, but in either case, you’ll be faced with a choice: which edition should you get?

There are six editions we know of, but if you’re grabbing a retail-boxed copy to upgrade your PC, you’ll only have to choose between Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. Each one is more expensive and offers more features than the last. To make things more straightforward, we’ve compiled a table with a list of major features, the editions that include them, and pricing:

  Windows 7 Home Premium
Windows 7 Professional
Windows 7 Ultimate
New Aero features
Windows Search
Internet Explorer 8
Windows Media Center
HomeGroups
Full-system Backup and Restore
Remote Desktop client
Backups across network  
Remote Desktop host  
Windows XP Mode  
Domain Join  
BitLocker    
Interface language switching    
Full license price $199.99 $299.99 $319.99
Upgrade license price $119.99 $199.99 $219.99
Anytime Upgrade price $89.99 $139.99

In the Vista days, you typically had to choose between Home Premium if you wanted consumer entertainment features and Business if you wanted tools like full-system backups and Remote Desktop hosting. Only Ultimate combined all of them, but its price tag put it out of the reach of many users.

With Windows 7, several things have changed. Home Premium now includes some of the former Vista Business features like full-system backups and Shadow Copy, as we noted earlier. Meanwhile, Windows 7 Professional has all of the Home Premium features plus the former Vista Business features, along with new additions like Windows XP Mode.

You can see where this is going. Windows 7 Ultimate might have BitLocker disk encryption and miscellaneous enterprise functionality, but nothing that really warrants spending that extra 20 bucks for the vast majority of users. So, really, the choice comes down to Home Premium vs. Professional, and it ought to be very clear-cut if you know what you need. If in doubt, you can always grab Windows 7 Home Premium and step up to one of the other two editions via Windows Anytime Upgrade. Microsoft says you’ll only need to pay $90 to go from Home Premium to Professional, and the switchover process looks pretty painless.

Now, that doesn’t answer the question of whether you should buy Windows 7 as an upgrade license or a full license. Upgrades require a legit version of either Windows XP or Windows Vista, and technically, you’ll need an activated version of one of those OSes on your hard drive for the installation to work. In practice, you may be able to use the same upgrade trick as with Vista—Microsoft might not approve, but if you’re legit, then we believe you ought to be able to upgrade however you please.

On October 22, you might also be able to purchase OEM licenses from online retailers like Newegg. Vista OEM licenses are available at a meaty discount, but they only cover a single type of media—32-bit or 64-bit—and a single system. That is, you’re technically not allowed to transfer an OEM license to a new PC next time you upgrade, and forget about upgrading from 32-bit to 64-bit if you get more RAM. Microsoft will probably offer Windows 7 OEM licenses in a similar fashion, although we don’t know for sure yet.

Incidentally, this is as good a place as any to point out that Microsoft doesn’t include Windows Mail, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Movie Maker, or the Windows Calendar in any of the Windows 7 editions. New and slightly different versions of those apps are now available as free downloads from the Windows Live Essentials site. (Calendar functionality now comes as part of Windows Live Mail, too.) Microsoft offers a single installer for all Windows Live apps, although you’ll get Windows Live sync, sign-up, and upload assistants as part of the bargain, too.

Conclusion

Windows 7 has generated a ton of hype these past few months. Some claim this operating system is essentially Windows Vista done right—a new OS that draws on Vista’s strengths while stripping away and polishing out its weaknesses. Windows XP users see it as, finally, a worthwhile upgrade. Vista users look forward to the improved performance and polish. Mac and Linux users scoff, convinced of their chosen platform’s superiority.

I love debunking hype as much as the next guy, but I really think Windows 7 deserves it. After using it on my primary PC for three weeks, I’ve come to appreciate all of the little things Microsoft has improved. Sure, not everything works perfectly, and I still have flashbacks involving HomeGroups and Windows File Sharing configuration, but all things considered, Windows 7 is perhaps Microsoft’s finest operating system to date.

Is it better than Mac OS X or Linux? I can’t speak for the latter, but I used both Leopard and Windows 7 to write this article. I can’t honestly say I prefer one over the other. These two operating systems make you work and operate in different ways, and they each have their upsides and downsides—I love window and virtual-desktop management in OS X, for instance, but I’ll take Explorer over the Finder any day. The choice largely comes down to which suits your workflow the best.

As for whether you should make the switch from XP or Vista, well, that should go without saying at this point.

Comments closed
    • blubje
    • 10 years ago

    Have fun with the latest & greatest, sheep.

    • sigher
    • 10 years ago

    Hmm, interesting review, and although the author doesn’t seem to think it’s too negative it is, it clearly shows w7 is as pitiful as.. erm, a new ATI driver, to name something particularly grievous as an example.
    I mean the filesharing thing is a living horror and that alone should be enough for a great many people to stick with XP, and that’s just one thing highlighted.
    And yeah if the control of the system is the same as vista, meant for apple users not windows users but done by windows coders, well then that sort of clinches it doesn’t it?
    But I guess with the software world moving along we’ll have to find a way to suffer through it or go linux and run the damn thing in a virtual environment if we need it.

    Or as someone said, hope that ‘server2008’ or something will be the w7 for real computer users.

    • AmishRakeFight
    • 10 years ago

    why can’t they make ‘classic’ mode actually behave and look like the windows of old? I’m a bit hopeful about this release, but I sense much weeping and gnashing of teeth from my users who are pretty much locked in their ways on XP. You can’t teach old dogs new tricks right?

    • indeego
    • 10 years ago

    “We may run some benchmarks in the future to put that claim to the test, but from a seat-of-the-pants perspective, I’d say the new OS really does feel snappier.”

    Ah. I miss the TR pre “blog” days. Ya’ll never would have gone 3-4 pages into a “review” without freaking benchesg{<.<}g

    • MarkD
    • 10 years ago

    Whatever its faults, I know the XP user interface fairly well. These changes are akin to somebody coming into your home and putting everything where they believe it belongs.

    It might actually be better. If asked, my answer would have been, “no thanks.” All this and I get to pay for it?

    An enterprising company could make a lot of money writing a GUI to turn Windows back into Windows. Microsoft, are you listening?

    This is not a senseless diatribe against Windows 7. I need the 64 bit addressing. I think they’ve got the UAC thing sorted. There are many useful improvements. I’d be equally annoyed if the car companies started making changes to “improve the driving experience” by moving controls….

      • Lazier_Said
      • 10 years ago

      +1 to that.

      I do most of my work in one application at a time so the taskbar changes don’t trip me up often.

      But one application I use all the time is Windows Explorer. And the new interface is just unusable out of the box – it replaces the directory tree with the Libraries idiocy – and even tweaked it’s a real step backwards.

      Where’s my Up button? It’s not like there isn’t room for it in the three lines of mostly unused header at the top of the window.

      Where’s my navigation pane branch listing when I click into a subdirectory?

        • ChronoReverse
        • 10 years ago

        WTF, your directories are all still there. The Libraries is a supplement to what exists. And if your stuff was organized well in the first place, Libraries would look identical to it.

        Have you even looked at how libraries worked? You don’t have to use the pre-existing ones. If you hate the name “My Documents” then get rid of it and make one called “Homework” and add the root folders of your stuff. They’re just virtual directories.

