Lucky #7: a look at Windows 7 RC 1

Microsoft has had quite a hole to dig themselves out of. Windows Vista, their most recently released operating system, was plagued with a laundry list of issues. Slow performance, shoddy incompatibility, drastic user interface changes, and an annoying security measure all lead to many shunning Vista and sticking with Windows XP. I was among that group who found Vista to be more trouble than it was worth. But now Microsoft is about to release Windows 7, the followup to the Vista disaster. In a fantastic stunt, Microsoft is allowing anyone to download the Windows 7 Release Candidate (but only for a while longer, so snatch up while you can!) to test it out for one year. It’s totally free, only in March of next year the RC will start to shut down every two hours until it becomes unusable in June. So I decided to finally give it a run to see what all the fuss is about.

THE LOOKS:


One thing I noticed right off the bat was that Windows 7 looks disturbingly similar to Vista. The glassy interface has returned for another go, which some people will enjoy seeing return while others may wish to disable for a less flashy interface. And for those people don’t worry, a non-glassy option is available. As usual you have the taskbar, Start button, and the clock to the side. Other than that, the desktop looks about the same. You’ll notice that the taskbar is a tad bit thicker than its Vista cousin, but don’t worry about losing this real estate for the screen.

Vista taskbar:

7 taskbar:

Even though Windows 7’s taskbar is a little on the pudgy side, it brings with it more functionality and less clutter than any windows taskbar before. If you take a careful look, you’ll see some boxes that almost look like they could be quicklaunch icons al la Vista.

But in fact, each of these icons is what would normally be the program bar on the taskbar itself. In fact, they serve several different functions. If a program is turned on, it will have a layer of gloss over the icon. If a program is pinned to the taskbar but not turned on, there will be no extra layer of gloss. A pinned program works similar to the OS X dock, in that if you click the icon it will launch the program. But if you click it when the program is already launched, it will bring the program up as if it were a regular taskbar object in past versions of windows. Windows 7 also uses the taskbar preview seen in Vista, but it has a few extra tricks up its sleeve.

Here we see the Skype box alerting us to a message that has been sent through (hence why it is orange). Also take notice that there is an extra segment by the Skype box. This means that there are more than one window for Skype available, but instead of taking up another space on the taskbar it only takes up one space. To get to the windows, mouse over the box. A preview will pop up. If it is one window, it will only show a preview of the one window, much like Vista. If there are two windows, however:

7 Preview:

It will show both windows next to each other, and you can select the window you want to bring up. Just click on it, and it will come up just like normal. There are a few other neat things you can do with the preview. If you hover the cursor over the window you want to select but don’t click it, the window will appear in place as a full-size preview. Once you move your mouse away from the preview at the bottom, the window will vanish. Also, if there are any other windows active they will become see-through so the focus is purely on the window you’re previewing. Like so:

7 Aero Peek Preview:

This see-through style is known as Aero Peek, and is designed to allow the user to see what they want to see when they need it without any distractions. Aero Peek is used often in 7, appearing in Alt+Tab, making all windows besides the one you’re selecting invisible. There is also a peek button in the bottom right corner of the screen on the taskbar. If you hover over the button, all windows currently up will become transparent. If you click the button, it will minimize all of the windows. Click it again, and the windows will come back. Aero Peek is a very useful piece of eye candy, one that is both pretty and functional.

Windows 7 has careful attention paid to allowing easier theme creation. From the theme menu you can change the color of the user interface, the wallpaper, and the sound pack used. You can also select several pre-made themes or personal saved themes. New themes are available for free download, which offer new wallpapers, color choices, and sound packs. Theoretically.

7 Theme:

As far as looks go, Windows 7 is very close to the asthetics of Vista. I find that 7 is slightly more refined and less flashy while providing new functionality that I found quite useful.

THE ROOTS:

For reference, the computer used for both Vista and 7 has the following specs:

Intel Core 2 Quad @ 2.33 ghz
8GB DDR2 RAM
Intel GMA Integrated Chipset 3100
1920×1080 resolution

Both my copy of Vista and 7 are 64-bit, to take full advantage of the memory and processor.

7 Bootup was quick, but slower than my Vista install. I also noted a hang from when I entered my password on 7 until I was able to get to the desktop. The aero glass also did not appear at first, and took about 15 more seconds to click on. After that though, 7 was running at full speed ahead. Programs came up almost instantly after launched, with a snap that was almost frightening. While my Vista install was fast, 7 was just a little bit faster.

I was worried that the extra Aero effects would have stressed out my integrated chipset a lot more than Vista did. But the preview effects and peeking were very fluid even with a lot of stuff going on on screen. I’m impressed to see that Microsoft was able to chop away a lot of the bloat they put in Vista and allow for even more presentation. While i’m sure having an actual graphics card will improve visual performance a lot, recent integrated chipsets can put up with 7’s Aero fairly well.

One other thing that really surprised me about 7 was that I did not need to install any drivers. Once I was set up, that was it. Not once did I have to go online to get drivers for things to work properly. Everything was ready to go from the initial install. I’m sure installing proper drivers will increase performance, but it was worth mentioning how well 7 can perform on its own.

Something else to mention is just how large of a score increase I saw in the Windows Experience Index.

Vista Index Score:

7 Index Score:

The lower graphics scores do bring down the total a bit, but the processor and memory get a huge boost by 7’s optimizations. I did run in to a few program incompatibilities unfortunately, but this should be fixed before launch.

Microsoft has reason to be proud of Windows 7. It is everything Vista was supposed to be, and more. It is faster, lighter, and more useful. While I didn’t get a chance to look at how it performed with some basic games, general performance was a decent improvement over Vista. Windows 7 is due for mass consumption this October, and I think Microsoft has a hit on their hands.

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Published in: on June 12, 2009 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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