This is me, jumping on the Windows 7 Beta bandwagon:
Room for one more?
Now, i’ve barely used Vista, and i’ve never installed it. Pretty much all my Windows knowhow is from XP, which is currently pensioned off as a gaming-only OS, while Ubuntu runs my PC on a day-to-day basis. So i’ll be looking at two things:
- How does Win 7 stack up against current Linux desktops?
- How far have Microsoft come since XP was released?
I installed Win 7 into a Virtualbox OSE virtual machine, using an image hosted on my network storage. Microsoft have been making noises about Win 7 having a lighter footprint than their endomorphic spawnling Vista, so I decided to give the VM 512MB of RAM, 64MB video memory and a 10GB chunk of hard drive space.
MS seem to have tidied their installer up a lot since XP. The partition editor was nice, although no word on whether this will play more nicely with multi-boot systems than previous incarnations. Windows’ habit of overwriting the MBR without asking is a particular pain in the arse on previous versions.
Visually, I like this installer. Plain black, with a pulsating Windows logo. Nice. It also asks a lot less dumb questions than XP did. For example, no long do you have to specify you locale, AND your language, AND your keyboard. Instead Win 7 just asks your location and presumably makes an educated guess for the others. In the vast majority of cases this guess would be correct, and the others can correct this after getting to the desktop.
In fact, up until reaching the desktop the overall experience is markedly improved over XP, and on a par with current Linux installers such as Ubuntu’s Ubiquity. Ubiquity asks a few more questions, but they’re good features such as migration of profiles from existing OSes, and the powerful partitioner Gparted is still better than anything Microsoft are offering.
Once into the desktop it’s pretty standard Microsoft stuff. A single panel at the bottom of the screen contains the familiar Windows start menu, task bar and notification area.
Windows 7 quickly identified the first spanner in the works: it had no driver from Virtualbox’s network adaptor. This is familiar territory for anyone who’s installed XP in Virtualbox, but i’m surprised that Microsoft still aren’t including drivers for all the virtualisation suites in the default install. Sure, it’s a Beta, and they may be in the final release, but if anything Betas are more likely to be installed into a VM.
Obviously, the network adaptor is a show-stopper these days, but it was a good chance to see Win 7 handling faults. The failed network kit popped up in the notification area, which offered a diagnostic scan. This correctly identified the lack of a driver as the issue. Overall this was pretty slick, and would have allowed a non-geek user to bottom out the problem easily. Nice work Microsoft.
Also of note is that Win 7 will nag the user to install antivirus, and even lead them straight to the downloads. Unfortunately we’re stuck with IE8 at this early stage. IE has always only been good for downloading a proper browser IMO, and I don’t expect IE8 to break this mold. On first run it spammed a lot of decision boxes about nonsense such as “accelerators” which seemed to be an MS attempt to tie your browser into their web services. Proving once more that Google really has them shitting themselves.
As for the much-blogged-about new UI, I found it poor overall. Their new taskbar makes no differentiation between launchers, shortcuts and running apps. Worse, the bar only shows logos, with no text title unless you mouseover. This is dock-like behaviour, but the difference is that users generally customise their own docks, so know what the various icons are.
The first real app I ran was from a disk image mounted to Win 7’s (virtual) CD drive. Bizarrely, it failed to take focus, and I actually ended up launching it twice, as I hadn’t noticed the icon appear in the taskbar. This is just plain bad UI, especially since the second instance I tried to run threw up an unhelpful “failed to run properly” error message. Notice to MS: if I run an app, I want it to immediately take focus. Who wouldn’t?
The other big dissapointment was the return of something I haven’t seen in a long time on Windows: the Blue Screen of Death. Sadly Win 7 sports the same incredibly unhelpful BSOD page as previous versions of Windows. In the course of installing antivirus, browser and Flash I had two BSODs, which is not good. Some of this may be my fault. Running a beta browser like Chrome on a beta OS like Win 7 is probably asking for trouble.
Rough edges aside, the OS looks like it has promise. The system was reasonably snappy, and the menus and tools, while not overly intuitive in themselves, were similar enough to previous versions to make them fairly straightforward to use. If Microsoft can sort out the stability issues and improve the taskbar it should make a good replacement for XP when it retires in a few years time. Needless to say, a lot of underwhelmed Vista users will look to switch, too.
Personally, however, I was very happy to shut down the VM and get back to Ubuntu. Windows 7 seems like a nicer environment than XP, but it’s still a long, long way behind Gnome and Compiz Fusion.