It’s been two and a half years since Windows Vista was released and Microsoft are about to launch the seventh version of Windows, but is it better than Vista? It is better than XP? Or is it a shinier version of Vista?
Anyone who has ever used Vista will know that it takes an age to boot and shutdown. You could quite happily boil a kettle and make a cup of tea within the time it takes for Vista to boot up, the same can be said for the shutdown times. With Windows 7 things are slightly quicker but not by much. Without a clean install of the operating system you probably will not see a difference in start up or shutdown times. Windows XP still has the fastest boot times compared to both Vista and 7.
Like Windows Vista, Windows 7 has some shiny new features. The first difference you will notice is the taskbar, it has been made taller to accompany the new style program icons. The ‘Quick Launch’ toolbar has had a major revamp. The small icons have been replaced with larger high quality ones, hovering over the icon displays the open window in real time i.e. if it is playing a video you can see it playing on the taskbar popup.
You can ‘pin’ shortcuts to the taskbar, which is a nice feature, but if you wanted a separate icon for your documents, music and pictures folders then you are out of luck, they are all pinned to the same icon which does mean you have to remember which pinned icon houses the shortcut you want. To access the pinned items menu you simply right click on the icon.
This feels like a bit of a gimmick but if you click and hold the title bar of a program and ‘shake’ it, all the other Windows minimise. Shake it again and all the windows maximise.
This is probably the handiest feature of the new Aero interface. Aero Snap allows you to click and hold the title bar of a program and by moving it to the top of the screen it will automatically maximise the window. Again, by simply grabbing hold of the title and moving away from the top of the screen, this reduces the size of the window to what it was originally. A similar action is performed when you move the window to the side is the screen, the window will ‘snap’ to the left half of the screen and the same on the right hand side.
The Start Menu has hardly changed, the search feature has been improved but isn’t as comprehensive as Mac OS X Spotlight search feature, but it’s not bad.
Probably the biggest problem with Vista was the fact it was so slow it took an age to do anything unless you had a really beefy machine. Windows 7 has been optimised much more efficiently. It is now as fast as Windows XP was. It will take a while to get used to the new layout and the control panel has again been messed about with making it more difficult to find what you need. What would be nice is if Microsoft designed an interface theme that was the same though out Windows and told developers to use the same interface this would make Windows much easier to use.
User Account Control (UAC)
For anyone who has ever used Vista you will have come across the UAC. It popped up every time you wanted to do some and asked ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ and the answer was always ‘Yes! That’s why I clicked on it!’ Sadly UAC is still present in Windows 7 but you have more flexibility about how often it notifies you. Rather than the on or off selection of UAC in Vista, which either meant being annoyed every two minutes or being open to potential threats, there is a slider with different levels of notification. We have found the second from bottom to be the best for everyday use.
Anyone who has used Windows before will have used Windows Explorer in a very regular basis. Windows 7 has changed the way files are stored and managed. There are now libraries for Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. This means that if you have documents in multiple locations you can set the Documents library to look in those locations when you click on the Documents link. You can create your own libraries with your own locations. The only problem we have with this is that you never truly know where you files are and can lead to files being all over your machine. Personally we like the documents to be in one location it just makes things easier.
Internet Explorer (IE)
Avoid like the plague on Windows 7. We have been using Windows 7 since mid August and IE crashes numerous times on a daily basis. Not only is the new version (8) slow but it does not conform to the new internet standards and therefore some websites simply will not work. Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox all put IE to shame and are the much better choice when browsing the internet. For pure speed we recommend Chrome or Safari.
One noticeable absence is the Windows Sidebar which came with Windows Vista and allowed the user to have ‘Gadgets’ informing them about the weather, what the time is, and a whole host of others. This has been replaced by Windows Desktop Gadget which is basically the same but without the side bar. Sadly though the Gadgets do still take up a lot of system resources and are best avoided of less powerful machines.
Windows XP Mode
Microsoft is making a big thing of this. Windows XP mode is a virtual machine running on your Windows 7 computer, that allows you to use software that was designed for Windows XP and doesn’t run on Windows 7. The idea is that the application will look like any other application in Windows 7 but run on the Windows XP virtual machine allow users to use older software that they still use. The concept sounds great, it fixes the problem that Vista had when it couldn’t run older pieces of software, but there is one major flaw with this. You need a processor capable of running the Virtual Machine. It must be either a AMD-V or an Intel VT chip. We have three machines that were bought in the last 3-6 months and none of them were capable of running XP mode and only a few processors are currently able to run this. This is a major flaw and means you have to buy a new computer to run older software, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s a great feature but sadly the execution is poor.
Most people are not going to be buying new machines when upgrading to Windows 7. Sadly though you aren’t going to be able to upgrade with the UK version. Microsoft has decided that the European version of the operating system will not have the upgrade feature but the US version will. What this means is that you will have to back up all your files, wipe your hard drive, install Windows 7, install all the software you used before (if you can find the CDs!), restore your files and then customise the layout to what you had before. This seems ridiculous to us and to numerous people we have spoken to.
So, is it worth upgrading?
If you have Windows Vista then yes definitely, you will see a massive increase in speed and productivity without the nagging of UAC. If you have Windows XP then its yes and no, if XP does everything you need then there is no point and over 90% of businesses are still on XP. Windows 7 does give you some nice new features and makes use of the new Quad/Dual core processors along with new technologies such as inbuilt GPS. Sadly the biggest problem is the fact that you cannot upgrade and have to perform a fresh install, which for the typical user is a daunting task. Microsoft always seem to get 90% there but miss or don’t understand the last 10%, hopefully one day this will change...
As with any new piece of software, especially operating systems, we wouldn’t recommend upgrading straight away. There are usually a few bugs to be ironed out when it is first released therefore we would recommend that you wait for at least 6 months before installing.