Review: Windows 7

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Let’s face it. Windows Vista was a disaster for Microsoft. Terrible reviews, unhappy customers, compatibility problems and too many people sticking with XP. So the question on everybody’s lips is: Can they redeem themselves with Windows 7? Let’s jump in and find out!

  • Score:

    8.5 / 10

  • The Good:

    Better than Vista; Libraries; UI Improvements; Speed

  • The Bad:

    Still a bit complicated; Ribbon UI; Too Expensive

  • Bottom Line:

    If you have the money, Windows 7 is great.

Note: I installed Windows 7 Ultimate twice on my HP Pavilion dv6836TX, an approximately 3 year old laptop. First I installed it using the Upgrade option, which keeps all of your settings, files and programs in tact. Then I installed the OS using a Clean Install, removing all traces of Vista.

Installation

Upgrade (Note. You can’t upgrade from Windows XP.)

When I first received my copy of Windows 7, I decided to install the new OS over Vista using the Upgrade option.

This keeps all of your settings, files, programs and more from your old installation, but replaces the OS. I backed up my stuff anyway, as the Installer “recommended” it and started the process. It takes a couple of minutes to start the installation process, but that’s nothing compared to the actual installation. I’d say it took at least an hour and a half to complete but I’m happy to say that I didn’t need to use my backup, as the upgrade worked like a charm, keeping all of my data, settings and programs.

Clean

Later on I decided to do a clean install of the OS. This definitely isn’t for the faint of heart, as you must backup everything yourself and you will loose programs and settings. I simply copied my files to a portable HDD in Vista. You then choose where you want to install Windows 7 to and take the leap of faith, hoping that you have actually saved all your files before confirming that you want Windows to format the drive.

The install takes a lot less time than the upgrade did, seeing as it just has to wipe the drive and install.

Before the install is over you must enter your new Username, your PC name, your password and your time zone. Also you’ll get to choose how you want Windows to update.

Then you’ll be booted into Windows 7.

Post Install

Just a few notes. After my clean install, while the most basic of drivers are installed (sound, display, mouse, keyboard etc.), my graphics card drivers were not.

And while it only took a quick visit to the Nvidia website, it was still a bit silly that Windows didn’t search for them.

User Interface Improvements and Additions

While the actual look of the OS isn’t too different from Vista, there are plenty of additions and refinements.

Snap

A great new feature of Windows 7 is Aero Snap. I’ve used it so many times, that going back to a PC with Vista or XP makes me look like a fool.

But what is Aero Snap you may ask? If you need to compare an application with another one, say two web pages, you simply move one of the windows to one side and the other window to the other side. They will then evenly snap into place, making a split-screen of the programs. This is very useful for researching a topic while using Word or just checking an E-bay auction while also checking your email.

Another function is dragging the current window to the top of the screen, which will make the window maximised.

And if you like keyboard shortcuts, you can also press Window + Left, Right or Up to do the same thing. As I said before, I’ve used this new feature so many times that it’s hard to use any computer without the feature.

Task Bar

The improved Task Bar is great. Similar to the Mac OS X Dock, you can pin applications to the task-bar and easily access them from anywhere. While Windows has had something similar to this for a long time (Quick Launch icons), this truly integrates it into the taskbar.

Say I want Google Chrome to be pinned, I simply find the shortcut and drag it to my Task Bar. Done! Unlike the old system, the Quick Launch icons also integrate into what programs are active. So if I open Google Chrome, a glassy box will appear around it.

If a program has two windows open, they will both be under the one icon, reducing clutter. And unlike in Vista, I am still yet to fill the Task Bar thanks to this new system.

Also, just like in Vista, Windows 7 retains the Live View of what’s happening in the window. I really love this, seeing as it’s not just a static image like in Mac OS X. The new bar is definitely an improvement in my opinion.

On the far right of the task bar is a rectangle. With this comes a new feature called Aero Peek. Hovering over the rectangle will make all the open windows invisible, with their borders remaining, which makes it easy to look at your Desktop. Clicking it will also go to the Desktop, minimising all windows. It’s a very useful tool.

Jump Lists

Another new feature in 7 are Jump Lists. Developers can set a list of items that can be accessed by right clicking an icon or swiping up with the mouse. For example, an iTunes Jump List will bring up Recently Played songs as well as quick access to the iTunes Store. It’s a nice thought, but I haven’t found myself using it much, probably because and it feels rather inconsistent, with some programs having Jump Lists and others not having them, or programs having less than useful options in the Jump List.

