I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker, at least in certain areas of my life. One of those areas has always been technology. With my laptop’s Vista installation showing signs of wear I decided to go for broke and install the Windows 7 beta on the machine that is my office away from the office, my Dell Latitude D830.
I’m on day three now, and it’s the Vista that should have been. I love it.
All of my software works, except my antivirus package. Microsoft Office works. Adobe CS4 works. iTunes works, though not with my iPhone Remote app. Last.fm works. SecureCRT works. Azureus works. Adobe Lightroom works. Firefox works, with Gears and Delicious plugins. Java, too. The VMware Virtual Infrastructure Client works. Even the Cisco VPN client works, which was a complete shock.
All of my hardware works, too, which is usually the case with a new OS. I didn’t need custom drivers for my hybrid hard disk in my laptop. The custom volume controls work natively, as do the brightness controls. It sees my Intel 4965AGN wireless card, as well as my Bluetooth adapter. It even knew what to do with my NVidia Quadro NVS 140M, automatically downloading pre-release drivers and making it work. Mobile video drivers are always a nightmare, because NVidia and ATI forget about those chipsets as soon as they release one set of drivers for them, and new OS support is unheard of. There are a bunch of new power options, too, like enabling passive cooling when I’m on battery. Neat.
The laptop itself seems to run cooler than it did before. This might just be due to better underclocking and SpeedStep control. With a USB peripheral attached, like my WD Mobile 320 drive, the thing would roast my lap. It’s not doing that right now, which I really can appreciate. Battery life seems to have improved somewhat, too, though I really haven’t done anything too intensive with it. Wandering around the office, meeting to meeting, isn’t quite the same as traveling with it. I rarely ever shut my laptop all the way down, and I never hibernate it, but I have noticed that resume times from sleep are much faster.
The task bar is nice. It’s very Mac OS X-like, in that apps can be pinned to it, and you click on them to start the app. As such, the quick launch bar is gone, because it’s unnecessary. Some apps that minimize to the system tray confuse the task bar, though, and it loses track of the running app. Usually that’s an easy fix, telling your app not to minimize to the system tray. All of the interface that was introduced with Windows 95 is gone now, replaced with a more polished version of the Aero themes. If you liked that classic look you will need to adjust, the injustice of which I’m sure will fuel millions of blog posts. I haven’t had too much trouble with the switch, though I did customize my desktop to include the “Computer” and “Network” icons again, as well as my home directory. You can still rename those icons to whatever you want. In my case, every computer I’ve had since Windows 98 has had it’s Computer icon renamed to “This Infernal Contraption.” Sometimes you can tell I subscribe to the “all OSes suck” school of thought.
User Account Control has been toned down, in that it’s still around but seems to know what’s relevant now. I haven’t shut it off yet, which is a huge win for Microsoft in this area. The Action Center is nice, consolidating a lot of the alerts about antivirus, Windows Update, and other security settings into one icon in the system tray. There are a lot of incremental improvements everywhere, from the calculator getting a programmer mode to adding default scheduled tasks for defragmentation. PowerShell is also included now, too. The system tray itself lets you easily customize the icons it has in it, from the default of “hide everything possible.” Hiding everything by default is a bit annoying, but so many things stick useless icons in the system tray that it seems like a decent default now.
I can’t speak for any improvements in Internet Explorer 8, as I used it to download Firefox, then closed it immediately and “unpinned” it from the task bar. I’ve always seen IE as a kludgy mess, and it doesn’t look like there have been many UI improvements for it in version 8. Maybe it is awesome now… I won’t ever know. I also haven’t tried the HomeGroup features, which let machines that know a shared secret passphrase interact with each other more easily. Seems like it’d be a nice option for home networks.
Overall, Windows 7 feels faster. If Vista went to the Oracle in The Matrix it would get the same comments that Neo did: “Seems like you’re waiting for something… your next life, who knows?” Microsoft has definitely figured out what was holding it back. They might have even staved off my getting a Macintosh for my next machine. With at least a year until the final product ships they’ve got ample time to screw this up, but if they keep polishing they might actually come out with a worthy successor to XP.