When the Windows 7 official beta ISO got leaked to the torrents at the beginning of this year, it became the most downloaded file on the Net, mostly because of first-hand accounts regarding the impressive changes the new version has over Vista. I was looking for a new OS at that time, and I almost ended up installing Win7 instead of Vista, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m not too keen on downloading torrents, and the BETA watermark written all over it is more than enough reason to dissuade me, even though everybody else claims that the beta was stable enough to be used as an everyday OS.
In the end, when the official release was made available from Microsoft’s site two weeks later, I didn’t hesitate and downloaded the ISO, merely out of curiosity. I settled for a dual-boot setup. I allocated 20GB for the Win7 partition. To be honest, I don’t have plenty of disk space left, I even have to delete a lot of files and programs to achieve that much space.
I used both OS’s on a 50-50 basis. I still use Vista because most of the programs I use are installed there, but for most of my favorite programs, I found out that I prefer working in Win7, such as browsing the web, making documents and managing files.
Then, last May 5, Win7 RC was released, though I wasn’t able to readily acquire the image. It took me several trips to WiFi zones before I completed the 2GB+ ISO. LOL. (Wow, that sure is a lot of caps). Getting both versions of Win7 employed the same method. Head over to Windows 7 Main Page and click the download link (if you’re planning to download, do it ASAP because the download is available only for a limited time. The beta was made available on the third week of January and then was pulled out on Feb 14, Valentines Day. I dunno if the link to the RC is still available). In downloading the file (from IE), an ActiveX control is required to be installed, a download manager to be used for the actual download. You can pause the downloading and resume the download using an icon placed on the desktop.
I made the setup from Vista by mounting the image in Daemon Tools and launching the setup from there. (The alternative was to burn the ISO to a DVD and then boot the system using the burned DVD. Setup will automatically launch from there. I can’t use this method because my DVD drive doesn’t work). The setup was quite fast, taking approximately 15 minutes. (I was stricken with a bit of nostalgia because I remembered the XP setups with their constant reminder of “x minutes remaining” starting at 56, though I have gut feeling it only takes half as what the indicator says).
I refused to look at Win7’s bootup screen videos at YouTube, and so when I first saw it, I was awestruck at the dancing balls of light which then formed the Windows logo. And it doesn’t get old, even after the nth viewing. Sometimes, I reset my machine only to view it, considering that the booting time is almost negligible.
Having said that, if there’s something cooler than the boot screen, it’s the fact that the total boot and shutdown time is fast. The Win7 team once blogged that one of their immediate goals was the 15 second boot. It seemed impossible at the time, and yet when I’ve finally seen it, it seemed that they were right on target. It took less than 30 seconds from the logo to the desktop, compared to Vista which takes about a minute. And it wasn’t just the boot time, most setups finish in 5 seconds sharp and programs launch almost instantaneously, even for traditionally slow programs like IE.
For the record, Win7 recognizes my sound and graphics devices by default, eliminating the need to install the drivers for them. In addition, most of my Vista drivers for the other devices such as LAN and wireless adapters also worked, so I can readily connect to the web. Same goes for Windows Mobile Device Center, though it’s saddening that my smartphone (a Windows Mobile phone, good riddance!) is unrecognized in Printers and Devices.
The most obvious change in the Win7 desktop was the taskbar overhaul. The taskbar was simplified by removing the boundaries between the sections of the taskbar. The Start Orb looks a bit shinier. The quick launch buttons, appearing simply as large icons (which can be resized as smaller icons) were pinned to the taskbar, and everytime an instance of those programs is open, the corresponding button appears raised, while it appears like a card stack when there are multiple instances of the program. Windows of open programs not pinned to the taskbar also behaves in the same manner, they also appear as a single icon in the taskbar, replacing the long rectangular buttons in previous Windows. The thumbnail preview introduced in Vista was improved for switching between windows of the same program, and they also have an [x] button to close each window without right-clicking. Pointing to each thumbnail preview will cause the other windows to become transparent showing only their outline, while clicking each preview will of course switch to that window. Another nice touch was dragging two windows on opposite ends of the desktop will cause each each window to automatically resize and align side by side. Right-clicking each button on the taskbar also reveals a much-detailed context menu relative to each program. For instance, in Word you can find menu items for the recent documents you have opened. This one also translates to a new feature in Start Menu’s default programs, when a triangle appears next to a program, pointing to that triangle will make a submenu appear, containing additional actions relative to the program. This is called the jump-list. You can also do a quick peek of the desktop and gadgets by pointing to the right end of the taskbar, while clicking here causes all windows to minimize and show the desktop. And speaking of gadgets, they can now be placed anywhere on the desktop, not confined to a bar unlike in Vista.
