Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

Windows 7: Some Impressions

by Eric Stewart on Oct.10, 2009, under Computers, Technology

So the install CDs for Windows 7 finally popped up on my desk the other day.  I went ahead and used VMWare Fusion to install the 64 bit version on my main workstation at work, and blew away the Windows XP partition on my Mac Book Pro at home to replace it with the 32 bit version of Windows 7 via Boot Camp.

I had some brief experience with Vista.  The issues I ran into with it involved the over zealousness of the User Account Control.  That, combined with work avoiding it like the plague, meant I had no reason to use it regularly.  The press indicated that the UAC had been scaled back quite a bit in Windows 7, and everything I had heard had indicated that Windows 7 ditched some of the worst parts of Vista, and kept the best.  Well, mostly …

Some notes about Vista/7’s interface, particularly as it applies to use on Macs.  Some of the snazzier features are part of the “Aero” window manager.  Aero requires WDDM support, which isn’t available currently on VMWare Fusion.  Rumor has it they are working on it for version 3.  When using Boot Camp, however, Aero is available.

So, I’ve been using it mostly through Boot Camp from Friday afternoon through today.  It seems to work well enough, though Firefox has been the application of choice for the most part (not the most taxing program someone could run on a computer).  I’ve played with SecondLife a couple of times, and installed the Windows XP Mode, which uses Virtual PC to do its thing.  I haven’t done much with XP Mode beyond updating it – but that should clue you in to the fact that you have to update it along with Win7.

I couldn’t easily list the things I “like” about it; Aero’s features are nice, but not necessary.  I want my computer to work, and I’ve never really had a problem with XP (or Mac, for that matter).  What I don’t like, though, is easier to list:

  • The Start Menu: They’ve changed it; the “All Programs” sub menu doesn’t “fly out”.  Instead, you get something taking up the height of the Start Menu that uses a scroll bar to move through the various folders (and if you open them, the sub folders).  I greatly preferred the Windows XP style Start Menu to be sure.
  • Windows Explorer (not to be confused with Internet Explorer) has undergone some revamping … for the worse.  This is one of those things that it looks like they tried to pull some features from the Mac OS X file manager, which even some Mac Evangelists I know will admit is no where near as good as Windows Explorer is for file browsing and management.  There’s not a lot I can put my finger on to point at and say, “This is what I don’t like about it,” which leads me to think that maybe it’s just stylistic changes that I might get used to later.
  • I’ve had some issues getting my color customizations to take in certain cases, mainly when using VMWare Fusion.
  • Not so sure I like how the UI seems to take up more room for certain things than I’d like.  The biggest example I think I can point to are window borders – I like them to be quite unnoticeable, on the order of 1 or 2 pixels at most.  The seem to be a bit larger than I’d like in Windows 7, and I don’t think I can make them any smaller.
  • On my Mac Book Pro it seems like it’s running a bit hotter than Mac OS X does.  The only time the fans kick on for OS X is when I’m doing something like SecondLife; with Windows 7, they tend to start picking up speed even as I just type this sentence in.

So what do I think?

Your average person is going to have to take some time to get used to it, and may even need assistance in doing so.  Your average geek should be able to move to it fairly quickly, as, in essence, it’s still Windows, and the UI changes, when you really get down to it, are superficial … though it’s possible that they might run into some compatibility issues with certain programs or hardware, especially if they move to the 64 bit version (which it is my advice to strongly consider, unless you don’t have 64 bit capable hardware).

Thing is, I deal with a lot of people at work who don’t deal with changes (even just aesthetic ones) all that well, and Windows 7 might just drive a few of them (and me in the process) crazy for a while.  It looks sufficiently different than Windows XP and it might take more effort than they’d like to expend to get things looking the way they want.

I guess that’s all for now.  It’s likely this article will undergo editing as a make my way around Windows 7 over the next week or so.

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