Saturday, March 27, 2010

Opinions of Windows 7

I’ve been running ‘7 for four months now, and to summarize, I think that Microsoft has a solid, viable operating system that’s ready for prime-time.  It’s time that both businesses and individuals accept that change happens and learn to deal with it.

My personal take was that Vista was simply ahead of its time – it required new, fast hardware that just wasn’t widely deployed.  On top of that, Vista changed many of the driver models which broke support for many older devices.  And that’s not to mention an almost complete lack of support for 64-bit drivers.

The industry has largely caught up, and Windows 7 capitalizes on that.  Unless you’re still running the same PC that was considered old three years ago when Vista came out, you’re probably in pretty good shape to run 7.  The video card is the most significant hardware requirement in 7 that I’ve run into problems with, but can usually be resolved for about $45 and 30 minutes of your time.

For those coming from Windows XP, the learning curve is going to be steep, but not insurmountable, even for the least-tech-savvy users.  It just takes patience, and maybe some coaching from someone who has made the jump.  Many (although not all) of the XP machines will need to have hardware updated or replaced in order to make the jump.

For people like me who updated the hardware and had jumped to Vista already, your curve to move to Windows 7 is pretty much a non-event.  Your hardware should be capable, and there aren’t any new major changes like there were in Vista.  My opinion is that if you liked Vista, you’ll love Windows 7.


What’s so great about it?

First of all, I really like the licensing change that Microsoft did for home users.  If you’re a household like mine, you have multiple PC’s, and the thought of spending $125+ each on an upgrade to the latest and greatest just isn’t going to happen.  For that, Microsoft came up with the Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack.  For $150, you get three licenses of ‘7 that you can put on your home PC’s.  And contrary to to the uber-helpful Best Buy employee’s training, yes it is valid to upgrade your Windows XP machines with this 3-pack license.  The only caveat with XP is you have to install fresh, which means formatting your hard drive and starting over from scratch.

Additionally, there’s basically one “Home” license that most people will need for their home PC’s.  It’s just the Home Premium version.  The only other option would be Windows 7 Starter, but that’s only available for Netbooks.  For businesses, you basically only need Professional or Enterprise, depending on whether or not you’re involved with the Microsoft Volume Licensing and Software Assurance.

Performance is good.  Some will legitimately argue that ‘7 uses smoke and mirrors to provide the illusion that it’s running faster.  Yes, ‘7 does cause some non-essential services to delay before starting at boot-time, and switches off other services by default.  In this case though, perception is reality, and boot times do seem faster than Vista, and probably on par with XP.

There are some subtle GUI changes that are really great.  For example, I am almost always working on dual monitors either at home or work.  Before, if I had a window maximized on the right monitor and wanted to move it to the left monitor, I would have to 1) restore the window 2) drag the window to the left monitor 3) maximize the window.  Now, you can grab the title bar of the maximized window, drag it to the other monitor, and release the mouse while at the top of the screen, and it will automatically maximize it again.  Sure, there are 3rd party utilities that could do that for you, but it’s nice to have a standardized feature built-in to the core OS.

You can also drag a window to the far left or right of a screen, and it will stretch the window to the full height, but will only take up half of the screen (either the right or left half). 

There are also a keyboard keystrokes that stick windows to the right or left of the monitor.  Hold down the Windows Key, and press the right or left arrow keys.  If you have dual monitors, you can move a window between the monitors by just hitting the left or right arrows a couple of times.  Finally, you can maximize or restore a window by using Windows Key and the Up/Down arrows.

The Shutdown option is easier to use than in Vista.  It now defaults to Shutdown (instead of Sleep).  If you don’t want to shutdown, you can hover the mouse over the arrow right beside the Shutdown option for about half of a second, and a menu will fly-out giving you all of your Restart, Logoff, Sleep, etc options.


If you want to take a quick peak at a calendar, you can simply click on the clock in the task-bar, and a calendar will pop up.  You used to be able to do this back in the XP days by double-clicking on the clock, but you had to be careful because that’s how you changed the date/time too.  Now, you single-click it, and you have a calendar that you can thumb through the months and years, but don’t have to worry about accidentally altering the system time.


There are several new programs included with the OS that I find helpful.  I won’t go into details of what they do exactly, but make it a point of trying out the Snipping Tool for taking screenshots and the Problems Steps Recorder when you’re trying to communicate a problem with Tech Support.  The Calculator program has been updated, and has different modes called Scientific, Programmer, and Statistics. 


It’s not exactly a program per se, but you can now burn ISO images directly to a CD-ROM or DVD by just right-clicking on the ISO file.  No more trying to remember if you installed Roxio or Nero on this particular computer, and where you stuck the shortcut in the Start Menu.

Outstanding Issues

I do have a couple of issues with my installations that I wish I could figure out.  At work, I have a Dell Optiplex 755 that used to have a dual-head ATI card in it (sorry, I’ve forgotten the model).  The card worked fine on Vista, but after upgrading to ‘7, the fan on the video card began to randomly cycle on and off as if it was hot.  Usually a reboot would make it stop doing that, but one day it was driving me up the wall and I wound up cutting the cord to the fan.  It solved the issue, and ran fine (which further leads me to believe it wasn’t actually a heat issue, but instead a driver problem).  I finally replaced it the other day with an nVidia card out of precaution.

That same Optiplex also has problems shutting the NIC down when it goes into sleep, which was never a problem on Vista.  I’ve tried some different settings with no change.  I recently flashed my BIOS to the latest A16 version, but since then I’ve had it lock up tighter than a drum twice and needed to be powered down.

Sleep modes are also an issue on my Dell XPS 420 at home.  It tries to go to sleep, but randomly wakes up for no apparent reason.  Again, I’ve tried changing some of the wake-on-USB and wake-on-NIC settings, but no joy, yet.

I will say that I’ve had more lockup’s and blue-screens on Windows 7 in the last four months, than I had on Vista and XP over the last four years, but most of them can be attributed to getting the sleep work correctly, as well as some new CAD software that I’ve been testing.



I hated to end this on a sour note.  Yes, I’ve had some stability issues that are new to this OS, but keep in mind that both of these PC’s are operating on hardware that was not “designed” for ‘7.  I’ve also been diving into designing printed circuit boards at home using a whole slew of new CAD programs, some of which I’m finding aren’t the most stable works in the industry.

Beyond that, I love the OS, and have quickly become spoiled to some of its features.  To me, XP is beginning to look very dated and archaic. 

The migration to Windows 7 does require a person to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace change, but in the end, it’s a good thing.

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