Win7 ships with new versions of its flagship programs. Windows Media Player is at version 12, and Win7 is the only version to have it. Win7 has four new built-in codecs, allowing for native support for new file formats, like DivX. Meanwhile, its thumbnail preview has extra buttons for playback controls.
On the other hand, IE8 is available for the other Windows. IE made a lot of improvement in this version. It’s now standards-compliant, it’s one of the first multi-threaded browsers (I’m not sure who released the first beta, IE8 or Chrome) and on Win7, it’s quite fast, almost matching the speeds of Chrome, Safari or Opera which were regarded as speedy browsers. It also has several new or original features, such as accelerators, web slices, inPrivate browsing, XSS filtering, automatic crash recovery, restore tabs and sessions, image-assisted search from the address bar and Document Inspector. You can access additional information about a highlighted text by using the relevant accelerator which is either included in the browser, or acquired from providers such as Windows Live Gallery. Web slices lets you keep track of information on web pages that constantly changes, such as weather reports or currency exchange rates. Finally, another excellent feature of IE8 in Win7 is that the thumbnail previews for IE show each individual tabs within the program, not only the current tab. You can also move to another tab this way. So far, only one other browser can do this: Safari 4.
But other than these changes, Win7 is Vista almost all throughout. Nearly all of Vista is retained. Aero with all its shine and transparency is reused, but the themes have a new component in the form of multiple wallpapers, switching according to a user-defined interval. And the provided wallpapers were downright beautiful; I decided to copy the files for use in Vista (nobody had managed to beat the sheer beauty of Bliss, however).
The search bars were also retained.
This time, though, opening Explorer is no longer annoying, with the introduction of libraries, the modern equivalent of special folders (you know, like My Documents. The problem I have with Vista is that these folders were set up in a very confusing manner). You can even create your own. This is particularly useful for me because I keep certain folders for other files, such as the repositories for program installers and directories for programming projects. You can even add extra folders for preexisting libraries.
Many of Windows stock programs were the same as their Vista counterparts, with two exceptions. The ribbon introduced in Office 2007 made their way to two important Windows programs: namely Wordpad and Paint.
Wordpad is one step closer to becoming a full-fledged word processor, with the inclusion of justification, more formatting, line spacing, custom bullets and the ability to insert graphics. There was only one alignment option for the graphics, however (in line with text). I also wish Wordpad would gain support for tables. When that happens, Wordpad may might as well be renamed as Word 95.
Meanwhile, after all these years, I’m still using Paint for simple image-related tasks, and the new features introduced here are a welcome addition to the program. New brushstrokes were introduced and you can now also draw AutoShapes similar to those found in Office.
Win7 also tried to make UAC less annoying by providing four options instead of two (enabled and disabled). Now you can control when the UAC prompt will appear, minimizing the frequency of appearance of the prompts.
I am not too sure about the gaming capability of my laptop, so I can’t make any judgment regarding any improvements in gaming on Win7. Anyway, I tried the Windows Experience Index (Control Panel > System > find the WEI link) and got the following results: (your computer needs to be plugged in before you can do this test, which takes about ten minutes. Yup, quite long. Vista also has this feature, and by comparison, my Win7 figures are higher, except for graphics, though it prolly has something to do with the graphics driver)
On closer inspection, it appears that Win7 again released a newer version of DirectX, incrementing the version included in Vista further to 11 (Vista has 10). Hopefully, my rig can run Sims 3 and Diablo III, the only two PC games I was looking forward to anyway. Though I’m willing to bet that Win7’s overall improvement in performance will manifest itself in gaming.
As for the rest of the programs, I have mixed reactions with regards to them. All of the screen caps in this post are taken using Snipping Tool, it wasn’t bad though I didn’t notice any delayed capture option. I also didn’t notice that Windows has a Stickies-like program. The games, as usual, are addictive. I don’t have any idea about the purpose of PowerShell. Same goes for Windows Journal, though I liked the Math Input Panel program. And you can create a shortcut of Run… on the desktop, but I wish it’s pinnable on the taskbar as well.
With all these new features, Windows 7 is bound to back on track and equal the success achieved by XP.