Windows 7 - A Review

Long time ago, with the launch of Windows XP in 2001, we thought we were poised on the brink of a new world of NT-based performance computing. But two years and uncountable exploits later, it seemed to be just marketing hype. Facing a never-ending torrent of new exploits, trojans and worms, Microsoft fired back with the single greatest operating system update of all time — the Service Pack 2.

In the single fell swoop of SP2, Windows XP went from Swiss cheese to Secure. And then there was another hype - VISTA.

Of course, we all know how Vista turned out. Haunted by poor performance in everything from games to disk access to networking, Vista is widely considered to be Microsoft’s biggest failure. Nonetheless, Vista laid the groundwork for a host of new technologies, all absolutely vital to pushing Windows into the 21st century. Not delving into the technical hoop-la of new and improved driver architecture to better security features introduced in Vista, all I would like to say is... This bad apple laid the foundation for an operating system that would look and perform better.

But the miserable performance of Vista had users hoping...What if a new version of Windows didn't try to dazzle you? What if, instead, it tried to disappear except when you needed it? Such an operating system would dispense with glitzy effects in favor of low-key, useful new features and speed. Rather than pelting you with alerts, warnings, and requests, it would try to stay out of your face and deal with them in a clandestine way. And if any bundled applications weren't essential, it would simply dump 'em.

I have been using Windows 7 for quite some time now. Migrating straight from Windows XP, it was a real treat for the eyes. Windows 7 does retain the Vista look with the Aero Glass effect introducing the Aero Peek and Aero Shake thingies here but it’s definitely faster than any Vista based system. And Windows 7 did recognize anything and everything I plugged into the ports, be it a printer or my ancient ADSL modem. It automatically installed a default driver for each device. No need for having driver CDs and all unless you want those seldom used exotic utilities and functionalities that most manufacturers bundle in the driver CDs which only eat up computer resources and serve no other purpose that I have noticed. Besides the good looks and built in drivers, it’s got pretty good start up and shut down times. My system starts up in about 20 seconds and shuts down in 9 seconds. Seems to be in a hurry to power off and go to sleep… very much like me.

While support for new hardware and improved security are perfectly valid reasons to upgrade your OS, the sexiest benefits of an operating system upgrade are all the new features. Indeed, from a completely revamped user interface to brand-new features designed to make organizing and sharing your files easier, Windows 7 delivers much more than some new wallpaper and a different color Taskbar.

Speaking of the Task Bar…

The Windows experience occurs mainly in its Taskbar-especially in the Start menu and System Tray. Vista gave the Start menu a welcome redesign; in Windows 7, the Taskbar and the System Tray get a thorough makeover.


The new Taskbar replaces the old small icons and text labels for running apps with larger, unlabeled icons. If you can keep the icons straight, the new design painlessly reduces Taskbar clutter. If you don't like it, you can shrink the icons and/or bring the labels back.


After 14 years of nothing more than cosmetic changes, Microsoft’s redesign of the Taskbar combines the pure window organizing power of the classic Taskbar with the application-launching, multi-purpose convenience of Mac OS X’s Dock. In addition to showing the applications that you currently have open, the new Windows 7 Taskbar also hosts shortcuts to your most commonly used applications. Click a shortcut when the app is running, and it brings the most recently used window to the foreground. Click the same shortcut when the app is closed, and it will launch the app.

But that’s not all. Drag a file onto a shortcut in the Taskbar, and Windows will open the file using that app. Hover your mouse over a running application’s icon, and it expands to show live thumbnail previews of all of that app’s windows, floating just above the Taskbar. Mouse over a thumbnail, and Windows will bring that particular window to the foreground. You can even close individual windows from the thumbnail previews.

For anyone who regularly finds himself with more than 10 windows open, the new Taskbar is a dream come true.

Jump Lists


Another core enhancement to the OS comes in the form of Jump Lists. In short, Jump Lists put frequently used files in a convenient menu that’s a simple click away from the shortcut icon on the Taskbar or on the Start Menu. Apps that support Jump Lists will display the list when you right click on the shortcut, or when you left-click and drag the mouse up away from the Taskbar. Additionally, some apps will automatically populate their Jump List with files you recently opened.

Explorer Enhancements
 

Windows Explorer also receives some much-needed love. The changes since Vista are relatively minor, but they serve to make the left-column of Explorer the quickest way to navigate to any folder on your hard drive, network, or even in the cloud. Furthermore, you can arrange the different categories in any way you want, quickly add special folders to the Favorites section, and even hide sections you don’t use.

Libraries


The other major new Explorer feature is Libraries. Libraries are simply data buckets (for lack of a better term) that can store content that’s similar in nature, but located in different places on the same computer, across a network, or in the cloud. Libraries are handy for organizing and collecting files in one place, because they appear to be normal folders to most applications.
 
Touch

While Tablet PCs have been around for the better part of a decade now, Windows 7 is the first edition of the mainstream Windows OS to actively support touch. Well I haven’t had the opportunity to test it cuz I don’t have the right hardware but it definitely feels good to know its possible.

DirectX 11

The latest version of DirectX is more iterative than revolutionary, at least as far as gaming is concerned. However, it does bring some exciting new technology to Windows in the form of the general-purpose GPU computing API known as DirectX Compute.

Couple of things we need to keep in mind about DirectX11. First, DirectX 11 is coming to Vista and Windows 7, but not XP. Second, DirectX 11 is backwards-compatible with DirectX 10-capable videocards, so games that require the new API will still run on older GPUs, although those older GPUs aren’t necessarily going to perform well.

Wallpapers

It seems a little goofy to talk about, but Windows 7 includes more awesome desktop wallpapers than any version of Windows we’ve ever tested. The included window dressing ranges from the standard plain-vanilla Windows logo background to awesome, inspired, and downright creepy images created by artists from around the globe. Windows 7 also includes a utility that automatically swaps your wallpaper at fixed intervals.

Audio
 

 
Windows 7 handles multiple audio outputs much better than previous iterations of the OS, allowing you to designate your headphone output to communications software, while using your speakers for everything else. The OS will even detect when you’re using voice chat software, and automatically mute or lower the volume on other sound sources.

There’s more to Windows 7 but let’s just limit ourselves here.

For the first time that I can remember, Microsoft has removed functionality from Windows. In Windows 7, previously core applets like Windows Movie Maker, Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Mail are no longer part of the core OS. Instead, they’re part of a separate, optional download called Windows Live Essentials. I did like the Movie Maker a bit… after all it was free… no hassle about downloading those glitzy and complicated video editors when you needed to just grab a few videos add some music and ENJOY. But I don’t really miss the rest.

Whether you’re coming from XP or Vista, Windows 7 offers a massive leap forward in usability, security, and support for new hardware and technology, especially for enthusiasts and power users. For anyone who regularly keeps many windows open at once time, the new Taskbar is worth the price of admission alone. For XP users, the security improvements are equally worthy of praise. But Windows 7 is hardly flawless. Some features feel unfinished; others won't realize their potential without heavy lifting by third parties. And some long-standing annoyances remain intact. Oh, and a lot of programs (in my case games) have a lot of compatibility issues with both the 32 bit and the 64 bit versions of the OS. But overall, it appears to be the worthy successor to Windows XP that Vista never was.


Review by Shrikant who blogs at Hedonist to the Core.

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