Thursday, January 15, 2009

Windows 7 - A leap ahead or a patch up job ?


With Microsoft finally releasing the beta of it's the much awaited and hyped OS, Windows 7, the tech world has been abuzz. Pre-release leaks on torrent sites, speculation about the feature set of Windows 7 and arguments about whether it's really a deserving candidate to be a new version of Windows OS or just a patch up job on Vista - have all helped build up the hype. I decided to grab a copy of the beta and satiate my curiosity :) Here's a complete review of Windows 7 beta, right from download & installation till the final user experience...

Downloading the beta

The download can be started from the official Microsoft website:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/default.aspx

The download is managed by the Akamai Download manager which will need you to run an ActiveX control in your browser. I could not get the download to start in Firefox and Chrome browsers and had to (grudgingly) switch over to IE. However, a better alternative that emerged later was the direct download link posted on several blog sites:

http://download.microsoft.com/download/6/3/3/633118BD-6C3D-45A4-B985-F0FDFFE1B021/EN/7000.0.081212-1400_client_en-us_Ultimate-GB1CULFRE_EN_DVD.iso (For 32 bit systems)

I would personally recommend staying away from torrent sites for an OS download because of obvious reasons! However, I did register on the official website of Windows 7 to get a product key for my copy.

Once downloaded, the ISO needs to be burnt onto a DVD. I installed my copy of Windows 7 on a separate partition on my disk allowing it to dual boot with Windows Vista Business. Following is the system configuration:

Toshiba Satellite Pro M200
Intel Core Duo 2GHz, 2GB RAM
Intel Chipset - 256 MB shared video memory
HDD - 80 GB (55 GB + 18 GB for Windows 7) - The partitoning was done using Acronis Disk Creator Suite on Windows Vista.

Installation

The installation is surprisingly smooth and simple. I booted my laptop from the DVD, selected a few options regarding region, language etc. on the first screen of setup and the it kicked off. It didn't take more than 30-40 minutes for the setup to complete. It did a few reboots on its own and bothered me only twice in between- once to enter the product key and once again to create a logon for myself. Full marks to Microsoft for the ease of installation!

First Impressions

The booting time is similar or lesser than Vista. I would not like to comment a lot on this since I didn't dare to load up Windows 7 with a number of startup items as in case of Vista.

Gone are the days when Windows used to beg for a driver CD for virtually every device in your system. Windows 7 had all my device drivers ready and running as soon as it booted.

The refurbished taskbar is obviously the first thing on the desktop that grabs your eyeballs. It looks a little bulky and makes you wonder what exactly those huge square buttons are doing there. But a little bit of experimentation, and you know that it's pretty much feature packed and makes navigation much easier. For those of us who like to multitask, it's a welcome feature.

There's a pop-up in the system tray (newly introduced Action Center) reminding you to install an anti-virus software and giving you a link for download options.

New Additions

While I have only superficially explored the feature set so far, here are a few noticeable changes:

  1. The revamped taskbar - Groups similar windows in a single button, shows preview of all the grouped windows when you rollover a button and shows a specific window in isolation against the desktop when you rollover it's preview. Navigation just got better! However, I don't like the way the "Show Desktop" button has been pushed to the system tray end of taskbar. I'd rather have it near the start button because of the frequent use. Someone at Microsoft listening ? ;)

  2. Desktop themes - While the extent of customization remains similar to that in Vista - changing window colours and wallpapers - the desktop wallpaper shuffling is a refreshing feature. You can auto-set the shuffle frequency to 10 secs, 30 secs - 1 day. More themes are available online and they are fairly elegant.

  3. The Action Center - This gives you notifications about "actions" to be taken, like installing an anti-virus. I haven't explored this completely but it looks like an integrated Security Center + Performance Management + System Restore + Troubleshooting console

  4. Paint - Not many changes here except that it borrows the ribbon format for menu from Office 2007 and does a god job of it.

  5. Gadget Gallery - The gadget gallery has all the gadgets in Vista. But Windows 7 gets rid of the "Sidebar" and will let you place gadgets anywhere on your screen.

  6. Windows explorer - This has pretty much been left unchanged except for the tree-style navigation added on the left of every explorer window, as opposed to Vista which allowed only the favorite links to be placed in the left column.
Specific Applications

  1. IE 8 Beta 2 - Call me biased or cynical but IE just doesn't seem to work for me. After the install, IE 8 just refused to connect to my institute's proxy server forcing me to install Firefox from my external disk. And guess what.. Firefox worked like a charm. So did Google Talk with the same proxy. Eventually when IE did manage to connetc to the proxy, it was not only sluggish while switching tabs but also noticeably slow in rendering web pages.

  2. Norton Internet Security 2009 - Stay away from this if you're using Windows 7 beta. Althogh I could get it to install properly, after 2 rounds of updates from the internet and a reboot, I was stuck with a CHKDSK error screen on every reboot and a message on my desktop telling me that the disk is corrupt. Had to do a complete disk format and re-install of Windows 7 to get things back to normal.

  3. Kaspersky 8 Technical Preview - Microsoft site rcommends 3 AVs for the Windows 7 beta - Norton 360 Beta 3, Kaspersky Preview 8 and AVG Internet Security. Norton 360 didn't dwnload due to "export restrictions to India". So I decided to go alongwith Kaspersky. Worked smooth.. fixed some viruses on my disk that Norton 2009 couldn't detect and doesn't seem to be going heavy on my system either.

  4. Windows Media Player works well with MP3 and common video formats like AVI. Pretty much the same experience as Vista.

  5. Other programs that work fine so far are : Open Office, Google Talk, Firefox, 7z compression utility, IrfanView and iGetter download manager.
Performance

In terms of performance, Windows 7 doesn't disappoint. Unlike the shift from XP to Vista, this shift isn't gonna cost you RAM money :) With all the above programs installed and running, my system uses around 800-900 MB of RAM and multi-taking is smooth. Haven't tried gaming yet, though!

Shutting down is an issue at times and I'm stuck at the "Logging off" screen. Forced exit of some programs also throws up memory errors. Explorer might behave jittery at times when opening large folders with several video / image previews.

Verdict

Not a leap ahead for sure! Microsoft needs to take lessons from the Windows ME to XP transition and surprise its users. However, this is still the beta and only a few days old. I'm sure that with regular usage, the "hidden" improvements are going to show up and make this a worthier contender. Keep an eye out on all those techie blogs to keep a track of the new discoveries in Windows 7 ;)

Till Next Time....

9 comments:

Gagan said...

Phew !
1. You have done LOTS N LOTS of research. Hats off to your enthusiasm. Seriously !
2. I hate IE 8 too. Doesn't work for me either.
3. I am really waiting to read about what Abhinav is doing (and the roller coaster ride called MBA) and not what microsoft did :(

Aham Brahmasmi... said...

Nice Blog... IE 7 onwards has been crap (from the time they introduced tabbed windows feature)...
It's slow and it faults...

Vista gained slow acceptance, may be because of their marketing UI-richness aspect of it... or may be (i feel more so) because they teamed with vendors to discontinue windows xp on laptops...

Whatever... I wonder when MS said it rewrote Vista from scratch... still it doesn't give "THAT'S SOME SERIOUSLY NICE JOB DONE" feeling.

Guess it is between sophistication (of features) vs. simplicity (of use).

jose said...

wow...

nice blog...
looking fwd for..further updates.

..SPJIMR.rocks

anoop said...

its just old wine in a new bottle!

Abhinav Kishore said...

@anoop

Let's give them some credit.. the bottle's the same this time (so unlike a Microsoft !) but the wine's a shade better ;)

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