Sunday, June 23, 2024

Windows 7 RC Review: Good Speed, Bad Taskbar

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Also see: Windows 7 Review: Why I Like Windows 7, by Andy Rathbone, author of Windows for Dummies guidebooks.

With the Windows 7 Release Candidate build (build 7100) leaked to torrents recently, it’s finally possible for us to get a look at what Microsoft’s new OS will be like when it’s finally released to what appears to be an eagerly awaiting tech community.

With the ISO downloads in hand, I’ve been busy installing and using the Release Candidate code on a number of systems and can bring you my “no holds barred” list of Windows 7’s “the good, the bad and the ugly” features.

windows 7 review

The Good

Let’s begin by looking at the good side of Windows 7, and let’s kick off our analysis of the “good” by looking at what I think is the best feature of Windows 7: performance.

windows 7 review

One of the biggest complaints leveled at Windows Vista at the time it launched was that the performance it delivered was abysmal. In fact, in almost every benchmark test carried out, XP easily beat Vista.

Not only was the OS a drag on performance, but the first wave of graphics card and chipset drivers from the major OEMs delivered abysmal performance which dragged down benchmark scores for games. This meant that the OS seriously burned the earlier adopters who made the leap to Vista.

Bad reviews of Vista on blogs and forums quickly followed and the operating system was permanently tarnished. From that point onward, nothing that Microsoft could do to the OS could change how many saw the OS.

Testing shows that a post SP1 installation of Vista is usually faster than XP SP3 on a similarly specced machine, but there’s an entrenched code of Windows users who totally refuse to believe this.

To make sure that history didn’t repeat itself, Microsoft made performance top priority in the development of Windows 7. And it worked.

Even the earliest code to leak out of Microsoft showed that Windows 7 could outpace Vista, and with each subsequent build that was leaked, we saw an improvement in performance.

When it comes to the final release of Windows 7 (and don’t ask me when this will be, I don’t yet have a clue), I won’t have any performance-related worries when I upgrade systems.

Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there’s nothing more to Windows 7 than a performance boost. There’s a lot more to like in Windows 7. For example, the new user interface. When Microsoft released Vista, the feeling that I and many others had was that the UI changes represented a change for the sake of change, and that they did nothing to improve the user experience or make the OS easier to navigate.

I don’t feel that way about the Windows 7 UI, and while I do have a few gripes about the new UI, overall I think that it’s a marked improvement over both the Vista UI and that of XP.

windows 7 review

Then there’s backward compatibility. When users moved from XP to vista, there was a very good chance that the move would necessitate the purchase of some new bit of software of hardware (or both).

Since Windows 7 is built on core technologies introduced in Vista, the compatibility speed bump is much smaller and most users will be able to upgrade without having to spend money on new hardware or software.

And finally, there’s the new “XP Mode” feature that was unveiled last week. This feature will allow users of Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise to have access to a Windows XP SP3 virtual machine to run any software that’s not compatible with the new OS. While I’m sure this feature won’t end all compatibility issues, it could be quite interesting.

The Bad

I promised you a warts and all look at Windows 7, and that’s what you’ll get. Let’s move on to look at what’s bad in Windows 7.

First on the bad list is a repeat of a complaint that was leveled at Vista – that there are too many editions. Putting aside the Enterprise edition, which only volume licensing customers will ever see, Windows 7 comes in five flavors:

• Starter

• Home Basic (only available in developing nations)

• Home Premium

• Professional

• Ultimate

windows 7 review

Microsoft claims that these editions are required to offer the end user with the right range of features at the right price. Personally, I think that the old days where there were two editions of Windows, Home and Professional, was better because it meant far less end user confusion.

Next Page: Windows 7 review: the Ugly (the taskbar)

However, the multiple edition model does allow Microsoft to chisel more cash out of confused consumers, so in the end it’s a good thing for shareholders.

Then there’s that Starter edition. Starter edition is a crippled version of Windows that only used to be available in developing nations. It’s crippled in that you can only run three applications at any one time, it’s missing a whole bunch of new UI features such as the Aero UI, and there are no media center features.

The problem with the Starter edition of Windows 7 is that this edition will be offered by OEMs on cheaper systems, such as netbooks, so be careful when buying cheaper systems and make sure that you’re aware as to how these limitations might affect you.

The Ugly

There’s also an ugly side to Windows 7, and it relates to the UI. I said earlier that overall I was impressed with the UI changes that Microsoft had made, but there’s one are that I feel rightly deserves the “ugly” label, and that’s the newly revamped TaskBar.

The problem isn’t so much with the TaskBar as the default view that Microsoft has chosen for the way it handles having multiple Windows open. The default view crams the windows together on the TaskBar and makes it difficult to find the Window you want.

Fortunately, it’s easy to fix this. Just right-click on a blank part of the TaskBar and choose “Properties” and then “Combine when taskbar is full.”

windows 7 review

It’s a simple fix to what could otherwise be very annoying.

Overall, Windows 7 looks set to be a great Windows OS, perhaps Microsoft’s best since Windows NT 4.0. However, it remains to be seen whether it will be loved like Windows XP, or hated like Windows Vista.

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