With the Windows 7 Release Candidate build (build 7100) leaked to torrents recently, its finally possible for us to get a look at what Microsofts new OS will be like when its finally released to what appears to be an eagerly awaiting tech community.
With the ISO downloads in hand, Ive 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 7s the good, the bad and the ugly features.
Lets begin by looking at the good side of Windows 7, and lets kick off our analysis of the good by looking at what I think is the best feature of Windows 7: performance.
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 theres an entrenched code of Windows users who totally refuse to believe this.
To make sure that history didnt 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 dont ask me when this will be, I dont yet have a clue), I wont have any performance-related worries when I upgrade systems.
Now I dont want to leave you with the impression that theres nothing more to Windows 7 than a performance boost. Theres 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 dont feel that way about the Windows 7 UI, and while I do have a few gripes about the new UI, overall I think that its a marked improvement over both the Vista UI and that of XP.
Then theres 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, theres 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 thats not compatible with the new OS. While Im sure this feature wont end all compatibility issues, it could be quite interesting.
I promised you a warts and all look at Windows 7, and thats what youll get. Lets move on to look at whats 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:
Home Basic (only available in developing nations)
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.
However, the multiple edition model does allow Microsoft to chisel more cash out of confused consumers, so in the end its a good thing for shareholders.
Then theres that Starter edition. Starter edition is a crippled version of Windows that only used to be available in developing nations. Its crippled in that you can only run three applications at any one time, its 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 youre aware as to how these limitations might affect you.
Theres 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 theres one are that I feel rightly deserves the ugly label, and thats the newly revamped TaskBar.
The problem isnt 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, its easy to fix this. Just right-click on a blank part of the TaskBar and choose Properties and then Combine when taskbar is full.
Its a simple fix to what could otherwise be very annoying.
Overall, Windows 7 looks set to be a great Windows OS, perhaps Microsofts 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.