Win7, Microsoft’s Redemption?

With much ado, Windows 7 was released world wide yesterday.  The reviews are in and they seem uniformly positive.

The Guardian: Windows 7 is simply the best version of Windows you can get…a lot less buggy than Apple’s Snow Leopard.

Slate: the new Windows is not only the best operating system that Microsoft has ever produced. It is arguably the fastest, most intuitive, and most useful consumer desktop OS on the market today. Windows 7 edges out Snow Leopard…in several important ways and will leave any computers running an older version of the Mac OS in the dust.  [A]fter using it for a few weeks, you’ll remember what it was like to be in love with your PC.

NY Times: Windows 7 means that Microsoft employees can show up in public without avoiding eye contact. Looks like 7 is a lucky number after all.

AP: [I]f you’ve been weighing a Mac versus a Windows PC, then you should know that “7” makes Windows more attractive… is now easier to use and better looking than it was before, while maintaining its core advantage of cheaper, more diverse hardware.  Perhaps the most exciting thing about Windows 7 is that it’s inspiring computer manufacturers to try new things, and reviving old ideas like touch-enabled “tablet” PCs. It’s breathing new life into the computer market.

PC World:  [H]elps make Windows 7 the least distracting, least intrusive Microsoft OS in a very long time. It’s a giant step forward from the days when Windows thought nothing of interrupting your work to inform you that it had de­­tected unused icons on your desktop.

Gizmodo: Windows 7 is the biggest step forward in usability since Windows 95.

Cnet: Windows 7 is more than just spin. It’s stable, smooth, and highly polished, introducing new graphical features, a new taskbar that can compete handily with the Mac OS X dock, and device management and security enhancements that make it both easier to use and safer.

Wall Street Journal: After using pre-release versions of Windows 7 for nine months, and intensively testing the final version for the past month on many different machines, I believe it is the best version of Windows Microsoft…has produced. It’s a boost to productivity and a pleasure to use…I can heartily recommend Windows 7 to mainstream consumers.

Of course there are nits to pick in each of these reviews, but overall they are good.

I like that MS managed to keep a couple things until launch.  Some great art as down loadable themes–I like the Chinese Zodiac one–and a Media Center plugin for Internet TV.  Did MS release anything else that a Beta to RC to RTM user might not have noticed?  Let me know in the comments.

If your computer came with Vista pre-installed, an upgrade to 7 is well worth the cost and effort.  If you are still running XP, then you should wait until purchasing new hardware to make the switch.  Mac users should wait until Apple gets bootcamp updated later this year (if you are not one of those who will be disallowed from running it due to artificial constraints from Apple.)

Edit: Ars is reporting that if you want to run Win7 on Apple hardware then you have to purchase Apple’s latest OS too.  As often as Apple intentionally screws their users…it is amazing how supportive said users are.

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Windows 7 RTM

Over the weekend I upgraded the RC versions of Windows 7 on my laptop and desktop to the final version of Windows 7.  I did a clean install on my desktop and an unsupported upgrade on my laptop.  Both installs were flawless.

Months after Vista RTM, just 12 days before general availability, I posted here my views on the OS:

Only 12 more days until Vista is unleashed on the public. Will it be finished? If the average user experience is comparable to mine, MS is in deep doo doo. No amount of excuses and/or blame is going to be sufficient to keep MS out of hot water.

You know the spinning beach ball in the Mac? Well MS has implemented a similar feature. About half the time that I click on Computer or Documents or any explorer applet, the computer just stops–nothing happens. Click it again…nothing, click it again….nothing…. Huh? Click on control panel, let’s go see what error messages are being generated….BAM! Windows all pop open, every desperate click is turned into an open window. No rhyme, no reason…totally annoying.

Also, do you know anyone who does not use DIVX? I don’t. Still there is no DIVX codec for playback on Vista. If you install the old one, every time you navigate to a directory with a DIVX avi in it, the computer hangs. The “com surrogate” crashes repeatedly, you spend the next minutes trying to get a head of the error warnings.

All of the pretty eye candy in the world will not hide the fact that this is the buggiest Windows release since Win 95…XP for games and virtualization, Vista is too buggy for either.

Sadly, I have been forced into the role of MS Apologist. But I don’t mind making excuses for beta software…hell, it is beta. But this is the final release…excuses for this sad train wreck of an OS come to an end… Come on MS, get it together. 5 years in the making….and this is the best you can do?  Too sad….

So I’m not much of an MS apologist.  But I really like Windows 7, I am excited by it in the same way that I was excited by Win2k.  When Vista was released, not wanting to keep using XP, I switched to Linux for a year.  Firefox and Flash combined with lazy programming by video distributors forced me to try Vista again some time between SP1 and SP2, and I found it to be acceptable. Maybe the fact that I did not struggle with it daily during that time led me to be more forgiving of its early transgressions.

