Windows 7

WindowsWe never thought we’d be so supportive of Microsoft software in a magazine with a predominantly Mac based readership, but if you have the opportunity to upgrade to the Beta release candidate of Windows 7, do so — now.

Is it a great operating system? That’s relative. Our recommendation to get it is based on having worked/struggled with Vista since its 2007 release, so it very much depends on the system you’re working with. The test PC Desktop used was an Intel Dual Core-based HP laptop with 1GB of RAM bought in 2006. Windows XP, which it originally came with, showed no appreciable drain on system resources and everything happened when we asked for it to in a timely manner.

Upgrading to Vista Ultimate felt more like a giant step backwards. As many experienced when using Vista on older systems, even a basic task like moving or copying files became its own special kind of torture. To be fair to Microsoft, the company said at the outset that Vista would only really behave with 2GB of RAM behind it, but the speed was only the first of many issues. Even until recently there were still issues with drivers and compatible software, and in order to get the best performance out of the system, pretty bells and whistles like Aero and overly sensitive ones like User Account Controls had to be disabled.

Windows 7 unwittingly shows Vista up for the slow moving, nuance-free dog it was. Desktop installed Windows 7’s basic configuration on the same 1GB-based same system, which means everything Microsoft wants to push was turned on. Aero was clear, attractive and didn’t slow the system down at all. Moving, copying and deleting files was suddenly as fast as it had been in XP. After repartitioning (wiping) the hard disk and doing a clean install, we had to download and run a lot of HP drivers for the network card, speakers, screen, etc and had no trouble doing so.

Even more important however was reinstalling the software that had been on the system before. Most installed using Vista drivers with no trouble. A few niggles and trip-ups were solved in the Device Manager by updating or reinstalling drivers from the .inf files on install CDs. So far, we haven’t come across a single program, driver or update we’ve been unable to install.

The reason is because Windows 7 is a much better operating system under the hood even though it’s still wearing Vista’s face. While pretty, all the problems with Vista were found in how it worked rather than how it looked, the system unable to keep up with its own demands. In Windows 7 those demands have been addressed, and on a late model system with plenty of memory and hardware resources you’re likely to experience even more robustness and reliability.

The improvements can be found everywhere. The User Account Controls still prompt you when you’re installing software, but that’s liveable. Boot-up and waking times are a little faster and any interface changes are minor and still intuitive. If you’ve spent a year or more getting to know your way around Vista, Windows 7 is the same in most respects.

It’s hard to believe Microsoft spent six years developing Vista and only a year on Windows 7. A cynic might suggest its strategy was to make Vista so bad that any subsequent attempt that works well would seem like a quantum leap by comparison. It’s more likely the company took some hard-learned lessons to heart but either way, Windows 7 puts Microsoft back in the game.