Windows 7 – Living up to the hype

October 22, 2009, By Thomas Antony

Windows 7

Windows has dominated the operating system market for a really long time. It is still going strong with a market share of around 89%. Now the latest version of Windows released to markets today – Windows 7. The beta and ‘Release Candidate’ versions have been around for some time now. After Windows Vista turned out to be a debacle, Windows 7 seems to have worked out most of the problems that plagued its predecessor.

The review continues below the cut

Bootup times

Let us start off with the bootup times. On my pretty fast gaming rig ( as in a Core 2 Duo E7400  overclocked @ 3.2GHz and 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM with an HD4870 512Mb GPU), Windows 7 (64-bit) boots to desktop around 30 seconds after I select the OS from the boot menu. But Microsoft has done a pretty good job in trimming down Windows. Its fast and much more lightweight compared to Vista. This an especially be seen in all those low-spec netbook devices coming out nowadays with Windows 7 pre-installed. According Microsoft, minimum requirements for Windows 7 are the following:

1GHz or faster 32-bit or 64-bit processor,

1GB  of RAM for 32-bit or 2GB of RAM for 64 bit,

16 GB of HDD space for 32-bit versions and at least 20GB for 64-bit versions of Windows 7

DirectX 9 compatible graphics device

Now while Vista had similar requirements, it basically was a lagfest when running on a machine with specs given above. Not so on Windows 7.

UI Enhancements

Windows 7 has a very cleaned up UI, with many improvements and new features over Vista. The Start menu is similar to that in Vista. You can simply pop it open and start typing to search for any app or file. No need to go into Start->Run to do that anymore.

The taskbar buttons now only have the icons of the currently running programs and on-mouseover shows a live preview of all the windows in that application in a small box. You can also ‘pin’ frequently used apps shortcuts to the taskbar for easy access.

Aero Peek – This is a new feature in windows 7. It forms a tiny translucent button on the bottom right corner of the screen. When you mouseover this button, all the windows on the screen becomes transparent and you can see the desktop. Clicking on it will minimize all the windows.

Aero Shake – Another really useful feature for those who open up too many windows. Did you just open up that new window and want to remove all the clutter of the previous work? Well just grab the titlebar of the current window and give it a shake. It will minimize all the other windows. Shaking the taskbar again will restore the other windows to their previous condition.

Aero Snap – Now you can maximize a window by simply dragging it to the top of the screen. Now if you are someone like me .. with a widescreen monitor with lots of screen real estate, you can now open up two windows side by side easily. Just drag a window over to the left and it resizes to be exactly half the width of the screen. Do the same on the right, and you get another window filling the right half of the screen. You can also accomplish this using the keyboard shortcuts Windows key + Left Arrow or Windows Key + Right Arrow.

Applications

Many applications that come bundled with windows have been revamped. MS Paint and Wordpad now have revamped UIs with a ‘ribbon’ style interface bar at the top. Paint now has a few more features such as ‘stamps’ with common shapes, a much better looking color palette etc.

Some apps such as Windows Mail, Windows Movie Maker and Windows Live Photo Gallery have been removed. They are available separately if you download the Windows Live Essentials app pack.

Windows Media Player now has support for a lot more codecs. It can now play DivX, MOV, and many other video and audio formats natively. It is also capable of streaming audio to computers on your network, or other devices such as Xbox 360 or PS3s connected to your system. Windows Media Center has been improved and has a really great interface.

Internet Explorer 8 is included with Windows 7. While it has much  better standards support than its predecessors, I tend to stick with Firefox and Chrome these days. It still suffers from occasional instabilities.

Hardware support

Windows 7 really shines here. Almost ALL the hardware we tried worked out of the box without even requiring to pop in the accompanying CD. Some required downloading of drivers from Windows Update, but it happened in the background and didn’t require any user intervention. There is also a new ‘Device stage’ where the different devices connected to your PC are shown with some pretty icons. The Device Manager still looks pretty much unchanged.

Security and Networking

Now Windows Vista had this habit of asking the user’s permissions for a LOT of things. So much that most disabled it just to get rid of the annoyance. Windows 7 does ask permissions, but only for the system critical decisions. And sometimes it only asks once and then remembers our choice.

In case of networking, Windows 7 has introduced ‘HomeGroups’ as a new way of setting up local networks. It works pretty well and can connect multiple computers /devices and share files and devices very easily.

Windows 7 Editions

There are 5 flavours of Windows 7 available under different pricing schemes.

Windows 7 Starter – The least-featured edition. No Aero theme. No 64-bit support.

Windows 7 Home Basic – Available in emerging markets. Some aero options and several new features are excluded

Windows 7 Home Premium – This is aimed at the home market segment and includes Aero, Media Center and touchscreen support.

Windows 7 Professional – This is targeted at small business users and enthusiasts. It includes almost all the features.

Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate – Enterprise edition includes Bitlocker Drive Encryption, Multilingual User Interface. It will be available only to Enterprises under Volume Licensing. Ultimate is the same as Enterprise edition but is released to home users on an individual license basis.

Conclusion

To wrap-up, Windows 7 is pretty good to use and has removed most of the defects of Windows Vista. It has great hardware compatibility, awesome UI and great usability and funtionality. There are still pitfalls in a few places and maybe a few kinks to work out but Microsoft has succeeded in making Windows 7 what Vista was meant to be, a solid OS that works.

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