To me, Win 7 is the culmination of all of the promises made with the Win 95 release.  I didn’t even use computers at the time, but the whole Start Me Up campaign was over the top and definitely found a place in this Luddite’s  conscience.

Anyone know what the netbook like device at 31″s is?

Windows 7 on a 7 year old desktop

Uh oh, two Win7 posts in a row.

Test box:  A Sony Viao desktop from mid 2002.  It came with XP w/o any SPs.  It has a 1.3 GHz Celeron S (based on Pentium III), 512 MB (original)  RAM, onboard Intel graphics, onboard Realtec network, DVD ROM and CD r/w.  The hard drive failed a while back and was replaced with 100 GB and an old wireless card was tossed in some time back, other than that it is stock.  The box was originally sold as a multi media machine for $1300 from Fry’s in April 2002 and included mouse, keyboard, 15″ CRT,  speakers, and included a free HP scanner.

I am using Win 7 build 7057.

Install was left unattended and it was done when I got back, unsure how long it took other than to say less than two hours.  Machine booted to 8 bit 640*480 video.  Windows update installed drivers for onboard sound and onboard network.  This left only the graphics driver not supported.

Intel never released a Vista driver for the graphics, the XP one won’t install.  Other than that, all hardware was supported out of the box.

Win7 actually works on a 640*480 screen, this was a surprise.  The machine is a little slow, but not unusably so.

The install of XP that was on it was about 4 years old.

Verdict: Windows 7 ran about as fast as a 4 year old install of XP.  I was able to surf the web in IE 8 and play MP3s in WMP.  To be usable this machine would need a $40 video card and $25 worth of RAM.  Overall, I am impressed.

Now I am off to see if Windows Home Server will work on the box.

Windows 7, the road to RC…

I downloaded build 7057 and installed it on my laptop and desktop.

First some background.  I built my desktop to run Vista.  I knew the beta was buggy, I knew the RC was buggy and I thought the whole thing was on the fugly side.  But I trusted MS to get it right for the RTM.

On 10/10/06 I wrote on this blog concerning Vista RC2: “It is fugly…the UI needs work before release.  Come on Microsoft, get it together.  I am getting a little tired of making up excuses for your software.”

And after RTM but before general release (1/17/07),  I wrote:

Only 12 more days until Vista is unleashed on the public. Will it be finished? If the average user experience is comparable to mine, MS is in deep doo doo. No amount of excuses and/or blame is going to be sufficient to keep MS out of hot water.

You know the spinning beach ball in the Mac? Well MS has implemented a similar feature. About half the time that I click on Computer or Documents or any explorer applet, the computer just stops–nothing happens. Click it again…nothing, click it again….nothing…. Huh? Click on control panel, let’s go see what error messages are being generated….BAM! Windows all pop open, every desperate click is turned into an open window. No rhyme, no reason…totally annoying.

Also, do you know anyone who does not use DIVX? I don’t. Still there is no DIVX codec for playback on Vista. If you install the old one, every time you navigate to a directory with a DIVX avi in it, the computer hangs. The “com surrogate” crashes repeatedly, you spend the next minutes trying to get a head of the error warnings.

All of the pretty eye candy in the world will not hide the fact that this is the buggiest Windows release since Win 95.

Looking back now, my comments were pretty spot on.

The Vista debacle forced me to jump to Linux Mint–which I used exclusively for about a year and a half before moving back to Windows for various reasons.  During my 18 months in the wilderness, Vista SP1 was released, video drivers were stabilized and Vista had become usable, not great but usable.  I’ve been somewhat happily using it ever since.  But Vista had already earned its reputation, it could not recover.

[Edit: None of this is meant to denigrate Linux Mint, a great free OS.  I still donate regularly to Mint, the Mint KDE CE RC is the best KDE 4.x available.  I have nothing but the utmost respect for the entire Mint team.]

Jump forward to Windows 7 beta, the anti-Vista.  Upon its beta release, Win7 was already as good as Vista at launch, maybe better.  I’ve been generally satisfied with running the beta as my main desktop although I kept Mint KDE on my laptop because Win7 would not sleep properly (or more correctly it would not wake up properly.)

Which brings us to the point of this post.  I upgraded from the beta to the new build on my desktop and did a clean install on my laptop.  Everything worked out of the box–and it is elegant, it is usable, and is generally a joy to sit in front of.  How long has it been since I could say this about a MS OS?  At least since I upgraded from Win98 to Win2k, which I thought at the time was the best OS ever.

Granted it takes a little tweaking to make it fit my work flow, but what OS doesn’t?  If the final release of Win7 is as good as this pre-RC build then it will be possible to to be happy with Windows without succumbing to apologetics.  It is a genuinely good OS.