    • FubbHead
    • 10 years ago

    @136

    Usually I don’t have show hidden or system files enabled, but when I do, yeah, those ini files are annoying I guess.

    What I find worse, though, is the system drive root directory, the user directories, etc. A whole lot of referencing going on.

    (And yes, I’m certain I replied to that post)

    • mattthemuppet
    • 10 years ago

    It’s the first OS that’s made me want to buy a copy (other than having in preinstalled on stuff) – I’ve had it dual booting on a desktop with XP and the only time I used XP was to play CoH (wouldn’t install on W7) and Skype, which had a weird audio bug.
    Just bought a laptop with Vista (Timeline 3810T) and I’ll be getting the free W7 upgrade ASAP – Vista isn’t bad, certainly better than XP, but it still feels XP-like in many respects. W7 just feels like how a modern OS should (and how Ubuntu did, if only I could get it to work) and really does feel snappier – boot times are much faster, shutdown is near instantaneous and general use feels quicker. Vista feels somewhere in between in comparison.

    • a_non_moose
    • 10 years ago

    Like Chrispy (aside: my dog reacts to that word more than Squirrel!…well, it does sound like FRISBEE!) and Madman, I gotta say I’ve thought much the same thing.

    Don’t need, don’t want and sometimes make it go the hell away.

    Like the zipfolder thing…kept coming back so often I made a run entry when it shows back up because it got *that* annoying.

    But it is an GCD thing, go for the majority of people’s ways/means: most are a disorganized mess, but strangely no less intelligent (debatable point I’m sure). Before I write off the average/base user, well, I recall one Russian lady who was one of three kids by a mother of “peasant” standing at the time (pre 50’s era at best guess).
    She was all about education for her kids all of whom had a PhD each at the very least.
    The one I was helping was writing about her mother’s sayings/memoirs and kept losing track of the document…a quick search found a few dozen copies strewn about.

    Come to find out a combo of errant keystrokes, non-conforming programs and a pinch of ‘noobness’ added up to confusion.

    Honestly I don’t expect much from Microsoft now and haven’t since Win2K because the focus is toward pretty, shiny, vapid and vacuous changes for the sake of change. (skinnable apps, anyone?)

    Yes I do know “you can turn it off” but the point is I should not have to, quite honestly, but if I wish to have some functionality X, I’ll find it or get it somehow.

    Like the search (2k,xp for instance) was ok, but I wanted better:
    Moved to Powerdesk’s search and all was good for a while but wanted better/quicker…Locate32…wow, but hate the update thing it has to do, so only use it after massive changes.

    And so forth. Crap, gotta run.

    • jackaroon
    • 10 years ago

    The biggest change I noticed going from WMP 11 to WMP 12 is all the “date added” and “play count” info is trashed. I’ll make a long story short, I think I made a solid effort to get WMP12 to load the old database but it seems entirely disinterested.

    • herothezero
    • 10 years ago

    q[

      • Saribro
      • 10 years ago

      Unfortunately, breadcrumbs totally fail when you have a slightly more lengthy path, and only your current folder is shown in the bar…

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      The up button is _not_ useless. I miss it, badly.

        • HammerSandwich
        • 10 years ago

        Alt + up arrow.

          • GreatGooglyMoogly
          • 10 years ago

          Which is a travesty in itself. I could kill the person responsible for the backspace change in Explorer in Vista.

            • ChronoReverse
            • 10 years ago

            I’d simply like to know the logic behind deciding that you can’t have BOTH an Up button and the breadcrumb bar. Or heavens forbid, a choice about it.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 10 years ago

            I’m guessing it’s because Backspace has been back in IE for awhile and so they decided to make it common with Explorer.

        • Meadows
        • 10 years ago

        Click the breadcrumb bar. There’s your “up” button. One click like before.

    • Chrispy_
    • 10 years ago

    Is it just me or is all this “library” phooey to help you organise your files a bit pointless to people whose filing habits aren’t “throw it anywhere because I’m too lazy to care”.

    It seems that Microsoft and Google assume “all users are disorganised muppets who don’t know where their data is” by default. The library features ENCOURAGE even sloppier organisation which is only going to make matters worse in the future.

    What about people who can actually put MP3’s in an MP3 folder, documents in a documents folder and photos in a photos folder? Maybe that’s an old skool way to look at things but you know what? It frickin’ works, and if YOU understand where your data is actually stored then it doesn’t matter if some poorly-coded or legacy applet/program gets stuck because it can’t handle the new library or understand user-specific paths and shortcuts.

    “Documents and Settings” was an abortion of an idea when introduced with Windows95 and it was barely improved for Vista. Libraries are just a workaround to help clueless people find things in such a badly-organised system that windows file-handling has become.

    /rant.

      • Madman
      • 10 years ago

      Yea, I agree with you here. Actually I think My documents idea makes matters only worse. In Vista there is a “documents” folder in “my documents”, and all sorts of application create weird folders there. like since when “Prince of Persia” saves and appdata is a document?

      What’s worse, if I have a folder called MP3, I still get that abomination called my music sticking its ass wherever it can.

      I have hated that “my documents” idea since it first showed up, I just kept quiet…

      • travbrad
      • 10 years ago

      This person speaks the truth. I have 10-15 main folders on my E: (storage) drive, and have the most commonly used ones pinned on windows explorer. I don’t find it at all difficult to find what I’m looking for, because it’s quite a logical system. That’s why it’s been used for a loooong time, way before PCs existed.

      Yes, that’s right. I have ebooks in the ebooks folder, installers in the installers folder, and music in the music folder. It’s not as if this requires any great deal of thought or work. It just makes sense..

      • danny e.
      • 10 years ago

      agreed.
      I am so sick of all the “my docs” spinoffs.. “my videos”, “my music”.. retarded.

      • CampinCarl
      • 10 years ago

      Err…I’m confused. Why not, instead of using folders whose names are almost exactly identical to the ones built into windows…use the ones built into windows? It doesn’t make you disorganized.

      Sounds to me as if you’re hating just to hate.

        • ChronoReverse
        • 10 years ago

        Indeed. I have meticulously organize all my files and folders ever since the days of DOS but even then I’ve filed everything underneath the umbrella of Libraries. It even lets me combine some folders that were the same in terms of content but could no longer fit on a single drive. There’s no lose in using Libraries because you can still be as meticulous underneath it as you like.

        What’s the problem with a tool that allows you to be as sloppy or as organized as you like?

          • a_non_moose
          • 10 years ago

          Nothing really wrong with it, per se, if you are sloppy it becomes useful but the opposite is it becomes an annoyance perhaps such that it appears to break things.

          Like my display properties which would load all tabs rapidly except for “desktop” that took upwards of 2 minutes and I could not figure out why until I scrolled thru the pics it had.

          Low and behold it was pulling images out of the various windows folder, my pics and various subdirs…what the everloving frak? It was very selective about which files, so it took a bit of searching to figure out (locate32 to the rescue).

          Great big WTF, especially since it just started doing it for some reason I can not fathom.

          Or how Microsoft *still* can not get folder views right…forgetting the settings of the most used and recent one?
          That’s just idiotic….what about a deleted folder? It’ll probably remember those setting or a folder accessed 2+ year ago, but the one you use frequently…naaaah, what’s the point it is just easier to forget the user’s needs/settings and have them do it over again and again.

