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February 7, 2009

Tech, GP: Windows 7 looks to be big improvement


I'm not a big fan of Windows Vista. Basically, it annoys me.

Many of the tasks that were quick and simple to do in XP were changed in Vista, and I saw no real reason for the changes. I think Microsoft decided to change things just for the sake of change.

Maybe they thought people would think it was better just because it was different.

Wrong.

I'm not above saying it. The emperor has no clothes, and the Vista operating system was a flop. Microsoft won't say that, of course. Instead, they will tell you how umpteen gazillion copies of it have been sold, and if they've sold that many, well, then it must be good.

They don't mention that most of the copies sold came pre-installed on new PCs, and the buyer didn't have much of a choice. And they won't tell you that a good percentage of the Vista licenses sold to businesses are really covering a downgraded install of Windows XP Professional, which is what the customer really wanted in the first place.

The next version of Windows, Windows 7, was originally scheduled to be released in 2010. But guess what? They're speeding up the development of it, and it will probably be released late in 2009. Could it be that even Microsoft wants to get past Vista?

This is all conjecture on my part, of course. Still, I think there may be something to it.

Anyway, Microsoft released a beta version of Windows 7 a little while ago, to get it out into circulation among testers, to help work the bugs out of it.

I don't usually get involved in things like that, but this time I decided to try it out and see what the next system they were going to push out was like. Since I have a Microsoft TechNet subscription, I could download it and try it out.

So I did. And I'm glad I did.

I am pleasantly surprised. I've only had it a few days, so this is not going to be an exhaustive review, but what I've seen so far isn't bad.

I'm not going to recommend that people upgrade to it when it comes out. If you already have a satisfactory system, it's probably not worth upgrading, despite what Microsoft will say.

But after Windows 7 comes out, if you need a new PC, at least you won't have to worry about suffering through Vista.

I guess it kind of gives us hope for the future.

I installed it on an extra PC I had hanging around in the cellar, not a brand-new, whiz-bang machine. It's just a Pentium 4 with 1 GB of RAM, and really, the performance is not bad. Subjectively, I think it's faster than Vista was on the same machine. Probably a bit slower than XP was on the same hardware, but not by much.

It seems cleaner and more intuitive to me, as Windows XP user. When I right-click on things, I get what I expected, and maybe a little more. I haven't been searching in frustration as much as when I used Vista.

Now, a few details from my early experience. I began by installing programs that I use. My antivirus worked, Firefox worked, Microsoft Office worked, OpenOffice worked, all without a wrinkle. So far, only my DVD burning software, which I admit is an older version, received a compatibility warning when I tried to install it.

On installation, the driver for my older SCSI card wasn't installed automatically, but with a little poking around I found a compatible one included in the system. I just had to install it myself.

In Windows 7, if you take my advice, which I've given many times in this column space, and actually do want to back up your important files, you'll find a program that is a functional, if basic, backup program. It even comes with a wizard that will walk you step-by-step through doing it, and explain what you can and cannot do with it.

This alone puts the new system a step up from Vista, in which the backup program was a cruel joke.

Personally, I think they put a little more grown-up thought into this new version of Windows, and how it should interact with the user. When the system pops up a window with a comment or suggestion, or just an information bit, it seems like they may have realized that the user might not be a moron. The tips are actually useful, and not so much like scolding a child.

I'm sure there will be hiccups, as I continue to play with it, and they will make some changes and fixes before its real release, but for a quick look, at an early product, I have to say it's not bad.

Look for a more detailed report later this year, when I can get the real release and have some more seat time with it.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@dailystarmail.com.