A few days ago (January 7, 2009) Microsoft released it’s newest operating system, which at this point is called Windows 7, in beta form to the general public. Microsoft has yet to give us any firm date as to when this operating system will be available in it’s final format (anywhere from the end of 2009 to mid 2010 has been tossed around), however they have insisted that this beta version is “feature complete”. What does that mean? Well, it means that the basics of it all are there… but we may change some things here or there… oh… and don’t call us for support just yet. Me being the Microsoft fanboy that I am though… of course I had to try it out. I’ve had it installed for a few hours now, so this will very much be first impressions.
The first thing I noticed when popping in the disk was the pleasantry of an upgrade option being available. Previous beta OSes that I’ve used have never had this available, which is always somewhat of a hassle because it takes half a day or so to get all my software reinstalled… yada yada yada, if you’re still reading you know what I’m talking about. I clicked it… and was greeted by a dear old friend…
Microsoft… you tease! It was a nice thought anyway. Format it is (not to worry, I was a good boy and made my image backup incase my laptop decides to burn in the fiery pit of beta despair). After you boot off the disk, there is nothing really new to talk about if you’ve installed Vista… it’s exactly the same. Moving on.
After the reboot at the end of the setup you’ll notice that Microsoft has added a neat new startup graphic; no more scrolling green bar, we now have spinning dots that morph into the Windows logo. Yay! This is also where “the feeling” starts. What “feeling” is that you ask? That feeling you get when running Windows 7 that this is what Microsoft MEANT to release when they put out Vista. Now, I’ll pause here for a second. I’m not a Vista hater. I’ve used it pretty much steadily since it’s beta days, with a brief “I give up” moment in the middle where I installed Server 2008 as my desktop operating system. For the most part, I’ve had a solid experience (no pun intended) with it, save a few bumps in the road during the early days. I’ll concede though that it was a bit of a jump from XP… not to fear though, Microsoft has heard our compatibility cries, which is why 7 seems so much like Vista… it’s basically riding on the same chassis. From what Microsoft has said in their various press releases, this is what we can expect in the future to ease upgrade transitions. They’ve also heard our performance cries as well… and Windows 7 “seems” to be a little snappier. This is purely “seat of the pants” performance metering though. That said, Vista does seem a little clunky at times, if not unfinished.
What… no UAC?
Yep, that’s right… I noticed the *perceived* lack of User Account Control (UAC) right off the bat; even before I noticed the new taskbar. Well, that’s a lie. I had seen the new task bar before on a colleague of mine’s alpha release late last year… so it wasn’t a shocker. More on that later.
Do not be fooled, UAC is still there, it’s just a kinder, gentler UAC. Right out of the box, UAC is configured to prompt you when a program tries to make a change to the OS, and not when you try to make a change to the OS. This can be further configured as well, which is nice, because it means that more people will likely leave it on.
To some extent this functionality was available in Vista if you cared to take a minute (or ten) and dig through the local group policy settings on your machine. Microsoft has made it more convenient to the average user now though by exposing it through the normal user interface. Good job guys.
What’s wrong with the task bar???
I have to say that the task bar seems a little unfinished. I’m guessing this will change to something a little more polished looking before it’s final release… so I won’t complain here TOO much. First impressions though, I don’t like it. Instead of icons with text next to them letting you know what it is
that’s running, now all we have are icons. You can tell which applications I’ve got running in the image above by the boxes around the icons that appear to be in my quick launch area… only that’s not quick launch. There is no quick launch. The icon that appears to be highlighted is actually the active window, and the others with boxes around them are the minimized windows. Scroll over those icons and you get…
Which is similar to the action in Vista… only slightly annoying. You’ll see what I mean if you use it.
Earlier I mentioned that there is no quick launch area, which I was personally a fan of. It’s functionality isn’t completely gone though, only it’s separation from the rest of the taskbar. Now, when you drag icons over the task bar using the right mouse button you have the option to “pin” it to the taskbar. Once you’ve launched the pinned application you’ll have to right mouse click it to kick off a secondary instance of the application. A little odd, but I’ll get used to it. Like I said though, I suspect this will change somewhat by the time it hits the street, so don’t get bent out of shape just yet.
Hey look… floating gadgets!
It would appear that our good friend the sidebar has gone the way of the dinosaur… and good riddance. Your gadgets are free to float about your desktop, which is kind of cool I guess. I seem to have slung mine back over to the side though, that’s just where I’m used to seeing them.
All in all, they still function the same.
Performance increase… I think.
I mentioned earlier that 7 seems to perform a little faster than its old brother. Again, this is purely “seat of the pants” dyno testing, but I’m sticking to my guns… it runs well. I did have some issues getting windows to like my SD card enough to enable ReadyBoost, which I thought was curious. I had to format it and retest it a few times before it would grab hold of it. Speaking of ReadyBoost… has anyone actually noticed a performance increase with it in Vista? I certainly didn’t didn’t feel my hair blowing (oh… wait) in the wind from all that added speed. I also noticed that my Windows Experience Index dropped by a tenth of a point. Running Vista, my hard drive was rated a 4.4 and 7 rates it a 4.3. Stupid hard drives!!!
I’m sure someone will ask, so I’ll go ahead and tell you that my laptop is a Dell Precision with a 1.86 Ghz Core 2 proc and 2GB of RAM. I did however install 7 on an older machine I had sitting around with only 1GB of RAM, and it cruises right along as well. I’m thinking the claims that Microsoft has slimmed this puppy down are actually true… that, or they’ve pulled an elaborate Windows Mojave experiment on us all.
HomeGroup? What the heck is that?
I’m planning on writing a whole article on Microsoft’s new HomeGroup designation, however I’ll talk about it here briefly before I go. With Windows 7, Microsoft introduces a new security / permissions concept called “HomeGroups” which appears to be one part NAC, and one part dumbed down share permissions model. I’ll get into the gooey details later but this makes that whole “identifying network” thing in Vista all make sense. The basics of it are this; when you setup your home network now you’ll be given a key. You enter this key into your other machines and then can grant rights to stuff on your machine by computers being a member of that “network”. Interesting idea. I’ll show you the ends and outs soon.
– Dan Thompson