      • Mithent
      • 10 years ago

      Also, for all that Libraries is a new feature of Windows 7, isn’t it pretty much a version of the saved searches functionality in Vista? I seem to remember that during the Vista beta they were considering using libraries rather than the Documents etc. folders, but thought it too confusing.

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      If you think it has become badly-organized, whatever you do, don’t turn on show hidden and system files. ๐Ÿ˜€

        • FuturePastNow
        • 10 years ago

        It really does annoy me having “desktop.ini” permanently there on the desktop.

          • GreatGooglyMoogly
          • 10 years ago

          I even have two of those on Vista :\

            • Mithent
            • 10 years ago

            One from your own desktop, one from the default desktop, I believe.

          • ChronoReverse
          • 10 years ago

          What I’ve done since Vista is enable “Show Hidden Files” but disabled “Show System Files”. I didn’t notice that showed most of the hidden files I’m interested in while not showing the desktop.ini files before that in XP and I just deleted them from my desktop lol.

      • blubje
      • 10 years ago

      I think there’s something to be said for search. In the traditional directory structure, users are forced into making only one link association with each file. In search, files have multiple associations: their name, their date, etc. However, I think this semantic should be in addition to the directory structure, and have a similar amount of structure — one would never expect to open a directory, and see every single file on disk.

      • swaaye
      • 10 years ago

      You have not dealt with enough pooter-morons. ๐Ÿ™‚

      But I think those folks are beyond help anyway and MS should just put their efforts into other areas. Some people just don’t give a damn if everything is slathered all over the desktop in a giant incomprehensible mess. Until we have an AI built in that does everything directly for these people, it’s a lost cause to try to make the OS “simpler”. Honestly I think that MS just ends up making things even more intimidating. Especially when they add extra steps or change what worked fine before, add more horribly mind numbing wizards, or figure out annoying ways to even more thoroughly hide access to the real meat of the OS.

        • FuturePastNow
        • 10 years ago

        I agree completely. If I, a fairly computer-literate person (the family tech guy, as they say), cannot be bothered to figure out and use libraries, I don’t see most people I know doing so.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      l[

        • ChronoReverse
        • 10 years ago

        It’s rather strange to me all the hate for Libraries. It’s not even a search tool like Windows Desktop Search or Google Desktop. Libraries is just a virtual folder mechanism that gives you another tool to super-organize your data. You’d think that people who like to make sure everything is perfectly organized would love it.

        I certainly do that (organize my files meticulously that is) and I like Libraries since it lets me organize in an even more satisfactory way. I make new libraries according to my need and remove the ones I don’t use.

    • Bensam123
    • 10 years ago

    ME is to XP as Vista is to Windows 7.

    After playing with the Beta for close to a month I have to say W7 actually looks like a feasible upgrade for me.

    HOWEVER, there are a few quirks I really really fing hate about W7. As other people have noted the GUI changes for the most part are a step back in productivity. In order to do one thing that took one click in XP it takes 3-5 in W7… and that’s conservative, god forbid if you have UAC on.

    I really hate the new start menu, much like how I hated the one in XP and turned it back to the classic start menu. It’s really aggrivating how everything just pops all over the place. In order to browse your programs you have to click each folder rather then a sub-folder poping up by just hovering over it. Sorta like how you can hover over programs now and get a quickview, guess they thought it was too much for the start menu so they went back.

    The last thing that really fing bugs me is the lack of a up button when browsing files. It’s awesome and all that they displace the directory tree to the left of it, but I guess I’m a more advanced user and actually know the directory structure I’m going through. If the directory is big enough the tree to the left wont let you see all of it and it easily becomes cluttered, much like the start menu. When you go up a tree using a button the directory is quickly available to you. Instead you have to scroll constantly through directory tree, click, scroll, click, scroll.

    I’m probably going to be upgrading to W7 just cause I’m tired of XP and it’s seen more then it’s fair share of time.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 10 years ago

    Looks like I’ve pushed my upgrade off to this year. Spend the ‘tech’ budget on a new (to-me) TV. Oh well.

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      Probably a wise decision. There really isn’t anything new here that you can’t live without.

      Only a pity that operating systems (or software in general) don’t go down in price. Well, except for games. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 10 years ago

        Understood. That said, if CEDIA produces any news relating to TV content, I might have to look into adjusting the budget. CableCo DVR sucks.

    • Umbragen
    • 10 years ago

    So, does Win7 let applications create subdirectories in my Documents folder? I really, effing hate that.

      • bthylafh
      • 10 years ago

      How are they going to stop that? You should be whining at app developers.

      • Kharnellius
      • 10 years ago

      I used to hate that until I realized all my save games were in my documents. It made backing up the important stuff a breeze!

    • Da_Boss
    • 10 years ago

    It’s shaping up to be a great time to but a new OS!!

    Snow Lepoard looks to really improve performance on the Mac side, but it really offers nothing that Windows user don’t get in Service Packs and driver releases. 64-bit apps, GPU acceleration, and multi-core use have been part of Windows for some time now. It’s nice to see Apple finally catch up on that front.

    If anything, It’s looking like W7 will finally bring Windows back into the debate as far as day-to-day usability and productivity goes. After using both W7 and OS X on my MBP for weeks now, I can personally say that I enjoy doing work on the W7 side more. It’s toolbar and new aero features seem to encourage multi-tasking more than the dock+expose+stacks do.

    Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong with any new OS this fall…

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Does UAC on the highest level still annoy by having multiple sequential notices for a single action?

      • Scorpiuscat
      • 10 years ago

      When you have UAC on the max setting in Win7, it will behave exactly like it does in Vista.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        *sigh* Oh well I gues I’ll look forward to multiple notices for a single action. Better than malware being able to change windows settings with the new 3rd level in Win 7. It doesn’t happen often but if I’m in a raging mood when it does it makes me apoplectic.

          • Meadows
          • 10 years ago

          They supposedly cleaned up that old flaw in W7’s UAC, so I’m not sure if the worry is warranted.

    • AGerbilWithAFootInTheGrav
    • 10 years ago

    insert profanity here… bah…

    step forward, step back… this is what you get with an effective monopoly

    I will probably switch, but bahhhh… it will probably be some of the worst $$$ I spend over the next few months…

    no real functionality improvement, just switching to the new platform to keep up with the times, and all the annoying “better” ways (with no upside, just a learning curve to get where we were before) of working.

      • WaltC
      • 10 years ago

      What do you get with an “ineffective non-monopoly,” I wonder? I think you might get “the same”…forever, and forever, and forever…;) It takes $$$ to do R&D, you know, and unsuccessful “ineffective non-monopolies” generally don’t have a whole lot of that in supply.

      Besides, what’s with the whole “monopoly” schtick, anyway? Don’t you think that too many things in life already have too many brain-dead labels? How refreshing it was when we could simply evaluate software for its merits and not get so darn hung-up on politically motivated, pseudo-scientific labels.

        • sigher
        • 10 years ago

        MS has billions, and clearly a billion doesn’t make results 100 grand would not get too, in fact all the people working past each other and having different design concept in their head is probably part of the issues MS has now and creates a result that’s actually worse than a small firm would produce.
        You should step out of that old never-was-true paradigm that more money means better, just sit down, turn off that computer and ipod, and the taught self-censor to not doubt, and think for a sec for yourself.

