Windows 7: first impressions

windows-7-desktop-428I’d reached that point where I needed to nuke my Windows install. Everything was just taking too long, the hard disk was whirring away almost constantly, and it was taking up to two minutes just to answer an email.

I knew perfectly well that it would be obscenely stupid to install Windows 7 on my main work machine. This isn’t even proper beta software; it’s aimed at developers so they’ve got something to work on.

The only reason the Windows 7 install disc was sitting to my left, tempting me with its shiny ways, was because Barry Collins, our esteemed news, features and online editor, had spent last week at PDC – Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference.

So I did the responsible thing, backed up all my data, fished out a Windows Vista install disc, and congratulated myself on not giving in to temptation.

And then I thought: “sod it”. In went the Windows 7 disc, out went all sensible thoughts about working responsibly, and two rather tedious hours later I had a fully working Windows 7 system sitting before me.

And do you know what? It’s brilliant.

Blink and you’ll miss it

For starters, it’s incredibly fast. Now I know my old Windows Vista system was starting to creak at the seams due to the weight of dodgy software I’ve installed on it , but I do remember what it was like when I first upgraded from XP and trust me – Vista was never this nippy.

You press on an icon and it leaps into action. Press minimise and it’s out of view quicker than our reviews editor when it’s time for him to buy a round. I can’t remember using any new OS that was this quick.

Even – and I’m still recovering from the shock of this, having used Internet Explorer 8 beta 2 on Vista – even IE8 is fast. Press Ctrl + T and a new tab springs into view as if it’s been sitting there like a coiled tiger, waiting for your command. The pages are rendered just as quickly as Google Chrome. Switching between tabs is instantaneous.

ram-and-cpu-usageMicrosoft hasn’t abandoned the idea of Gadgets with Windows 7, but the Sidebar is gone – in this build at least. As an aside, I don’t have any problem with this, but the Mac OS X implementation of accessing favourite widgets on a hidden layer (activated by a keyboard shortcut or swinging the mouse to the side of the screen) is superior.

Anyway, one of the Gadgets supplied as standard is the CPU and RAM usage monitor, which are both rather cheesy speedo affairs. What’s notable for me, though, is that my processor usage rarely went above 5%, while RAM stayed under 50%  no matter what I was doing.

The only downside of all this is that it does make Vista look, well, rubbish. I’ve got precisely no desire to go back to its slightly sluggish interface, with the circular hourglass a constant reminder that I could be doing something far more interesting instead. In short, in terms of performance at least, Windows 7 is exactly what Vista should have been.

The best new feature

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blogs, there are numerous new features and interface tweaks, and I’ll resist the urge to mention them all here. Instead, I’ll focus on just one that I think will make a real difference to people’s usage.

And it’s this: cleverer search .

uninstall-crop-243x300It doesn’t sound like much – heck, it isn’t much – but it’s now much easier to find the files, programs or services you’re looking for. The fact you could press the Start button, type in “media” and get an immediate shortlist of apps featuring the phrase “media” has always been a superb feature of Vista, and now everything’s much more sensibly categorised.

Say I want to uninstall a program.  Typing “uninstall” brings up the options you see here (and they appear near-instantly too). Even “program” will unveil a suitable list of possible tasks, from Programs and Features (the home page for adding and uninstalling programs) to setting your default programs.

Contrast that with Vista, where typing “uninstall” will list all the programs with the name uninstall – not what I was looking for.

Again, you could say this should have been in Vista from the start. And I don’t disagree, it should. But with Windows 7, Microsoft has turned a corner – and it’s this, rather than the charm offensive of its “I’m a PC” adverts, that will help it regain kudos against Linux and Apple.

It’s early days for Windows 7 and me. I only installed it last night, and perhaps my first flush of love will dwindle as I hit problems. I’ll keep you informed, though, as over the coming months I’ll be writing a long-term review of Windows 7 on the blogs.

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