Saturday, October 31, 2009

Windows 7 and Windows Live

I received both of my $50 pre-order copies of Windows 7 Home Premium early this week, and upgraded our Vista laptops.  I could not be happier, and am considering forking over for 7 Ultimate on our DVR box.
Personally, I never really bought into the anti-Vista hype.  I think that was a result of Vista coming out more than a year later than it should have, with poor OEM/driver support, and high hardware requirements.  But technology-wise, Vista was Microsoft’s best OS ever.  If you wanted a 64-bit box, there was no question – you wanted Vista, not XP 64.  I thought the Windows Mojave experiment did a great job of highlighting that Vista’s problem was one of perception, not technology.  But you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Vista never recovered.
So, Windows 7 gets all the advantages of piggy backing off its older brother Vista, but with none of the baggage.  It has the same Aero eye-candy, searchable everything, and stability.  There are some noticeable differences though:
  • If you’re already running Vista, you can do an in-place upgrade.  Leave yourself plenty of time though cause it takes 3+ hours.  But, it was really clean and easy and worked flawlessly on both our family laptops.
  • UAC (user access control) is actually usable in Win7!  It was the first thing I turned off in Vista, but I’ve found myself still using it with Windows 7.  You can configure it with a simple up/down slider to control its verbosity, but the default is reasonable.  I’ve only been prompted when I installed software updates, and otherwise it’s been properly quiet.
  • Windows 7 is snappy.  When you open the laptop lid, the OS is instantly up from sleep mode.  It’s so fast in fact that I had to verify that the laptops were actually in sleep mode when the lid closes, because I couldn’t believe that it was up so fast.
  • The new task bar is just wonderful!  It is worth the upgrade just for this.   The quick-launch bar went away, and I’m a huge user of that so I was initially concerned.  But the searchable start-menu plus the new task bar pinning feature make it really usable and intuitive.  Jump lists are cool, but no apps outside of MS’s stuff use them yet.
  • Window gestures are slick.  Drag a window to the top of the screen – it maximizes.  Drag a window to the right or left, it resizes to bisect the screen.  Did that by accident?  Drag the window again and it goes back to it’s previous size.  Want to get rid of all windows but the one you’re working on?  Shake the window left and right and the other windows will minimize.  Have 2 monitors?  Hit WindowsKey+Shift+right/left to move your window to the other screen.  For the short-cut junkie, this stuff is handy, but not really revolutionary.  But it’s a sticky feature - once you start using it, it just feels right and sticks with you and you’ll miss it when you go back to XP.
  • This is the first MS OS in 10 years where you don’t have to have IE installed.  If you choose not to, the rendering engine is there for Windows Help and other stuff, but you have no front-end browser.  It’s not just hidden – it’s gone.  I gave up IE years ago, and only use it from intranet sites at work, so this is nice.  They’ve also unbundled Messenger, Mail and probably some other things I never wanted or used.
  • Interestingly, absence makes the heart grow fonder – not having used those programs for awhile, I wanted to see where they wound up.  The answer is “Windows Live Essentials”, which is a really nice package.  You can pick and choose from an ensemble of apps, including IM, Mail, Movie Making, Photo management, family internet safety tools, and the tool I’m using right now called Windows Live Writer – a blog posting tool that ties in with all sorts of blog software and lets you write your posts offline in a nice editor.  It even downloads your blog’s theme so that you can see the correct styling and preview your post as it will be shown on your blog.  What a great little app!

There are a few problems and annoyances too.
  • The installer for Vista will do an in-place upgrade, but if you’re still on XP you’ll have to install from scratch.  Considering that XP is still the predominant MS OS, that may be a sizable barrier to the layman.
  • There’s no longer a nice little network icon telling me when I’m connected to my company’s VPN.  That’s annoying because I often forget to disconnect when I’m done working.
  • My computer still takes a little over a minute to boot from power-on to password prompt.  I’m not sure why boot times are never addressed by the Windows development team.
  • The name Windows 7 is even weirder than “ME” and “Vista”.  Windows 7?  Are we trying to compete with Apple and their OSX (ten) brand?  I’m not sure how we get there.  NT 3.5, NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, and then Windows 7 are the OS releases using the NT kernel – that’s 6 total.  If you go by kernel versions numbers, that might work because Vista was version 6.0, but Windows 7 is kernel version 6.1.  It’s all very markety feeling.  Lucky seven.  I suppose that’s to be expected since Vista had a marking problem.
Overall, this is a worthwhile upgrade.  If your machine can run Vista, it’s a no-brainer – it’ll upgrade in-place and run 7 and you’ll love your PC again.  If you’re on XP, it’s a different beast.  You may well be better off buying a nice new $500 laptop or $400 desktop with 7 pre-installed.