    • Cim
    • 10 years ago

    Great article, brings up a lot of the new stuff… I’ve seen other W7 introductions but none of them mentioned the Remote Desktop improvements (which is a huge thing for me).

    About the VLC file associations, that’s a simple thing. Unless you right-click on VLC and select “Run as Administrator”, the program does not have permission to change file associations. Slightly annoying for sure but so is installing an app that forcefully takes over associations, so I guess it’s a trade off.

    • paulsnz
    • 10 years ago

    Having run Win7 Beta then RC1 I have found the bestest Linux Desktop…
    PClinuxOS 2009 Iv’e tested them all…

    I liked Win7 very much speed impovements from beta to RC to RTM but No key yet, no price yet?? If M$ are going to be a force win7 needs to be <$50 for full version..

    Now I can do more and more with PCLiuxOS than with win 7
    VirtualBox gives seamless running of WinXP for development but I’m on my linux desktop 95% of time now so there’s no going back 4 me!??

    • Ashbringer
    • 10 years ago

    I’m more enthralled about Snow Leopard then Windows 7. BTW, I hate Apple more then anyone else. I’m also running Windows 7 as I speak.

    OpenCL is going to make it very interesting.

      • willardjuice
      • 10 years ago

      There’s OpenCL on Windows you know…

        • Meadows
        • 10 years ago

        And Windows has DirectCompute.

        • ChronoReverse
        • 10 years ago

        Isn’t OpenCL available even for older Windows? We don’t have to pay for to be added on too *zing*

    • Voldenuit
    • 10 years ago

    l[

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      Yeah, this is true – on my computer, 3rd party apps that show up with jump lists include Finale, Sonar, iTunes, Acrobat Reader, and Firefox.

    • TheCollective
    • 10 years ago

    Windows 7 addresses almost every complaint I have with Vista. I’m with you on one major thing, just clone expose and spaces and get it over with. Other than that I would say this is an OS release worthy of high praise, what Vista could have (and should have) been.

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      Why not clone the original instead. It’s open source, even.

        • TheCollective
        • 10 years ago

        Expose and Spaces are certainly not open source, but the API’s to do the same things they do are already in Windows Vista and (I assume) Windows 7. I have an app called switcher that gives me Expose like functionality in 7. Why not build the support into the OS?

          • FubbHead
          • 10 years ago

          Where do you think Apple got the ideas from? But then again, I guess its doomed getting Microsoft playing by Open Source rules. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Meadows
    • 10 years ago

    g{

      • travbrad
      • 10 years ago

      Both ffdshow and VLC are very quick installs. So it really comes down to personal preference. Both routes have their merits. It may be simpler to just install one, but it’s not as if an extra 15sec install is really going to eat up all of my time.

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 10 years ago

        His point was more that if you don’t want to have to worry about multiple players for different content, just having the ffdshow setup such that WMP can use it means that you can use WMP for everything (if you want to).

          • travbrad
          • 10 years ago

          Or you can use VLC for everything. Either way you end up installing 1 thing. Like I said, it all comes down to personal preference.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 10 years ago

          does ffdshow get WMP to see ogg and mkv files? I don’t have any of either file type on my computer at the moment, but that’s not what I remember. I could remember wrong though.

            • ChronoReverse
            • 10 years ago

            You’d need the splitter (Haali is good) as well. And 64bit version in x64 since x64 media players can’t use 32bit codecs.

            My objection to VLC is that it has a crappy interface, a slipshod setup and a broken subtitle engine. Not only that, it doesn’t have GPU acceleration available at all. I’d much rather use Media Player Classic HC which is just as, if not more light without the problems of VLC.

            • travbrad
            • 10 years ago

            It has a very similar basic interface as media player classic. Play, pause, next/prev, and volume. The more advanced controls are accessible by clicking one button. I guess it’s a matter of taste, but I always felt VLC was quite similar to media player classic (which is also great btw) in the interface department. The only major difference I can see is that clicking the video pauses with MPC, which is frankly a bit annoying.

            Not sure what you mean by slipshod setup. It seems like a pretty standard install to me. I agree the subtitles are a problem though. ffdshow is muuuch better in that area.

            I can see how lack of GPU acceleration could be an issue for some people, but for me personally, it’s not needed. If my overclocked E8400 can’t handle a video file, then that’s a seriously demanding decode ๐Ÿ™‚

            Again, this is all coming down to personal preference though. I don’t really have any issues with VLC or MPC, they are both great players nowadays (VLC did used to have some big problems).

            • ChronoReverse
            • 10 years ago

            I was more thinking about the structure of the setup for VLC in the menus. You can tell it was designed as a cross-platform application (not necessarily a bad thing) when you’re trying to pick a renderer for instance.

            In MPCHC, you get presented with too many options but at least they all work fairly well no matter which you choose and they’re all quite specific to Windows. With VLC, you can get options that either don’t work, don’t quite map to the video technology terms, or work really poorly (for example, opengl renderer with ATI cards).

            As for clicking videos to pause, at least MPCHC lets you remap almost everything (even if that interface is horrible). Clicking the video doesn’t have to pause it.

    • sbarash
    • 10 years ago

    How could you not even mention Windows Media Center?

    Its the best part!

    • albundy
    • 10 years ago

    There is no hype. Your forced to use it if you wanna game with DX11. The driver signing is more of a car wreck than an annoyance. you can disable it through F8, but it will still cause you migraines. there is no hack that works afaik. changing the driver signing to disabled in the group policy didnt work for me. the explorer shell is really really REALLY annoying if your coming from XP, and for some reason the new explorer doesnt seem to keep folder/file layout settings. Gmail Drive refuses to work on the 64bit version, but i was able to use it by going to File>Open in IE 32-bit. Otherwise, I like the new side bar without the bar, Networking is way better than XP, and the icons are nice, big and colorful just like aero. thats about it.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      Vista gets DX11, too. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Windows 7 is forced.

      Vista was “forced” if you wanted DX10. And it never meant anything. There’s not yet a compelling reason to expect any different for DX11.

      A bunch of “DX10” games were shown off with fancy new graphics before Vista arrived. However, once the DX10 games themselves arrived, it turned out that they looked the same in DX9.

      I’m sure a lot of the alleged benefits of DX11 will make their way into games that aren’t running DX11, once those games are actually out there.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 10 years ago

    Again good review. Nice to see a down-to-earth perspective.

    My take: I’ll wait for -[<6.2<]-, I mean Win7 SP1. Too many newbies in it. Let the 200 million people test it and then have all the bugs taken care of. By that time, DX11 cards should be more plentiful and cheaper. Or beat down the price for a GTX295, think about this, the price for the high-end OS will most likely be the same as for this card - I'll take the card, thank you very much. Anyway, I enjoyed the read and look forward to the tests of all the MB, RAM, video cards and OS. Lots of newbies coming!

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      ?!?!?!?!

      Vista Ultimate is $170. Even at $500 and after a PCB redesign, GTX 295s are sold at a loss. I’m sure that’s just “wishful thinking out loud,” but they’re not going to go any lower, ever.

