Monday, June 24, 2024

Windows 7: Will XP Users Finally Let Go?

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So the votes have been cast and we look intently to 2009. Yet somehow the debates still continue to rage on. No, I’m not talking about the general election that took place on November 4th; I’m speaking about the release of Microsoft’s Windows 7 pre-beta software.

It arrives at a time when Microsoft is getting beat up over Vista both from their competitors (i.e. the MAC vs. PC Vista marketing campaign) as well as from their customers (see the “Save XP” campaign).

As you likely know, Microsoft will release a Vista a successor named simply…Windows 7 Those who took in the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC 2008) got the opportunity to take home the pre-beta release of the software. Let me repeat that again for emphasis, this is the PRE – BETA RELEASE!

Strange thing is, possibly for the first time ever both the nay-sayers and banner wavers have been out in full force to both trash and laud Windows 7. I remember when Vista was about to be released to beta. I was working as an IT Director in NYC and I wanted to get a look at it quickly. I asked around and Microsoft got the beta release to me about a week before it went out to TechNet customers.

I was excited to install it even though it took forever to complete the installation. If I can remember correctly it took about 2.5 hours on my Dell X1 laptop.

Okay, part of the problem is that I installed it on a Dell X1 with a 1.0 GHz Centrino processor and 768MB of RAM. However, I was viewing the laptop as a testing unit; I knew the OS was a beta and I did not expect much from it in way of performance.

To me the beta version is meant to get a look and feel for the software, kick the tires as it were. In a pre-beta if the software installs without frying your system it is doing GREAT!

And guess what? The pre-beta of Windows 7 does not crash. I had the opportunity to work with it and it actually installs pretty fast. Again, the machine it installed on is a 2.6 GHz Quad-Core with 4GB of RAM. Nonetheless that is impressive to say the least.

Understandably, many would argue that Windows 7 is built on the Vista kernel. But is it really? Let’s consider the evidence we have seen from several writers and bloggers who have already taken a peek at Windows 7 just as I have.

Vista or not Vista….that is the question

The immediate appearance of the start orb, color schemes and program menus certainly reek of Windows Vista. At first look user say AH HAH!

Let’s put visuals aside for a minute (we will talk again about them later) and remember no one ever complained about Vista’s “look and feel,” so keeping that look and feel is not a bad thing.

Starting with the things that matter most to end users, Windows 7 footprint is much smaller than Vista’s. In fact a complete install took much less disk space than Vista does.

Now I find this a little weird since you can buy 500GB SATA hard drives for under $60. However, Vista haters have complained that Vista takes up too much hard drive space.

Memory requirements have been another sore point in Vista; again 2GB of DDR2-1066 RAM is under $60. But the fact is, end users have spoken and in my Windows 7 tests it used only about 296MB of RAM while testing, compared with the often-quoted 1.5GB of RAM needed for Vista.
One thing I can say I definitely appreciate in Windows 7 – hands down – is the new User Account Control (UAC) slide bar. It reminds me a lot of the Internet Explorer privacy settings. You simply move the cursor up or down and determine how much or how little you want UAC to get involved.

Again, going back to my early Vista beta tests, my end user hated this and the first thing they asked was for it to be disabled when we deployed our new machines. This new management method for UAC seems to be more user-friendly and does not take away the administrators ability to lock down UAC via group policies.

Now on the graphics side Windows 7 is superb. The clarity and quality of the display graphics really impress. The new “Aero Peek” feature allows you to view, switch, and close windows by simply hovering. Aero Peek also allows you to pin windows to the taskbar. This is not enabled by default in the pre-beta; it sure is worth mentioning though, since it blows away the Vista thumbnail viewer.

Another little piece of improvement is the libraries. In Windows Vista, XP, or even earlier, Documents, Music, Pictures and such were assigned folders in the users profile. These also gave us a central place to store these types of files.

Windows 7 takes a more document management approach to these files, in that it creates libraries where these files can be found. What is different is that the files do not need to be placed in the documents folder or the music folder. Wherever these documents exist on the PC they are placed into the library where they are easily found.

The final analysis

In a nutshell, Windows 7 looks to have taken all the things we liked about Vista and made them better. And it took all the things we hated about Vista and made them more likeable.

The smaller footprint, less memory requirements and general trimming down of the bloat would make me say this is a new OS and not Vista, part II. One needs to reason that quite a bit of the Vista code needed to be re-written to achieve these benchmarks.

If that is not enough to sell you XP fans, think a bit on this. Windows 7 has a virtualized and stripped down copy of XP that exists to make software compatibility issues go away. No more retro- fitting Vista to act like XP so that it will run your old software. Windows 7 looks like it will win the hearts, minds and PC’s that Vista couldn’t since its release.

Personally I believe that Windows 7 hits the market at a time when businesses, in spite of economic concerns, need to cycle out those old machines. Microsoft’s move to address some of the major ‘pains’ of Vista helps it out to a degree. So does the ability to have Vista around and to develop some more new and exciting features for Windows 7.

I think as the pre-beta moves to beta and CTP, more and more people will see that Windows 7 will address both the rational and irrational (to be fair) complaints and will deliver a nice user experience.

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