I think MS finally gets it.  The new desktop backgrounds are great, theming is superb, the inclusion of codecs is wonderful, the out of the box experience with Win7 is exactly what I’ve wanted from a desktop since….well, since forever.

I can honestly say that Win7 build 7057 is the best OS that I have ever used, no apologies necessary.

I’ve tried the latest Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, OS X, OpenSolaris, PC-BSD, and others…Win7 pre-RC puts them all to shame.  Could it be that we are heading into an era where it won’t be embarrassing for a geek to run Windows?

MS should remove the wayward ini file from build 7057, recompile and release it as RC.  I am thinking people will be happy with it (with the exception of the stability of WMP).

Color me impressed.

Win 7 SKUs

MS has recently announced what SKUs will be available for Windows 7.  [SKU is an acronym for stockkeeping unit, which represents one unique inventory item.]  It seems that they have simplified for the majority, most will choose Home Premium or Professional (basically analogous to XPs versioning), and MS claims that these will be the only two offered at retail (there will still be 32 and 64 bit versions of each).

What I find interesting is that MS thinks Windows Starter Edition will upset Linux/XP on netbooks.  It is no secret that Vista won’t run sufficiently well on netbooks, that is why initially Linux did so well in that market and why it wasn’t upset until MS started pushing XP for that market.  MS claims all versions of Windows 7 will run on netbooks….sure they will.  But cost is still a factor, so MS will make Starter Edition available to compete with the free Linux offerings on the cheapest of laptops.  No Aero, can only run 3 apps at a time, no app previews, etc…  Will this satisfy the netbook crowd? It remains to be seen.

A nice thing about the new SKUs is that each is a super set of the next lower one.  So you never have to choose between features–with Vista it was do I want Media Center or group policy editor?  Now you decide which features you want and buy appropriately, no more having to choose between missing features and purchasing Ultimate edition.  I think this alone makes a huge improvement over the Vista release.

Many will claim that all of these different versions confuse people and that MS should simplify.  These folks are simply wrong.  The different versions indicate health returning to the OS market, the ending of the MS monopoly.  When there were no other choices to be had, MS could get away with offering a one size fits most release in the same way that Henry Ford could get away with offering the Model T in black only.  But as soon as there is competition clamoring for consumer attention/spending then we have lots of choices, the producer must make different products for different niches or risk losing market share.  So, in my view, the varying SKUs are a good thing.

On Windows 7 in general (building on what I previously posted):

I haven’t done much modifying to the taskbar, I am trying to give the MS way an honest try.  But there are areas that I still find not very usable.  The taskbar, like the OS X Dock, mixes running and commonly used apps together.  I can’t understand how anyone can defend this in usability terms, I use my taskbar to know which apps are running and mixing them with the launchers is a dumb idea.  After some more time giving it a chance I plan to remove the launchers and reimplement the quick launcher then make a few settings changes and have basically the Vista/Win95 style taskbar.

Libraries have grown on me, I think it is genius.  Mostly because it eliminates all the crap pollution that app installations put in your home folder, it hides it very well.

I still expect the RC in March.

Obligatory Windows 7 Post

I’ve been playing around with Windows 7 (build 7000) for a couple of days.

Microsoft bandies the “7” quite handily, but that does not change the fact that this is Windows 6.1.  If Vista was the most important release since Win95, then 6.1 will be the most important bug fix since Win98.  I would have named it Buena Vista.

I’m not one of those who hates Vista.  Anything to kill off Luna is a good thing in my book.  Vista had problems at launch, mostly graphics drivers…but those have been solved for quite some time…and SP1 fixed a lot of other niggles.  Vista has an image problem, and 7 has been built to be the anti-Vista, and–I think–succeeds.

You can look elsewhere for reviews and screen shots.  I only offer a few comments…

Getting rid of the side bar was a no brainer.  The new task bar can be reverted to the old…and thank goodness as the new one is fairly useless.

I don’t like the new panel in Windows Explorer, Vista’s was near perfect, let me decide what goes in there.  Meanwhile the new system tray is great, both functionally and aesthetically improved.

I expected more from media center, they just canceled a release and folded it into 7.  Seems like more gratuitous eye candy and not more features.  Media Center was a killer app when first released (no, actually with the second release dubbed Win MCE 2005).  Now it seems stagnant.  Like I said, I expected more.

There should be a (very) cheap upgrade path for Vista users, this is more of an incremental upgrade for them.  But I predict that 7 will help move people off of XP…it is pretty and there is obvious attention to detail.

I predict RTM in the third quarter of 09 and if they miss the back to school rush they surely won’t miss Christmas.  Build 7000 was compiled 12/8/08 but is not expected to get broad distribution until the second week of January…maybe a public RC in March.

What do you think of Windows 7?