Windows 7 – better than Vista already

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Little Timmy Danton bustled into the office this morning, flushed and breathless with Dantonistic excitement. “I installed Windows 7 on my laptop last night,” he gushed, “and it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s everything Windows Vista should have been.”

After pausing to breathe deeply, and crying a little bit with happiness, he explained that it’s all down to the whizzy performance of the pre-beta version that we have in the office. He handed me his laptop and, I have to confess, it did seem pretty snappy, even taking into account that a clean OS install is always the fastest it will ever be. There was far less of the blue spinny thing in evidence – its appearance after the most mundane actions under Vista is the main reason for my dogged persistence in sticking with XP.

I was almost convinced, but not quite. So today I’m writing this from a Windows 7 installation, on my work PC. I haven’t gone quite as loopy as Tim though, since it’s running in a Virtual PC 2007 VM. Truth to tell, I actually installed it the day before yesterday, just to start it up and prod its buttons, leer at the Vista-ness of it and shut it straight back down again. But today I’m using it as my main work PC.

The virtual machine has been given 1GB of the 2GB of RAM in the host PC, and with Virtual PC’s inability to do emulated SMP, it’s running on a single CPU core. But it *does* feel pretty fast nonetheless. So far I don’t get the impression, as with Vista, that the system is just thinking far too hard about everything I do; it just seems to happen without fuss. One Brownie point.

The bad news wasn’t long in coming. Okay, this is a pre-beta, so I shouldn’t expect miracles. But it’s frustrating that I can’t install two Microsoft applications on a Microsoft OS that’s slated to be fully compatible with Vista. Both Windows Live Mesh and Windows Messenger fail to work. Live Mesh caused a system reboot, and the install routine for Messenger came up with the amusing little message you see below:

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I’m thinking ‘catastrophic failure’ is a little strong.

This being the pre-beta – rather than the beta that was shown to attendees at PDC but not distributed – the interface remains more or less identical to Windows Vista’s. This will change as far as some of the details go. But Microsoft, I’m told, has decided that the basic interface style works, although I disagree pretty strongly.

Windows Explorer in particular is a dog’s dinner of an interface with too much going on. Little arrows with no indication of what might pop up when you click one; tiny meaningless icons that suffer the same problem; that bizarre and unexpected zoom slider which appears underneath the mouse pointer when you want to change the view style; the navigation breadcrumb trail that seems to do something different every time the mouse pointer goes near it; the lack of an ‘up’ folder navigation button. Yuck, yuck, yuck. And the whole OS still suffers from the Microsoft tendency to offer you five handy routes to the same destination, when all that does is throw things out of focus and get you going in irritating circles. I want the nice easy ‘Network Connections’ entry in the Start menu so I can, yunno, look at my network connections. Instead, I still have to be subjected to the endlessly confusing Network and Sharing Center.

One thing I do like, though, is the revamp of the Documents (aka My Documents) idea. I’ve never liked the way that it’s tied to a folder buried in the C: drive somewhere. But Windows 7 has a new ‘libraries’ idea, and you can add other folders into it. More importantly, you can change the default location that documents are saved to – hurrah!

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So, three things I like about Windows 7 so far:

  • It seems quick
  • It doesn’t have a stupid pretentious name
  • You’re not hamstrung to a particular Documents path

Three things I don’t like about Windows 7 so far:

  • There’s still no simple, one-click way of getting to Network Connections
  • Messenger and Live Mesh don’t work (although I’m prepared to admit this might be a VM problem)
  • The interface still suffers from complexity and, by the look of things, that isn’t going to change significantly

I have to say though, that so far I reckon Windows 7 is already better than Vista.

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