      Here’s a better idea:

      For probably near the same total price as just Windows 7 Ultimate, buy Windows 7 Home for about $90, and then get a new Radeon 5000 that will likely work as well as a GTX 295, considering it will be a single, powerful card, and you probably aren’t running 2560×1600.

      You can have your cake and eat it, too, if you just pick and choose, rather than going for the “biggest and best.”

      And about waiting for the service pack, they’ve been beta testing this for like a year now, and it’s just a modified Vista. The actual release version has been available for a while. There’s nothing to be so paranoid about.

        • SomeOtherGeek
        • 10 years ago

        Paranoid?

        Misunderstood, maybe… I was talking about Win7. I have Vista and it is fine. I have Ultra, so upgrading to Win7 Ultra will not be cheap. So, getting a high-end card with a free OS might be the cake…?

        Paranoid? More like careful and holding out a little while. The soon to be old stuff will be plenty good/powerful enough and cheaper.

          • OneArmedScissor
          • 10 years ago

          I’m just saying, don’t hold out on GTX 295s getting cheap. They can’t.

          Current stuff isn’t necessarily so “soon to be old.” We haven’t really seen direct 40nm shrinks of anything yet, and aside from a lone high end Radeon, that’s all the rest of the year is likely to bring.

          Nvidia has been holding out on price drops, and isn’t releasing new high end cards for a while. ATI will leave their DX11 card sitting at the top for as long as they can manage, which will be several months. Nvidia cards will finally come down a little to match ATI, but it’s not as if the current generation is being wiped off store shelves this year.

          The price of Radeon 4000s went down by more than half in less than a year. I wouldn’t hold out for any more significant price slashing. ATI just jumped the gun to keep a leg up on Nvidia while they’re still stealing market share.

            • SomeOtherGeek
            • 10 years ago

            Agreed. Thanks for going back and forth with me. That is good info and people need to be aware of it.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 10 years ago

            I post too much here, it’s what I do. :p

            Thanks for actually discussing this in a civil manner, even though I disagreed with you at first. Most of us have the same ideas in mind, when you get right down to it.

      • travbrad
      • 10 years ago

      I’ll start caring about DX11 cards when there are games released that make good use of it, or use it at all for that matter. Seeing how we seem to be stuck at current gen console graphics, I don’t see that happening particularly quickly.

      Even DX10 doesn’t have much going for it, years after it was released. Many games are still DX9 only, or have no real benefit from DX10. DX10.1 showed some nice performance improvements in certain situations, but again, there are so few games that actually use it.

        • End User
        • 10 years ago

        The next gen GPU’s are not just about DX11, they are also about pixel pushing power.

        I’ll be getting one if I see a substantial jump in performance. DX11 is not my primary concern.

          • travbrad
          • 10 years ago

          Oh no doubt. That was one of the great things about the R300 (9700PRO). It was the first DX9 card, but it was also amazingly fast in the DX8 games which were out at the time.

          We’ll need some far more demanding games released for extra performance to be necessary though. Even my lowly 4830 doesn’t have any problems running current games. I can run the vast majority of games on high settings @ 1680×1050, even with some AA a lot of the time (the only exceptions being crysis or GTA4). And this is with what is essentially a low-end card.

          I guess more power is nice for those with uber 30″ monitors, but that’s a very limited market.

      • RickyTick
      • 10 years ago

      The only problem with waiting for Win7 SP1 is that you possibly forego the opportunity to utilize the “family pack”. They did say it would only be available for a limited time, didn’t they?

    • herothezero
    • 10 years ago

    While I had no issues with Vista, even in beta, W7 has been a pleasure to use all around. Very much looking forward to moving forward with this release, especially at the office. I cannot tell you how sick to death we are from dealing with XP’s security and networking inadequacies.

    • provoko
    • 10 years ago

    How many MB’s does the OS use without anything installed?

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      I think a better question is how many processes does it run?

      RAM is cheap and plentiful. It’s not like the OS is going to use even 1GB.

      However, the more background processes, the more overhead on the CPU, and it adds up.

        • Krogoth
        • 10 years ago

        If it is anything similar to Vista. The Home Edition and Starter will only support one physical CPU (socket), while Professional and Ultimate can support two physical CPUs (sockets).

          • smilingcrow
          • 10 years ago

          #46, I think a better question is how many processes does it run?
          However, the more background processes, the more overhead on the CPU, and it adds up.

          #48, If it is anything similar to Vista. The Home Edition and Starter will only support one physical CPU (socket), while Professional and Ultimate can support two physical CPUs (sockets).

          Processes _[

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      Are you asking about disk space?

        • provoko
        • 10 years ago

        memory/ram

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      I’d throw 200-250 MiB as a faint guess for kernel memory, if you really don’t have drivers and such stuff added on top. That probably won’t reflect the entire memory usage, but it’s also the only reliable metric. My own Vista system at the moment uses 310-320 MiB kernel memory with drivers and everything installed. Nothing to get a heart attack for.

    • FuturePastNow
    • 10 years ago

    I’ve been using it since April. I like it.

    The learning curve for the new taskbar is pretty low. If you’ve got multiple windows of something open, you learn to mouse over the icons for them in turn to bring them to focus.

    However, I admit that I still have no idea what libraries are or how I’m supposed to use them. They seem pretty unnecessary to me.

    • Prototyped
    • 10 years ago

    If like me you don’t like app icons mixed with window icons differentiated by only a small styling change, you can bring back the Quick Launch toolbar; it’s in %appdata%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch, if I remember right, so you can unlock and right-click the taskbar and add that as a new toolbar. That plus unpinning everything on the taskbar and switching it to group only when full makes it feel more familiar, with running apps separated from launchers.

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      Left click on taskbar->Toolbar? Or what?

        • Prototyped
        • 10 years ago

        Right-click taskbar, Toolbars -> New Toolbar. Browse to the Quick Launch folder.

          • FubbHead
          • 10 years ago

          Yeah, I know. I kind of added the “or what” because it sounded on you like the feature wasn’t available at all, so I was unsure if that really was what you were after.

          IIRC, you had to add the quicklaunch manually in XP as well ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Lazier_Said
    • 10 years ago

    I am not a fan of the new Explorer but it isn’t much work to get it looking like the old Explorer again.

    Homegroups may be disabled in Administrative Tools > Services, once done it will no longer clutter Explorer.

    Libraries may be turned off with a registry hack: ยง[< http://tinyurl.com/m6v9zl<]ยง Enabling 'Show all Folders' in Folder Options > General tab will give the classic navigation tree. I like the new systray and could get used to the new taskbar.

      • tigen
      • 10 years ago

      The icon-only style is unusable. If you have multiple instances of something open, the icon alone can’t tell you which window is which. You can try to tell from the little preview windows, but that is a slower procedure than just glancing at a text label, and often the preview window is too small to figure out which one is which. (like if you have a few folder windows open with lists of files). Sure it looks slick, but it’s not functional.

        • Lazier_Said
        • 10 years ago

        I agree 100% that the icon only taskbar is form over function crap.

        The labeled mode is useable though. And I could get used to – haven’t yet, but could – the merged quick launch area and rearrangeability.

        I built a new PC for Windows 7 and am not yet sure if I’ll keep it or revert to XP. When I did the same thing for Vista I was certain it was going by the end of the evening, so that’s an improvement.

