Notice: I do realize that Windows 7, at the time of writing, is a beta release (release 7000), but many of the things I am writing about will most likely hold true with this ‘feature-complete’ beta.
So, yeah, I jumped on the Windows 7 "gotta get it now" bandwagon to see what it was all about. Up to this point, I’ve been watching from the sidelines by reading blogs and watching interviews of people who reviewed the software. The impression everybody is giving so far is that Windows 7 is the best release of Windows to date.
After fuddling with getting the download using my old MSDN subscription account information (yeah, the best way to get your serial number was to do a view-source), and a 2.4Gb DVD download later I was on my way, excited as all heck to see the new OS that would ‘change the world’.
I hooked up a blank hard drive and went through the installation. I was pretty impressed with the installation process. Personally, I like to have more control as to how the OS partitions my drives, but that is the only gripe I really had with it. Install was quick, painless, and didn’t ask many questions. I think it took a total of 15 minutes from the time I turned the computer on with the install DVD to the time that I got the desktop the first time.
Another big surprise is that it actually picked up all my hardware (minus my printer) on the first shot, and everything seemed to work. Even today’s Vista has a real hard time with my ancient video card, but Win7 had no problems with it one bit.
However, that’s where my good experiences ended. The first thing people will notice when they boot up is that this thing really looks and feels like Vista. Vista is one of those crossroads of bad design, and "too simple for its own good", and Windows 7 is just not that different. Some of the things they fixed, like the shutdown menu, were replaced with equally bad decisions like the new taskbar. For those of you who haven’t seen the new task bar yet, they no longer show you each window of an application that is open — they are always cascaded behind the program name. This means that switching between windows will always take two clicks (one of them within a menu) – a real loss of productivity.
Microsoft has not enabled any migration path from XP to Windows 7. Windows 7 requires either a clean slate or Vista. I hope that is something that only remains true for the Beta period, otherwise Microsoft will have some serious blood on their hands. You have always been able to upgrade older copies of Windows from one release to another — even Windows 98 -> XP worked just fine.
Microsoft has also made only minimal changes to the networking stack. This was one of my biggest issues with Vista. In Microsoft’s attempt to make networking easier, they not only candy-coated everything, but they also hid some very important and useful options from both newbies and power users. For example, changing your IP address (which is something I do at least 10 times a day in my work installing IP based phone systems), requires 6, count them, 6 clicks and a restart of the networking sub-system (which means that if you are downloading something via wireless and change your IP address of your Ethernet card, your download will fail). Mac OSX requires only two clicks to do the same thing. Also, if you change your networking settings (like your IP address), Windows 7 will reset your "network profile" which includes things like your Firewall and Sharing settings. You have three pre-defined profiles, and your settings will be reset to one of those profiles (any custom settings, like firewall exemptions do not carry along with these profiles)
The next thing that bothered me is the Indexing engine. While they made some changes to the frequency and priority of the indexing, it is still there. About 15 minutes into me using Windows 7, the indexing engine fired up, and my PC felt like it was dragging for about 30 minutes. Windows decided it wanted to know everything about my documents, photos, and music. I personally really dislike integrated searching engines, as they really don’t offer very many benefits to me, the end user (other than Microsoft’s dream of integrating web search and your personal search in one interface). If the loss of performance is that great when my computer has nothing installed, i hate to see it when I have all my drives hooked up.
And finally, Internet Explorer 8. I’ll start off by saying that when I’m on my PC, I use IE by default. I realy don’t mind it, in all honesty. IE8 is not an application I am happy with though. It took forever to start, and the customization process was really bad. The entire application seems like an advertisement for Microsoft’s online services. "That looks like an address, let me look it up for you on Microsoft Live Maps, even though there is a map right under it." Yeah, like that. Many of Microsoft’s online services are not the best of breed, and to switch away from having them offered ALL over IE8 is like pulling teeth. The other thing I noticed is that certain pages that have lots of information that triggers these "helpers" makes the pages render REALLY slow. Yahoo Yellow Pages is one example — the page took ~8.5 seconds to render (and only 1.3 seconds to render in Safari, according to Safari or Windows). This is a real disappointment. Event switching to "compatibility rendering mode" made no different for these pages. Pages that did not contain anything that would trigger a helper seemed to render as quick as as Safari. (FWIW, I tested via Safari because it uses the standards-based WebKit rendering engine, which is a very good benchmark for these things).
But to end the review on a good mark, application compatibility seems to be right up there with XP. There was only a single application that I was unable to install (VPN Software), because it was being cranky about the windows version number. My Adobe applications, Eclipse, Flex Builder, Office, etc. all installed without a hitch. UAC is still present, but displayed very infrequently now.
Will I continue to use Windows 7? I will keep it around for testing right now, but XP will continue to be my primary OS on my desktop. Windows 7 is no Mac OSX (which is as close as we have come to mastering simple, yet easy and powerful in my opinion). But Microsoft will really need to keep a close eye to the business world. Some of the issues I mentioned about Vista are still present in 7, and may make some businesses think twice about upgrading. I’m sure many are in the situation where they will be forced to upgrade despite any problems that may still exist.