Lucky Number 7

Just a quick post about some testing I’ve been doing lately on Microsoft’s latest – Windows 7.  To be honest, testing is a bit of a strong word because it implies some sort of process and plan.  The reality is I’ve just been using it exclusively for the last few weeks.

My unscientific conclusions on Windows 7 coming to market three years after the Vista launch? Nice work Microsoft.  Windows 7 is very, very well done indeed.

From my 2 week adventure, the positives:

  • First, the install was flawless.  I was asked a few simple questions, and away it went, clean and easy. A good confidence builder of things to come.
  • All drivers seemed to be included, and everything worked happily (see minor exceptions below).  For example, Windows 7 automatically found and installed the driver for my network printer (no need to install HP’s bloated printer applications).  This was not the case for those of us that suffered through Vista.
  • I felt the speed.  Office, IE8, Explorer, and other apps absolutely snapped to attention.
  • Lots and lots of very nice modern usability features, with all the visual trimmings needed to make things look nice (i.e. eye candy).
  • IE 8 is fast, clean, and solid and seems to render pages accurately.  No really, I would consider using it as my daily browser (have not used IE daily for years). Note, I don’t know if it plays nice for true developers, but on the surface it is much better than IE 7.
  • The Start Button / Taskbar has also been enhanced with a much improved graphical layout and supplemental menus for frequently used items.  The start button nicely displays hierarchal expand / collapse menus on installed programs (instead of one long unusable list).  If you launch Excel for example, you see its icon in the toolbar.  If you click that icon, a pop up shows you what files are open in excel.  Select one and you are immediately taken to the window.  If you think it sounds a bit like Mac’s dock, you are correct.
  • Windows Explorer is much improved with a great search feature that is easy to set search filters (directories, file names, etc.) and actually finds what your looking for fast.  And the results pane includes a very nice results preview mode.  Although the implementation if of course different, I’d say it’s on par with Mac OS X Finder.
  • Finally Windows 7 does not bother you.  It does not ask you dumb questions about things you don’t care about.  As an example, I’ve always though the poster child for poor design was the Windows XP network wizard. Thankfully, this wizard did not make it to Windows 7.

Negatives, not many, and all pretty minor stuff:

  • I still had to install Adobe reader.  It’s a silly little gripe.  But when you get used to using Mac’s preview (and not having to have reader on your machine) you wonder why Microsoft can’t make this a bit easier.
  • I like Bing.  But for the kind of searching and research I do, the results simply are not as good.  I found myself using Bing and not being happy with the results.  I’d then try the identical search in Google and get much better and useful results.
  • I did a clean install, wiping away my old version of XP.  In reality, not many will have this luxury.  I’m perplexed that Microsoft has not provided an upgrade path from XP.  Only Vista has an upgrade option.

One quick note on my evaluation environment.  I use a 2 year old MacBook Pro.  I therefore run Windows 7 using a virtual machine (VMware’s Fusion).  As of this writing, Windows 7 is an unsupported guest operating system for current versions of Fusion.  I certainly expect this to change as the official Windows 7 release date (Oct. 22) draws closer.  My experience running it as an unsupported guest operating system has been good, with a couple caveats:

  • Two Gig of memory is just barely enough.  I configured my VM to allocate 1 gig of memory for Windows 7.  If I boot my MacBook, then immediately launch the VM with Windows 7 things work fine because the VM can allocate the entire 1 Gig of memory it needs.  If I have lots of other things running on my MacBook when I launch the VM, and as a result it cannot allocate the full 1 Gig of memory Windows 7 barely works, or does not work at all (VM hangs).  As a result, I’ve ordered an additional 2 gig of memory so I can launch the VM when I need it regardless of the number of other programs running native on my Mac.
  • Also, the Areo theme is not supported due to an issue with the virtual graphics adapter. The technical reason for this is that VMware does not currently provide a compatible DirectX 9 virtual graphic adapter with the required Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver.  I expect / hope that this will be corrected in the future (if you work all day at a computer the eye candy ads a little sizzle to your life and therefore is an important part of your day!).

I welcome your comments.
Mike Brannan