    • Madman
    • 10 years ago

    Ok, firstly let me state that I’m a critical person, so I say what I don’t like, bear with me ๐Ÿ˜€

    It seems that I will upgrade to W7 from Vista, because it fixes some things, ok, breaks some others, but anyway, I need it for software development anyway.

    When I first heard of W7 I was under impression that it’ll be super-uber-mega-cool. Now it seems like an cumulative update.

    There are still ton of things I really don’t like, and for now, it seems to be a productivity hog like Vista is.

    Let me get things straight, Vista is horrible, it trashes the HDD even with superfetch disabled and 4GB of RAM, horribly! The GUI is clumsy, the control panels are awful, the OS is downright buggy and only now the drivers are starting to get things right. Also the registry gets full of crap and system takes a nose dive after 2 weeks of use, no, there is no magical AI that cleans something up, I told you so, but anyway…

    It had few things done right, though, the search from start menu is must-have feature, and UAC is a step in the right direction, although it doesn’t seem right. But that’s it.

    The sad part is that I don’t hear that W7 is like 100000000000000x times better. So to tell the truth, I’m still thinking XP or W7 when I’ll upgrade my HDD in a near future.

    Then again, maybe I’m becoming old or something, because I totally hate the shiny counter-productive GUI’s, superfetching of junk that I don’t use (Vista, 500MB .exe setups…). So I don’t know.

    I also hate the new control panels, because it’s pain to fix something when you have to. It always feels like, ok… my network is broken again, how do I do a repair it if it’s broken, automatic repair! Thanks, I know that something is wrong and I can’t ping microsoft.com, shut up, R-E-P-A-I-R, like adapter on, off, DHCP request, like in XP, mmmmmmkay? Nope… Ok, so where are the network connections? My network center? Set up network – no, Share files – no, Draw a map – no, Am I stupid – no!!!! WTF?! Can’t they just unruin the interface and use the one that XP had?

    I really hope that Microsoft will do the PowerShell right (without [copy “.NET exception” con] crap), because W7 makes me feel helpless.

    I know a lot about PC’s and I know what’s happening behind the scenes, but Vista makes me become stupid, I can’t fix the problem or set up something in a straightforward way, I have to use dumb ways… I don’t want to… And W7 doesn’t seem to be any more advanced from what I saw here.

    Also the networking in Windows sucks… Why can’t it be so simple as two IP’s, a folder with username and password and that’s it? With Windows you always have to click, “are you stooopid, click here!!!” ten times before something starts to work, even if you have IPs right, same workgroup, same usernames, firewall rules set up and folders set up. It always take those ten “I’m a moron” options in stupid lame interfaces to make things work. Even though they don’t change anything else than I do when I do it manually, and where I do it 10x faster.

    Maybe the W2k8 Server versions will be easier to use…

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      /[

        • SGT Lindy
        • 10 years ago

        Ditto, the dreaded “limited or no connection”. I want to shoot a Vista and 7 PC when it does that.

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      Funny that almost all of those items were things you had against Vista. I guess you cannot please everybody.

      • Namlous
      • 10 years ago

      Honestly you summed up my problems with Vista/W7 exactly. It forces you to be a mainstream user. The way they fragmented the control panel and the network settings is a perfect example of this.

        • Krogoth
        • 10 years ago

        What is wrong with that? It is not like the new setup prevents you from doing advanced stuff.

        Besides, command line interface is there still for the “1337” power users.

        • PeterD
        • 10 years ago

        Of course: MS wants to be in control, MS does not want you to be in control.

        • Da_Boss
        • 10 years ago

        I don’t think it forces you to be mainstream, but It does suggest it. That being said, there’s nothing in XP that you can’t do in W7. It just takes a little getting used to.

        Rest assured, for 95% of W7’s user base they’ll probably find the changes in Explorer and Control Panel to be more user-friendly.

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      g{

        • Madman
        • 10 years ago

        Well, I don’t have MS fanboy superpowers, so Vista is not accelerating after prolonged use. I also have 0 spyware and related crapware on my PC.

        All of the things I mentioned are just a natural way the OSes get slower, Antivirus overhead, application registry bloat, slower tracks on HDD. Search indexes, superfetch.

        I just stated this because when Vista came some people hyped that Vista doesn’t do that. Well, it does, even more than XP.

          • Meadows
          • 10 years ago

          Even if it does that, it’s less pronounced than in XP. After all, if you were correct then people would complain more often about it. Only you do that, however.

          And since you’re a self-proclaimed “computer expert” (yeah right), you should be able to know exactly what to do about it.

            • Madman
            • 10 years ago

            No, it’s more pronounced, and if you’ll read the comments here, you’ll see that people do complain about Vista being heavyweight.

            And concerning do something about it, it takes time. I can fix some things that slow the PC down, but it takes time, which I don’t want to waste on tweaking the OS.

            All in all, a lot of people say that Vista is heavy, and there is truth behind that.

            • Joel H.
            • 10 years ago

            Search indexes and SuperFetch improve performance, they don’t hurt it. As for your complaint that Vista hogs RAM, if you understood how it worked, you’d understand why that’s actually not true.

            As for buggy, I reboot about once a month. I have a program crash maybe once a week. Maybe. I call PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.)

            You can call me a Microsoft fanboy, but you’d be wrong. I detested Vista at launch, I didn’t switch to it until 2008, and I use OSX as well.The REAL bottom line, however, is that if you want XP…go use it.

            • FubbHead
            • 10 years ago

            Indexing increase performance….when searching. If you’re not searching files a lot, the indexing is a resource overhead and performance hit you don’t need.

            Superfetch increase performance by caching beforehand, with the only benefit it will start an application a bit faster the first time. But after that, it would be cached anyway, Superfetch or no. But it still needs to perform the caching at some point, and then it’s definitely a resource penalty.

            Both of them only increase the performance in a few specific cases. The rest of the time, it’s decreasing the performance. Personally, I use neither. ๐Ÿ™‚

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Since Vista manages resources more intelligently than XP (the amount of memory used is not part of the “management” as I refer to it here, so don’t bring that up), I actually believe that neither should make a world’s worth of difference in performance. The I/O operation priority changes were particularly important, and relate to both.

            With that said, I don’t really make use of indexing myself, maybe except for the Start menu, but I appreciate prefetching.

            • Madman
            • 10 years ago

            There is no “more intelligently” way in Vista.

            For power user scenario superfetching and search indexing hurts more than it helps IMHO. I’d say search indexing helps me in 0,00001% of time, when after a year I do open the search, and since I don’t randomly start setups all the time, prefetching helps me in 0,001% of time.

            And, if you have 2 PCs, XP and Vista, with all the regular day to day stuff like Adobe readers, Java virtual machines, Antivirus software, IM software, CD/DVD emulation software, SQL server. The Vista machine takes longer to boot and has more work to do when you have to start another instance of memory hungry application like Visual studio with multiple projects under solution and so on.

            It’s not that I say Vista is bad, but the direction it has gone is completely wrong I would say. And it doesn’t even ask. I have to try W7 to tell if it has more good things.

            The bottom line is:
            If I would be asked if there’s something that XP doesn’t have when compared to Vista then I can only say it’s start menu search and UAC, where UAC can be solved with LUA on XP. I hope W7 has something else that’s handy. There are a few candidates, but I have to try them first.

