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Win 7 RC: this is Microsoft’s saviour?

Michael Brown   June 10 2009 08:19:29 PM
I sure hope so because if it is, then Microsoft is in even more trouble that I thought!

Here are my first impressions of Windows 7 Release Candidate and in particular, how it compares to XP.  I won't be making any comparisons with Vista because I've never used Vista.  I also happen to think that comparisons with Vista are largely irrelevant, as much as Microsoft would wish it otherwise.

I installed under VirtualBox.  "That's not a fair comparison!" you say?  Well, I run XP and various Linux installs under VirtualBox, so I'd say that it is a valid comparison.  And yes, I know it's only the RC (Release Candidate) and not the finished article, but from what I'm reading, the gold release isn't going to be that much different.

  • Before install the Win 7 RC, you need register with Microsoft to get a free registration key.  I had already done this, which is just as well because the install routine doesn't ask for this key at the start of the process.
  • Moving along, I get a message "Your computer will restart several times during installation."  Errmm... why?  Linux manages with only one reboot, right at the end (as you'd expect).
  • The installer certainly *looks" the business.  Lots of slick graphics and effects.
  • 15 minutes later, I get to the screen to enter my product key.  That's 15 minutes wasted if you don't have the ability to go and get one now.
  • On to the regional settings dialog.  It picks up that I was in Australia immediately and sets the correct time zone.  Nice.  Ubuntu still has to be told this information.  (NB: not sure if that's still true with Ubuntu 9.04).
  • Next, I get a dialog asking me to choose between Home Network, Public Network or Work/Business.  Very clearly laid out, but with no explanation of what these three options actually entail.
  • At 25 minutes in I get  "Setting up personalized settings for:" various apps.  Very nice picture of a fish in the background while all this is going on.  A minute later and we're at the Windows 7 Desktop.  Are we done though?  There's nothing to say that the installation has finished, although it appears to have done so.

New Start Bar

Too big for my tastes.  It takes up far too much vertical screen space, as does the KDE 4.x equivalent, from where this new design was quite obviously lifted.  The ability to pin applications to it, like you can in the OS X Dock (another blatant lift) does nothing for me either.  The Dock is OS X's single worst design feature, IMHO.

Whither Windows Explorer?

The screen is set to 1024x768 with no easy way of changing it that I could find.  I decide to install VirtualBox Guest Additions to try and address this problem.  However, when I clicked on Devices->Install Guest Additions from the main VirtualBox menu nothing happened, so I assumed the feature was not yet ready for Windows 7.  Later, I realised that this was because I was too used to working with Gnome and OS X, both of which auto-mount CDs on your desktop.  Windows has never done this, and still doesn't in Windows 7.  So, I had to go and dig out the Guest Additions "CD" from the Windows Explorer.

But where was Windows Explorer?  Nowhere on the Windows menu that I could find.  Typing "Explorer" or "File" into the kick-off-style menu does not reveal it.  The only way I could find it was via the Libraries feature.  In fact, this is, Windows Explorer...I think.  Anyway, I found "Computer" there, and from there I could find my mounted Guest Additions CD.

IE8 and Search

Everything defaults to Windows Live Search, now renamed to "Bing", of course..  I clicked on the arrow to change the search engine and was taken through some dialogs.  I have options to change various things, including search engines and "accelerators" whatever they are.  It's easy enough to change to Google, but the default option on every one of these dialogs is *always* set to the Microsoft alternative.

Paint and Wordpad

They have the ribbon now!  Wow-wee!  How did we ever survive?

Disconnecting USB Devices

This has been a pet hate of mine for a long time: the little green square icon on the XP Start Bar that you have to click in order to safely disconnect USB devices.  I'm sure that I've lost at least one external USB drive through repeatedly disconnecting it without safely removing it first.  And that's because I simply didn't know that I had to safely remove it first.

Things have improved little in Windows 7.  The icon is still on the Start Bar, (or whatever it's called now), but you still have to know that it's there and remember to click on it before disconnecting.  And it's just as buried away as it always was; it's the icon with the picture of a USB jack with a green tick next to it, but it only appears at all after you click on the Up Arrow icon on the Start Bar.  Does Microsoft have shares in the manufacturers of these drives?

Compare and contrast this with Ubuntu and Mac OS X.  Here, all external USB drives are automatically mounted on your Desktop, from where you can right click on them and either "Eject" or "Umount" them from the pop-up menus.  You'll even see eject icons next to the drives if you view them through these OSs' respective file managers: Finder and Nautilus.  Sure, you still have to remember to actually do it, but the options to do that aren't buried away like they are in every version of Windows.

Overall Speed

I've done no measurements of any kind, but I can tell you that it's not as fast as XP; nowhere near, in fact.  I tried upping the amount of RAM allocated by VirtualBox from 512 Meg (the default) to 1 Gig but it made no difference.  It may be an order of magnitude faster than Vista.  I don't know and I don't care.

Where's the beef?

Did I miss something?  At first glance, Win 7 is slower than XP and offers... well, what exactly?  Where are the killer features that would make me want this OS?\

Surely, nobody out there is going to try and tell me "it's more secure" now, are they?
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