Operating Systems Windows

Windows 7: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship?

Microsoft is making a big marketing push for Windows 7, including the somewhat hilarious Windows house parties(really now?), so I decided to share a bit about my experience with Windows 7 so far.

First of all, let me tell you a few things about my history as a Windows user. I started with Windows 95 back in 1998 or 1999(my junior year in high school); I had almost no experience with computers – my previous computer was a local Spectrum clone that had almost no OS, just a BASIC interpreter – and I remember being fascinated by the way the OS worked. I think that at that time it was the most user friendly OS you could get (MAC users, don’t frown). I also started using Red Hat Linux at that time, but that’s a different story. Windows 95 was a great OS at the time. Windows 98 was never really for me; the improvements it was boasting weren’t very appealing to me and I never made the jump. I have a vague recollection of Windows 98SE but I am not sure if it was ever installed on my PC. I used Windows ME for a while when it came out. It was for all intent and purposes and improved Windows 98, drawing from the experience Microsoft had with the server version, Windows 2000. When XP came out, I admit I wasn’t an early adopter, I was comfortable with my setup and my PC wasn’t top of the line and I was worried it couldn’t handle XP. Plus, driver support for XP at the beginning was sketchy – not many device manufacturers jumped at the building drivers for the new Windows architecture. What finally made me switch to XP was the fact that my old Windows ME couldn’t handle more than 512MB of RAM and I had just purchased 256MB of RAM and installed it(a weird but functional combination). It must have been a year after the release of XP that I really got on the Windows XP train. Now, Windows XP has proven itself as the Microsoft’s greatest achievement with its multiple service packs and all. Users all over the world still use Windows XP after so many years have passed, not being impressed by Vista’s pretty graphics. When Vista came out, I admit I was an early adopter, I got myself Vista x64 Business via MSDNAA (I was a student at the time). Installing it for the first time was not as easy as they said it would be but, thank God, they had fixed the SATA drivers issue that XP’s installer had – you had to either inject the drivers into the installer disc or have a floppy disk ready which was so ’99 of them. I made the jump early to Vista because I wanted DirectX 10 graphics and I had purchased a copy of Halo 2 which ran only on Vista with DX10. I don’t regret being an early adopter of Vista but I do admit I hit a lot of bumps in the road. We all know what Vista’s flaws were, including the ever so annoying User Access Control so I won’t reiterate. Vista was not a bad experience overall, as some might have you think – OS stability was greatly improved – no more nasty blue screens of death – driver support was good, right out of the box, making it easier for you just plug and play stuff into your PC. Vista had a good heart (kernel I mean) but users turned away from it because of the UAC and the reworked interface that got many of them confused. Vista wasn’t the success they hoped it would be, that much is clear. But they learned their lesson and eventually fixed it. The result would be Windows 7.

If you are still reading, this is the part were I actually discuss Windows 7 :). I’ve got Windows &7 when it first came out as a Release Candidate but only installed it in a virtual machine. I had access via MSDN to the final release a few weeks before the actual retail launch so I have been using it for a few months now. Now, Windows 7 feels like Vista in many ways but don’t be fooled, the user experience is greatly improved. I did encounter some problems I had with Vista in Windows 7 as well, but I guess it couldn’t be perfect. Yeah, Steve Jobs, Microsoft did break some promises but you see Windows runs on all kinds of PC not just proprietary built machines like OS X so they have to work harder at making a stable OS.In case you missed it, Apple’s advertising response to Windows 7 is something like this:

Before any Mac people out there get upset I will lay this down: I have used Tiger and Leopard and admit they are great OSes that are easy to pick up and use and there are many pros and cons to have OS X instead of Windows but I don’t want to get into that now.

Let’s talk major improvements in Windows 7. User Access Control was dialed down so that it will not annoy you so much. In fact, you can disable it for your user completely without getting any damn security warnings in your system tray. It was clear that UAC had to be made more friendly – it was natural development given the user response to it. The task bar was redesigned; for real this time. While it could be argued that it is a rip off Leopard’s dock(which has stacks, we know) it manages to actually be better. I often find myself “losing” windows in Leopard and reopening them while in Windows 7 they are cleanly grouped and stored in the task bar. It might take some getting used to for people who are jumping from XP but it is a pretty well designed feature. I am loving the new task bar. With the new task bar comes the new system tray which is now more customizable and less cluttered; you can hide/show what icons you want and more. In other respects, the user interface is almost the same as in Vista with some improvements so Vista users should feel right at home – sorry, XP users, the new control panel might take some time to get used to.

Kernel wise it feels like it’s pretty much the same architecture as Vista – one hint would be that you can install and use Vista drivers – I am still having the same problems I had with Vista when it comes to the stability of some drivers. I am still investigating the root cause of the issues I’ve encountered over time. So, no, Windows 7 doesn’t fix all the problems Vista had but I assume that would have been impossible. I am sure there are lot of behind-the-scenes improvements to the kernel but at this point I haven’t noticed that much of a difference.

Graphics wise, it feels like Vista with a hidden plus: DirectX11. Now, there are now DX11 games or applications yet and while AMD/ATI jumped at shipping the first DX11 capable graphics card, I am not sure yet how this will play out. Surely, developers will start using DX11 but it might take a while to get started. As for hardware, I am waiting for a DX11 solution from nVIDIA.

To sum up, I would say that Windows 7 feels like what Vista should have been but that’s how progress works – developers learn from their mistakes. It’s far from perfect, but maybe we’ll reach that point someday. So, if you are an XP user on the fence about switching to Windows 7, I have only one advice for you: time to leave the golden ages behind and move into the modern era.

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