            Nothing else makes me say wow. Mostly it’s more clumsy interfaces.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            W7 will disappoint you because while they tremendously improved the performance of the UI itself, the OS in every other instance is not really measurably faster or even just fast enough to make it matter.

            Jump list windows are particularly annoying, because they fade in by default, making them subconsciously feel so clumsy compared to the snappy old right-click menues I’m otherwise used to.

            Games may run faster a tiny bit, but that may have something to do with the updated driver architecture as well. I don’t know about that one.

            And Windows Explorer was pussified, it reached its peak with Vista and now they’re retarding it back where it climbed up from. And to what end?

            I’d have already switched in a heartbeat, had they not hacked and slashed Windows Explorer apart.

            • FubbHead
            • 10 years ago

            Where is this mythical UI performance improvment?

            As far as I can tell, it’s even slower, with a similar effect (although slight) as interfacing with a game that runs with VSYNC but can’t render all the frames, ie. it is slightly sluggish and “behind”.

            Or maybe that’s a feature, you never know.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            The improvement is that Aero will use less RAM (and become faster as a result, being an interface) – especially with many windows open.

            In Vista, if you open a window, you get memory usage. If you open 3 more, you get more memory usage. I could go on.
            In W7, most of the nonspecific Aero elements are just copies of the same bit of memory, so while opening a window will still occupy memory, you’ll see drastically reduced overhead after opening additional windows.

            This helps a lot for both multitasking and for computers with integrated graphics, particularly the shitty intel variety.

            • FubbHead
            • 10 years ago

            Perhaps the memory footprint is reduced somewhat, I haven’t checked myself. But I’m certainly not experiencing any increased performance, or “snappy-ness”. The only thing I can think of is that the system runs out of memory faster because of the supposed larger memory footprint.

            In fact, performance is often optimized by using more memory, not less.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            In cases like this, anyone worth their salt can realise that there’s tremendous potential to simply waste memory (having the same glass graphics in memory four times for no reason will not improve performance). W7 will fix that. The interface’s code was cleaned up a little as far as I’ve heard, and there’s the above big step in memory usage.

            Should alleviate the problems integrated-graphics-people were having.

            • Voldenuit
            • 10 years ago

            l[

            • ChronoReverse
            • 10 years ago

            The Recent Items menu item is still available. Just customize the Start Menu (right click task bar and click properties to get started).

    • FubbHead
    • 10 years ago

    Many of the improvements which are enhancing the tried and proven are nice, eg. the rearrangeable taskbar, toned down UAC, etc. But in reality it’s a catastrophe they weren’t in Vista already, Microsoft did nothing from XP.

    It would be nice with some kind of performance comparison on TR. Or a battery life test. Personally, I perceive the UI as slightly lagging, giving it a rather sluggish feel.

    Anyway..

    A lot of the redesigns are now irreversible. Too bad, then, that many of the them are breaking something that works, rather than fixing something that doesn’t.

    The control panel has now become a complete failure. You can have their unintuitive and tedious variant of categorization, or none at all. Enable classic view in Vista, group by category, and violรก, it’s a neat and nicely categorized control panel. It’s really mind boggling.

    Jump list in the start menu? Sure, why not. But I don’t care at all for taskbar jump list. Or the new systray. Or the miniatures. They’re rubbish, looks rubbish, and solves nothing. But were pretty much perfected in Vista.

    And the ultra-glossy taskbar buttons are screwing up the readability, and the highlighting of them is just extreme. The word tinting is obviously not part of their vocabulary.

    So basically, give me Vista with most of the basic /[

    • tigen
    • 10 years ago

    Adding a few slick features to the window manager GUI is cute and all but hardly seems worth hundreds of dollars. Too bad they make you re-buy all the rest of the OS again just to upgrade that one, relatively small, component.

    • thermistor
    • 10 years ago

    Rocket OS (is it GOs?) and Mac meet Windows 7…you could be related.

    I’m with #15 and running Vista Ultimate.

    • Richie_G
    • 10 years ago

    Thank God. I’m really bloody /[

      • pullmyfoot
      • 10 years ago

      same. I finally made the move from XP to W7. I just upgraded my other rig with Vista from XP too (ive had Vista for a year but never installed it). I love W7 already

    • Fighterpilot
    • 10 years ago

    Nice article there Cyril…thanks!

      • _Sigma
      • 10 years ago

      aye, one of the best Win7 overviews I’ve read.

      • Prototyped
      • 10 years ago

      Yeah, it’s good to hear criticism as well, where most reviews are full of basically mindless gushing about the new features.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 10 years ago

      Yep, it was a different read and I liked the break from the routine. Thanks Cyril!

      • oldDummy
      • 10 years ago

      Ditto, seems balanced and legit.
      Fanboz are starting to bore me.

    • odizzido
    • 10 years ago

    interface language switching only on ultimate….god dammit.

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      What’s the big deal?

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      It can be done.

      • 5150
      • 10 years ago

      Oh, you meant those things I always ignore in Windows Update?

      • travbrad
      • 10 years ago

      Haha. I was thinking the same thing. There is such little difference between Professional and Ultimate. I guess the price difference is small too, but something called “Ultimate” just seems like it should have some amazing additional features. Not just a couple things 99% of people won’t want.

    • cookwithvette
    • 10 years ago

    If you want a good demonstration of Device Stage, try a Sansa Clip. VERY nicely done.

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      Hmm, I’ll have to try that. All my music is on my XP box (or my Win2K file server) so I’ve never plugged my Clip into a Win7 machine.

    • Krogoth
    • 10 years ago

    In a nutshell,

    If you are already on Vista. You can safely skip 7. You are not missing much at all.

    If you are still on XP. It is time to make the big move, unless your hardware is very dated. In that case, it may time for an upgrade.

      • brm001
      • 10 years ago

      Actually, 7 runs so well on my EEE that I’m tempted to recommend it even on poor hardware. Unless you have 512MB of RAM or something–it does use about 620MB while browsing the web with Chrome.

      • End User
      • 10 years ago

      I was a enthusiastic supporter of Vista (post Nov. 2007). I’ve trashed all three of my Vista installs. Two systems are now running 7 RC and one is running 7 Pro GM. Leave Vista behind.

        • FubbHead
        • 10 years ago

        On the contrary, Windows 7 really gives some perspective on Vista.

        • funko
        • 10 years ago

        agreed. I enjoyed vista since the RC’s but i fail to see any reason why people with vista shouldnt upgrade to windows 7. i still run vista ultimate, and windows 7 beta, and i plan on upgrading my vista ultimate system to win 7 as soon as it hits the market.

      • Mithent
      • 10 years ago

      I agree, but this seems to be a minority opinion. I don’t think 7 is a compelling upgrade from Vista, myself, and probably only worth switching to on a new machine.

      On the other hand, I did preorder 7 Home Premium because it was the cheapest I was likely to see a full Windows license for any time soon.

    • blitzy
    • 10 years ago

    so are all ye Vista haters actually going to step up from XP to W7?

