Windows 7 switcharoo

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (794 Words)

Spring is usually a time of change, and I finally got a gap in my schedule where I could wipe my primary Windows machine and install Windows 7 (64-bit). It’s had XP on it for years - my experience with Vista on secondary test machines quashed any desire to ‘upgrade’ my primary work environment, and despite owning Windows 7 for some months a number of things have stopped me installing it, from lack of driver support for my office wifi-connected all-in-one printer / scanner, to work commitments where I couldn’t afford to take the time out to reinstall and set up several complex environments.

So, as someone who hated Vista, what are my impressions? It’s actually pretty good. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely better than what came before, which is exactly what I expect from an upgrade (and exactly what Vista didn’t deliver). Things I like:

  • Taskbar - clearly inspired by the OS X Dock, but adds some features of its own too like the jump lists and window previews. I’d prefer if clicking the button when there are multiple windows open switched to the last one you had been using, instead of forcing you to pick one, but on the whole it works well.
  • Windows Update gets out of my face - Vista’s Windows Update was a dog, while it was kicking in it sucked resources like a bastard and threw off any performance testing I was doing, sometimes for long periods (made worse perhaps by the fact that I didn’t use Vista that much). The new one seems much lighter.
  • Responsive - they say they’ve improved the parallelism in many systems, and it certainly feels like it. The same machine feels faster on Windows 7, compared to feeling slower in Vista.
  • Libraries - these are like customising your sidebar in OS X’s finder, but add more features like grouping and collection searching. Nice.
  • Devices & Printers - when I looked at this view and saw that it came up with photos of my exact mouse, printer etc, without any specific drivers etc installed apart from the base system, I thought that was pretty cool. It’s actually a useful view in practice too, but the pictures made me grin, because I’m shallow. But then, if you don’t smile at least once when you use an OS for the first time, something is wrong on the usability side.

There are some stupid things though:

  • UAC remains dumb - it still text-matches filenames like ‘patch.exe’ and arbitrarily decides that they need to be admin-level. Sure you can tack a manifest onto it to tell it not to, but for Christ sakes, talk about a blunt instrument.
  • Startup items - Why is changing what apps load at login still so esoteric? It hasn’t changed since Windows 95, and they’ve hidden the Startup menu by default now (and services are even harder to find). Just not user-friendly at all - compare to OS X where Login Items is very simple for anyone to use.
  • Network Drive Login Scope is obscure - This is new in Windows 7 - if you connect to a NAS or other network drive, enter your login and click the ‘Remember’ checkbox, it only actually remembers until you log out, not permanently as in previous versions. To change this is very obtuse and user-unfriendly - you have to open Credentials Manager, delete the existing credential (because editing the scope is not possible for no particular reason), and re-create it with the same details (again, scope is not an explicit option so you just have to go on faith here). By doing this the scope becomes ‘Enterprise’ rather than ‘Session’ (which is obscure in itself) and the result is that your credentials will be remembered across logout / reboots like in XP / Vista. It took me some forum browsing to figure this out, and it’s just not an intuitive design. Adding a ‘scope’ combo to the remember option that says ‘Until logout’ or ‘Forever’ would solve it, but no, that would just be too simple & intuitive.
  • Aero Shake is just silly

But, the bottom line is that on balance it’s pleasant to use despite a few oddities, and I’m happy with Windows 7 as my main Windows OS now in a way I never was with Vista. I still find OS X more pleasant to use, but this is the closest Windows has ever come to it, and it adds a few ideas of its own too, that importantly actually work & add value - compared to Vista that mostly imitated and whose additions just fell flat (Flip3D, I’m looking at you). So, a good OS, and the first one from MS since 2001 that I don’t regret spending money on.