I quite like Windows Vista but was unable to move away from XP for a long time because Vista did not support the mix of graphic cards I had at the time. As soon as this was sorted I installed Vista x64 on my development machine and went through a series of hoops to make two graphic cards and four monitors work properly. The two graphic cards are a GeForce 9500 GT on a PCI Express slot and an older GeForce 6200 on a PCI slot. As far as I can remember I went through driver hell and it took a few tries to get everything right. My experience with Windows 7 RC couldn’t have been more different. It detected the cards automatically, installed the drivers and all I had to do was move them into the correct positions. It even detected the motherboard’s graphic card but I don’t have a fifth monitor handy to try it. Very impressive given my previous experience!
The installation itself was fast; I started it around 20.00 and was finished before midnight. And that included installing Visual Studio, Office and several other applications. The OS itself was ready in less than an hour and the only questions I remember answering were my location, whether my network was a home or work network and the name of the PC and first user.
I tried to put up with UAC for a while but ended up disabling it for the duration of the installations. Mind you, the place where it is managed was moved and all the web pages with instructions on disabling UAC pointed to a non-existent Control Panel link. The best way to find it is to cause a UAC prompt and click the link on the prompt that takes you to the correct screen. The new UI for UAC is very slick and easy to operate so much so that I even went back and re-enabled it. The only complaint I have is that when a UAC prompt pops up the monitors connected to the PCI card do not redraw properly for a few seconds after the prompt is dismissed. Not serious but a bit annoying and probably it is the drivers fault, not Windows’.
Another unexpected thing I came across was that my old Laserjet 6 was not listed in the printer list. It is a very old printer but it was listed in Vista. The solution was easy but I nearly missed it. The printer list – can you please make this dialog resizable at some point – has a button with the caption Windows Update and there’s some text elsewhere in the dialog which goes something like, “Click Windows update to see more models”. It would be more obvious if the button caption was “More Printers”, for example.
I managed to install most of the software without any problems. The exceptions were SlickRun that installs but does not start and Chrome which needs a parameter (–in-process-plugins) added to the Target in its shortcut properties. Even with this change Chrome still fails regularly which is something I wasn’t used to in Vista. I have been using Chrome since the very first day of its release and it has been rock solid but there’s something not quite right with this installation. By the way, I am running Windows Seven Ultimate x64 on an AMD Athlon X2 4000+. The other application I was wary of was Visual Basic 6 but I ignored all the usual warning prompts and it installed and run just fine. It feels a little nimbler in the designer redrawing which was a dog under Vista. I just had Word 2007 SP2 crash for no obvious reason which is worrying but we will see how it goes. Our software, GeneXproTools, by the way, installs and runs perfectly on Windows 7 without any UI or performance degradation.
The Windows 7’s shell is quite pretty and usable. I like that Microsoft is moving away from the dark mood of Vista into a pleasing bluish theme. Whoever created Vista’s unfortunate colour scheme moved to the Expression team but that’s a rant for another day. The background pictures are quite beautiful and the automated background changer was a pleasant surprise. I ended up turning it off because some of the pictures were too distracting in a multi monitor setup but I would use it in a laptop, for example.
The taskbar is way prettier than Vista’s or XP’s but I am still not used to the way it operates. The hardest part for me has been the window switching. I am always surprised when all the windows disappear and only the one I am hovering over shows up. I understand the idea but it looks a bit overkill. Interestingly, if I show off the feature to someone else it makes a lot of sense and is very pleasing but when I am working and switch windows I get distracted by the sudden change. The good part is that I really like the extra taskbar space and being able to preview IE’s tabs.
The window gestures are interesting but they only work at the edges of the monitors. This is unfortunate in multi monitor setups because the main monitor is in the middle and it’s where I do comparisons, for example. It would be useful to have this feature in any window although I am not sure if it would interfere with dragging windows between monitors. On the other hand, the maximize window gesture is annoying because when I move windows between monitors with different resolutions the window “grows” suddenly and is maximized. This has happened enough times that I have learned to avoid dragging windows along the top of the screen.
Perhaps the single best feature in Windows 7 is the changes to Explorer and the settings windows. The layout and headers are cleaner and simpler than in Vista and the sorting and resizing of folders lists is easier and less error prone. And a big pet peeve of mine with Vista went away: Now all folders seem to default to their proper type instead of randomly being assigned to music folder like in Vista. The control panel is also better focused and some of its applications are very pleasant and expertly designed. I quite like that when I connect my Sony MP3 player the icon matches the device appearance. Nothing earth shattering here but it highlights the attention to detail that went into Windows 7.
I am sticking with Windows 7. I am very impressed with the interface and installation experience and so far I haven’t been compelled to switch off or change as many default settings as I used to in Vista and XP. So far I am only disabling the restore option on my C drive as I think this was the cause of a major slowdown in the previous Vista installation. This is not recommended but since I have daily backups I am fine even if I need to reinstall from scratch. Another minor annoyance is the Sleep function that does not work reliably. I always can make it go to sleep but sometimes it crashes and reboots. Nevertheless the boot time is quite acceptable and I only start the PC once a day. Finally, the performance on this PC, which is a low end PC, is quite good and certainly feels faster than my previous Vista installation.