Windows 7 First Look

Microsoft newest salvo in the operating system wars is out in beta, and if it is any indication of what will come with the final shipping product, then they are aiming for victory. Microsoft Windows 7, note there is no year or name or code letters, is what Windows Vista should have been. It is clean, fast, and stable. It contains all of the visual upgrades that were shoved into Vista, but with stability and speed that is at least as good as XP, if not better.

When Microsoft published the beta of Windows 7 they obviously underestimated how interested people were in their next move. windows7Within hours the servers hosting the files and generating the license keys were overloaded and went off-line. Many pundits thought this was a first sign of bad things to come. But within a day the servers were back on line and offering up the files and keys without problem.

The disk image to install the OS is approximately 2.4 gig – much smaller that the equivalent Vista image. The first thing you notice as you go through the install is how quickly it moves. There are none of the long pauses between questions that seem to make up so much of the time of previous installations. And in fact, there are far fewer of those questions. The Windows 7 installation intelligently inquires of the hardware and makes assumptions so that the user doesn’t have to answer a litany of prompts about hardware and location. These setting can be fully configured once the system is up and running, but the bar to getting to that running state is much lower. Whether on older hardware or virtual machines, the entire installation seems fairly consistent at about 30 minutes in length, and not once did the installation fail.

Once the installation is complete and the desktop presents itself, the vision is striking. Simply put, it is a very clean interface. The ability to have desktop widgets and status bar menus is there, but over and over the phrase I keep hearing evaluators use is “clean.” The ribbon toolbar of Office 2007 has now been implemented in tools like Paint and Notepad, but that is just the tip of the unification. windows7_paintThere are less interruptions from security messages and confirmations and the layout just makes sense. Now some of that is due to our increased familiarity with the Vista style interface, but much of it is due to subtle tweaking and tuning. In that way Windows 7 could almost be seen as a maintenance release of Vista.

But under the covers, it is obviously much more than a simple update. The speed at which programs open is detectable even without a stop watch. Many of the benchmarks I have seen place the speed of Windows 7 as better than that of XP. Not a lot of programs have been broken either. From anti-virus to office software and multi-media tools, most of the applications I installed worked without flaw. The few exceptions to this were program such as Google’s Chrome browser and a few games. Sometimes this can be fixed by running the program in XP compatibility mode, but in others the program just refuses to launch. We have to remember though, this is a beta that is designed exactly to weed out those kinds of glitches and allow developers time to fix them.

All signs are pointing to a Windows 7 released late in 2009 or early 2010. The betas are set to expire in July of 2009, about the same time as Microsoft’s big Tech-Ed conference, so a safe bet might put the release date around then. Perhaps there will be a second beta period that would cover another six months from the middle to end of 2009. Of course much of that will depend on what problems are discovered during the beta period. Currently there don’t appear to be many.

Microsoft has received so much bad press for Vista, coming from their own users to rivals such as Apple, that they have to prove that they deserve their place at the top of the personal computer food chain. No one doubts that they make great server applications and operating systems, but recently Apple’s OSX has put Microsoft squarely on the defensive. Couple that with the rise in netbooks that stress the browser implementation more than the OS and even some inroads from Linux distributions such as Ubuntu. This means Microsoft has a lot riding on their next operating system release, and from all indications, Windows 7 will succeed on all counts.

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