    • moop2000
    • 10 years ago

    My biggest complaints about Windows 7 so far are Homegroups and Libraries! I really wish there was a way to either turn these off, or get rid of them completely. I was perfectly happy with My Documents, or even the Vista equivalent. Way to add a new way to view everything that adds more complication for everyone!

      • Kaleid
      • 10 years ago

      I don’t even like my folders.
      ____

      re: the new taskbar
      “That extra step can be frustrating when you need to switch back and forth a lot.”
      Yes. This is how both Vista and Win7 feel compared to XP which stays more out of the way.

      And why does both Vista and Win7 ignore my appearance settings in windows explorer? I’m terribly tired of that white background color. The only solution is to switch to classic look but that tends to look a bit dated these days.

    • alsoRun
    • 10 years ago

    The clean install using upgrade disk is very helpful. I have a corrupted Vista machine and I have installed a clean Windows 7 release candidate on it. I hope I can install the final version on top of release candidate.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    q[

    • BlackStar
    • 10 years ago

    I’ve been using Win7 for a few months and it feels like a slightly polished version of Vista SP2. The new taskbar is a definite improvement and there are small touches that make the experience much less painful (control panels show up instantly; the network center has been tidied up; more videos work out of the box; it starts up faster).

    However, having experience with all major desktop environments (WinXP/Vista/7, Leopard, KDE 3 & 4 and Gnome), I still prefer Gnome as the most logical, usable and customizable interface. I’ll keep a copy of Win7 on a virtual machine for software testing purposes, but I don’t think I’ll upgrade my native Vista SP2 installation before Win7 SP1 is released. Unlike XP -> Vista, there simply aren’t any compelling reasons to upgrade from Vista -> 7 right now.

    • GreatGooglyMoogly
    • 10 years ago

    Still waiting for x64 M-Audio drivers for my soundcard. There are beta ones out that might work okay.

    What’s keeping me from upgrading at work is the abject lack of any kind of Windows 7 Matrox drivers. They say they will be out in October, but it remains to see if it’ll be x64, or even WDDM v1.1 (which I will require since I’m running heterogeneous multimonitor – 3 monitors with one Matrox P690 LP PCIe x1 card and an ATI 3870, and WDDM 1.0 (see Vista) does not support this).

    • Kurotetsu
    • 10 years ago

    I just started playing with Windows 7 RC over the past 2 weeks and….I didn’t really see much difference between it and Vista. I mean, the way people were talking about it I expected a mindblowing difference in performance. The new UAC slider is certainly nice (not that I ever had a problem with UAC in Vista), but beyond that I wasn’t all that blown away by it. I expect my opinion would change if I were to use it more seriously over a longer period of time, or if I were upgrading from XP.

    Keep in mind, I already bought the Windows 7 Pro Upgrade when it was selling for $99 some time back.

    • nagashi
    • 10 years ago

    When you guys get around to benching, I’d be particularly interested in seeing its effect on battery performance versus vista and xp, and maybe a list of the 50 most common apps (winamp? thunderbird? irfanview?) and any major issues they have currently.

    • ChangWang
    • 10 years ago

    Finally someone tells it like it is!!! Cheers Cyril

    • StashTheVampede
    • 10 years ago

    Can we get a breakdown of stock services started/stopped/disabled on boot between Vista and Win7?

    • randomtask
    • 10 years ago

    “Relative improvement compared to Vista means very little to me, when I have an up-to-date system that flies on WindowsXP, but continually thrashes the hard drive on Windows7.”

    turn off windows search.

    turn off all unnecessary services.

    I have yet to give Windows 7 a go but after tweaking vista with SP2 i found it much more responsive than XP. Boot up times and power down times greatly improved too.

      • kravo
      • 10 years ago

      I love windows 7’s search. I work whit a s**t load of files, and it’s so much easier to find them this way, as to browse trough a bunch of folders.
      I installed win7 onto my lenovo r61, and it works perfectly.
      try it if you have a spare pc or old laptop!

      • phez
      • 10 years ago

      Win7 search is the best search I’ve used yet in an OS.

    • gtoulouzas
    • 10 years ago

    Personally, I have not been nearly as impressed by the new o.s. Sure, there have been some improvements over Windows Vista, but nothing as radical as the rabid press hype would have you believe. Neither the aesthetic, nor the interface changes over XP have won me over. And worst of all, Windows7 still trails XP significantly when it comes to system performance. It simply does not feel nearly as “snappy” or responsive. Relative improvement compared to Vista means very little to me, when I have an up-to-date system that flies on WindowsXP, but continually thrashes the hard drive on Windows7.

    All in all, Win7 has been, for me, a disappointment ; devoid of either compelling new features, or significant performance improvements. Perhaps it will be a different experience for people with touch screens or SSD drives…

      • swaaye
      • 10 years ago

      yeah I actually have a hard time seeing a tangible improvement going from 7 and Vista SP2. Some of the new ideas are actually annoying to me (taskbar) and the supposed enhancements to new things Vista brought aren’t even very apparent to me. It’s ok though, just like Vista.

      I also still have a hard time deciding between XP and NT6. If you’re buying new, there’s no big reason to fear either Vista or 7, but there’s not much reason to upgrade from XP IMO (especially if you need new hardware to do so and it won’t improve productivity substantially).

        • Krogoth
        • 10 years ago

        IMO, the only compelling reason to upgrade from XP is x86-64 support.

      • brm001
      • 10 years ago

      It’s quite snappy even on an EEE 1000H–certainly about as quick as XP would be. Not sure what you’re expecting. Turning all the animations off may help it seem snappier, though.

      • Byte Storm
      • 10 years ago

      WIndows 7 has performed just as good, if not better than XP, on every system I have put it on. True, my desktop is a Core i7 920 with SLI Graphics etc.; but my little brothers laptop, which was dying with Vista (can’t use XP, ATI didn’t make XP drivers for the Radeon Mobility 3000 series and above), works very well with 7; comparable to my other brother’s laptop of similar specs but an nVidia card, which was running XP.

        • travbrad
        • 10 years ago

        Yeah, it feels a lot snappier to me also, coming from XP. I have a fairly modest system as well, with “only” 2GB of memory. It’s not a huge difference, but noticeable nonetheless.

        I even had my first Win7 install on a relatively ancient PATA WD Caviar 80GB drive. Even on that drive (which scored about 45MB/S in HDTach sequential read), it was a bit snappier than XP, and even had faster boot times.

        I know everyone’s experience varies, but all 3 machines I’ve installed it on felt faster with Win7. Even DX9 games are running at virtually identical frame rates.

      • CampinCarl
      • 10 years ago

      I just replaced XP Home with Win7 Pro on my Dell Vostro laptop (thank god for the MSDNAA!). It feels a little bit snappier (probably down to the fresh install feel) than XP felt. I reset the taskbar for old style, which was no hassle at all. It wasn’t that the setup annoyed me, it’s just that I don’t like grouped windows–I avoided it even in XP.

      Laptop Specs:
      160GB Hard Drive (5400 RPM, Seagate Momentus I think)
      Core 2 Duo T7250 (Woo Hardware VT for XP mode, I need it for ModelSim and Xilinx)
      2GB RAM
      Geforce 8600M GT.

      I don’t know if you were expecting some gigantic boost to system snappiness…but that can only really come from shifting to a RAID array or something because tasks are I/O bound by hardware waaay more than the OS.

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