Ribbon

A real problem in Windows 7 is the Ribbon UI, first seen in Word 2007. The new UI is now in Paint, Windows Live Essentials, WordPad and more applications, replacing the File menu system that’s been used for years. And the problem is that it’s placement is very inconsistent. Why isn’t the ribbon in Windows Media Player? Why isn’t in other applications too?

And my main complaint is that I don’t really like the Ribbon UI anyway. It’s much easier for me to use the File menu, as all Ribbon interfaces are different, whereas almost everybody knows what’s under File, Edit, View etc. They also they feel slower to use. Instead of lists of tasks, you get random images and text of tasks. It wastes space and doesn’t make it easier in the long run.

And although I know the File menu is ancient, and the new ribbon system looks good, it doesn’t mean you must replace the old with something that is not better, and is in fact, harder to use.

Themes & Gadgets

Another new feature in 7 are themes. Now, this doesn’t mean you can make Windows look entirely different. They’re more like customisations of the current look.

You can make your own themes by changing wallpaper, colours, sounds and screensavers. You can also use the inbuilt themes or download more from the Windows 7 website. Also, you can now set a slideshow as your background, meaning you can chose some pictures and they’ll change automatically, with a fade, when your preset timer is up. So I have it set-up so that my background changes every 30 minutes. It’s very pretty, and lets users customise their computer very easily.

Also included in 7 are Gadgets. Now, this is basically just the Vista sidebar, but without the sidebar. Gadgets just hover above your desktop.

They work fine most of the time, but then sometimes a gadget will appear in-front of an application, even though you have it set to not do that. And there isn’t a big push to get Gadgets developed. While anyone can download the SDK and make a Gadget, there were not enough gadgets available to Download, and many were of low quality. Although I have been getting good usage out of the unofficial Bigpond Meter and unofficial Gmail checker.

Libraries

The main improvement I saw in Windows Explorer was Libraries. And I really love the idea. You have preset libraries, like Music, Pictures, Documents and Videos, and unlike folders, these put multiple folders under one name. So if you want the My Music folder and My Podcasts folder to go under Music, you can. You can also make your own custom libraries too. So I made a Books library for my Kindle.

An improvement that I think would be cool would be to integrate your Music library into Windows Media Player, so instead of importing Music into WMP, it just looked at my Libraries and used them, synchronising the two.

Another cool thing I’d like to see added would be, similar to Gmail’s filters, setting a filename to be automatically put into a library. E.G. AVI files get put into the Videos library automatically.

Overall it’s a good idea and nicely executed.

HomeGroups

One thing I truly hated about Vista was networking. If I wanted to share files with another computer on my home network, I would have to muck around for literally hours. HomeGroup simplify the process. Firstly it asks you which Libraries you want to share, then gives you a password to put into other Windows 7 computers on the network. It’s very easy, and I found streaming music over LAN to work a treat to another laptop. And this was over WiFi. Seriously great idea.

Windows Media Player

The main improvements with WMP is the support for many new formats. The below list of new formats is pulled from the Engineering Windows 7 blog.

A problem with WMP 12 is that, when choosing which folders to watch, it won’t get music from the folders sub-folders. So, say, I have an Albums folder in My Music, and then make WMP watch My Music, it won’t include the Albums folder. Seriously? That’s a big issue.

Another feature that’s actually good is Play To, which lets you play music to other DLNA devices. So I can wirelessly stream music to my other Windows 7 computers or compatible DLNA devices, like the PS3 or Xbox 360. And it worked well when streaming to another laptop.

Windows Internet Explorer

I really don’t understand why anybody would use this crap to do anything other than download a different browser. Seriously, if you’re still using IE, you need to get Firefox or Chrome and see how much better they are.

And if you still think IE is better, I feel sorry for you.

Performance

Windows 7 performs better than Vista, but only when I was running on a clean install.

Seriously, while it is slightly better on an Upgrade, it’s very slow compared to a clean install.

And in the clean install all the new features ran very well, on my old laptop, which is great seeing as Windows Vista required almost everybody to buy new hardware.

Final Thoughts

I really love Windows 7, and even though it’s not yet as simple as Mac OS X, it’s getting there. My biggest complaint is that it’s very expensive and it’s really just fixing up Vista. But if you’re getting a new computer or need to upgrade anyway, you won’t regret it. Everything works well, and anybody with basic computer experience will find it a piece of cake. Still, if I was getting my grandparents a computer, a Mac would win, simply because of it’s ease of use.

If you have the money and want to stick with Windows, buy it.

If I missed anything that you would like to know about, please leave a comment and I’ll try to explain.