Windows 7: First thoughts

I recently downloaded and installed the first beta of Windows 7 and I was extremely happy with the quality of Windows 7, even for a beta! Honestly, it runs better as a beta than Vista did pre-SP1 — heck, it runs better than Vista post-SP1! It actually runs nearly as fast as my old XP install, and gaming on it works much better than in Vista. All in all, I can’t wait for this version to go RTM; it will be my main OS when I get the final version, unless it changes drastically during the Beta process.

Listed below are my thoughts about the next version of Windows:

Pros

Install — The install was very quick and painless. It correctly found my Vista and Server 2008 installs and integrated itself with the existing boot menu. The background image for the install process is very nice and it is used for the login screen as well. This is the first “theme” I’ve not wanted to change immediately. 🙂

Boot Screen — Wow! What a snazzy boot screen!

Drivers — For the most part, all of my hardware was driven correctly out of the box. The two exceptions were the AC97 Audio (which appeared later by itself, somehow) and the HP Photosmart printer (probably because it is a network printer, not attached via USB). I was able to install the printer quite easily without requiring the HP Software CD which made me very happy. My video card was also handled natively (Nvidia 7600GS) — Windows Update found a new version of the driver and it is working flawlessly; gaming under Win7 is much much better than Vista on my hardware.

Taskbar — I didn’t expect to like the new functionality of the taskbar, but I have liked it so far. I’ve always had a large Quick Launch or RocketDock toolbar and this new functionality nearly eliminates that need. There are some drawbacks, listed below.

Desktop Slideshow — There is a new feature in Win7 that automatically changes your wallpaper for you; just point it at a directory of pictures, tell it how long to wait to change the wallpaper, and viola! There is a nice fade transition between pictures, and I don’t see much of a performance hit with it running.

Libraries — The new libraries concept works pretty well. The bulk of my data resides on separate disks (for portability and safety) and I can easily access them as I would the old “My Documents”/”My Pictures”, etc. However, it isn’t obvious how to save documents to these other folders (non User folders); you have to click open the Documents library and select the proper folder before you save the document, or otherwise it will appear in your local documents folder. There may be a workaround that makes a specific location the default for saving new files, but I have not yet found it.

Missing programs — Microsoft has decided to not include Windows Mail, Windows Messenger and other programs in Windows 7; you have to install the Windows Live Suite manually from the Getting Started page. However, I for one have no problem with this decision; it makes Windows leaner and the installation of the Live Suite is quite easy to do if it is desired by the user.

Notification area cleanup — Gone are the days of hundreds of icons appearing in the notification area; all of the icons by default are now hidden from view. You can go in and manually set a specific icon to show, and it looks like they’ve finally fixed the “program appears multiple times in the list” problem. The old notification hiding was based on the window’s title, so a given program could appear multiple times in the list of icons to show/hide. For example, I might go in and tell Windows to always show the MediaMonkey icon, but when the song changes, the window title changes and the icon will be auto-hidden in the future. The new notification icon hiding appears to be based on the program name, so this problem should not happen in Windows 7. Yay!

Resources — It seems to use less memory, at least after startup. It’s grown a bit after being online for several hours, but that was probably due to running a Virtual PC session for a bit.

Screen docking — When you drag a window to the sides of the screen, it is automatically docked to that side and the window width changes to half of the screen width. So you can now easily dock two documents on the screen for greater productivity. Similarly, dragging a window to the top maximizes the window and dragging a maximized window will restore it to normal size.

Sidebar changes — There is no longer a “Windows Sidebar”; Gadgets can be dropped anywhere on the desktop. I usually have the gadgets lined up along the side of my secondary monitor, and I was afraid this change would make that difficult. However, the gadgets snap both to the screen edge and to each other, so that was no problem! The only problem I’ve noted in the new gadgets is that some of the non-default gadgets appear transparent instead of having their usual backgrounds; I’m sure they’ll be fixed by their authors before Windows 7 goes live.

Show desktop — The button to show the desktop has been moved to the far right of the taskbar; it’s a simple clear button. Hovering over that button will make all windows transparent, leaving only the borders to show you where the windows are located; clicking the button mimics the original show desktop functionality.

User Access Control — UAC appears to be much less intrusive in Windows7. That’s a pleasant change. 🙂

Cons

Multi-monitor Support — Once again, there appears to be no way to place a taskbar on non-primary monitors in a multi-monitor setup. It would be nice to be able to add a new taskbar to other monitors, defaulting the programs that are pinned to that taskbar to open on that monitor. I used to use UltraMon to provide that second taskbar, but I don’t think it will mesh well with Windows7’s new taskbar functionality. If multiple taskbars are too difficult to implement, how about an option to span the primary taskbar across all monitors? I’m not sure how that would work or look, but it would be a start. 🙂

Taskbar Location — I was pleasantly surprised to see an option to move the bar to the top of the screen; normally you unlocked and dragged it to the top or sides, but the new taskbar actually has an option to move it to your desired location without unlocking it. I had hoped that this meant Microsoft has fixed the long-standing “window appears with the title bar behind the taskbar” problem when the taskbar was located at the top of the screen, and while it happens less often in Windows 7 than it does in previous systems, it still happens occasionally. However, there is now no way to move these windows, other than hiding the taskbar and grabbing the title bar. In older versions of Windows, you could right-click the taskbar button, select Move, press the down arrow key once to grab the window and then use the mouse to move the window — the right-click Move functionality has been removed in Windows 7. So if a window opens off-screen, there is now no way to move it back onscreen. I have left feedback with Microsoft on this issue; I do not know why they can’t simply add a “Move window…” option in the jumplist area. A better solution would be to force all window opening to the visible viewing area — don’t know why they haven’t fixed that yet.

Logoff/Shutdown issues — In keeping with the grand tradition of Microsoft betas, I sometimes have problems logging off or shutting down the machine. Sometimes it makes it to the “Shutting down…” screen, other times it doesn’t do anything — it takes a few icons out of the notification area, disables Task Manager and disallows programs to start, but the desktop stays on the screen. I have to physically shut the machine down. I had similar issues in the Win98 and Vista betas, so this isn’t that surprising. The problems were resolved by the time it was RTM, so I expect this problem to go away.

Windows Update — WU worked as expected, but the MP3 fix was not listed on it; I had to download that fix manually to protect my songs from getting chopped up. I normally use MediaMonkey anyways, so I might not have been affected by this bug, but I’d rather not take any chances. 🙂

Conclusion

So far, my experience has been great. I’ll be using this beta fulltime until I find a showstopper bug or the beta period runs out. 🙂

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