Giving Windows 7 Beta a Try - Adventures in Switching to Linux

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Giving Windows 7 Beta a Try

I have been running Ubuntu almost exclusively on my personal PC for over a year now. I have had some issues, most of which I have mentioned on this blog, but the problems I have had running Linux have not been better or worse than the problems I have had with Windows, just different.

I am going to try taking a break from Linux though to give Windows 7 a try. The beta was free for anyone who wanted it and I figure it is about time I try something new from Microsoft. I haven't used Vista except for the occasional web browsing on my wife's laptop. Vista is still foreign to me. Part of my motivation to switch to Linux was in part because of Vista actually. The Vista roll out was a disaster. When it was released there were software compatibility and stability issues, problems with and missing hardware drivers, concerns over intrusive DRM, the super annoying UAC (though you can turn User Access Control off), poor performance (like unzipping files), 4 different versions which was confusing for consumers and it was expensive ($200 - $320 or $100 -$220 to upgrade).

I was wary of performance issues and DRM but the biggest thing for me was it really wasn't worth the money to upgrade. I remember getting the Windows 95 upgrade for my birthday and being so excited about it. That was not the case here. XP is good enough.

Microsoft has learned some things from their expensive Vista release experience though. (Or maybe the press is just nicer to Windows 7.) It looks like they are making Windows 7 what Vista should have been. I do feel a little like I am participating in the Mojave Experiment though by running it. Having this open beta is a good idea. It gets people using the OS and gets more real world usage. It gets buzz like this blog post too. MS also included a "Snipping Tool" that makes taking screen shots of parts of the screen easy. (hint, hint all you beta testers) Getting to run this beta might get me willing to buy my next PC with Windows 7 and dual boot instead of getting a Linux only machine as has been my intention for a while.

So far, I like Windows 7.

What I like:

  • I love the resource monitor. I know it showed up in Vista but it is so useful and worth mentioning!
  • It is much prettier (though much of the changes came with Vista). It is about time Windows supports themes natively.
  • Speedy. This is a fresh install though.
  • Restart your computer after updates notification lets me say 10 min, 1 hour or 4 hours. That has always annoyed me to the point of not installing updates. Still, I shouldn't have to restart that often.
  • It has been stable.
  • Pretty backgrounds that can rotate too!
  • Calculator got much love feature wise.
What I dislike:
  • UAC notifications are annoying! They are even more annoying when controlling the computer with Synergy (shared mouse/keyboard application) because it disables control to the machine from everything but the physical mouse/keyboard.
  • Windows Media Player is confusing. I've never much liked Windows Media Player since about version 9 or 10. The eye candy of the interface makes it hard to use.
  • Still no concept of virtual desktops! Copy that feature please. Feel free to disable it by default. I will not complain that you are copying wherever that came from first.
  • I don't know if I like the new task bar. I am having trouble getting used to not being able to minimize and maximize single windows by clicking on them (only if there is a group, still works with just 1) though in theory I shouldn't need to do that with the full window preview ("peek" is what they call it). This is the biggest change by far. It is a lot like the dock on OS X (though I don't use a Mac enough to be confident with that comparison). I never have like the group windows in previous versions (and always disable it) so this will get some getting used to.
  • What is so special about IE 8?
  • My first encounter with the Ribbon in paint.
I am sure there are tons of other features I will like that I just haven't encountered yet. I have not read much about the OS either so I don't know what features to investigate. This is all just my first experience stuff.

Windows 7 "Peek" Feature

Resource Monitor in Windows 7


Anonymous said...

"The eye candy of the interface makes it hard to use."

I think the term for that is eye garbage. ;)

Anonymous said...

For comparison, here's a rundown of the OS X Dock:

The Dock has two halves. The left half includes all apps that are running and all apps you have saved to the Dock as aliases. Each of these has a light to indicate whether it's running. Each app knows its own topmost window, so clicking the web browser app shows the topmost web browser window, or it creates a new browser window if there are none. If the topmost window is in another Space (virtual desktop), it will switch to that Space in order to show you the window. In Windows, the Taskbar is full of buttons for showing windows (continuing tasks), and in OS X, the Dock is full of buttons for showing apps (starting or continuing tasks). Also in Windows, the buttons show up in chronological order of launch time. In OS X they are ordered by the user when the alias is added to the Dock, and any other apps show up in chronological order at the end. So for your favorite tasks (read email), there is a dedicated button at the same place on the screen as ever, and it works whether or not the app is running. In other words the left half is full of starting points for actions you can take: "Show me this app", and then, whatever.

The right half of the Dock shows minimized windows, any files or folder stacks you have saved to the Dock, and the Trash. It is more temporary and specific than the left half, and it shows things, not actions. This minimizing model works well in OS X because usually you leave your open windows visible and switch between them with Exposé. Partly because OS X windows are not so all-encompassing as Windows windows, OS X windows tend to show up, get moved around, switched between, and closed, but rarely minimized or maximized. Personally I only minimize if things get really cluttered, closing the window isn't an option, and I won't need it for awhile. So it's fitting that each minimized window gets its own bit of (minimal) screen real estate, and goes in the "things I can use later" area.

I tend to like the Dock model a lot, specifically because of how the left side works. But, it really was crap before Exposé allowed you to easily find a window without minimizing, because you'd have to move and minimize several windows just to see the one you wanted to click and raise. A lot of people clamored for windowshading to be reimplemented before OS 10.2 or whenever it was.

What's weird about the Windows taskbar is, although it's full of windows to raise, it's all temporary, which means it's not as intuitive as it could be to find the window you want. I think the Dock is worth emulating in Windows, but with the window-based model: Have aliases in the Taskbar for launching your favorite programs, and have an alias turn into a window button upon launch. Then add more adjacent window buttons as more windows are opened in that program. Make them kind of big (80x64 should do) and fill them with a live shrunken preview of the window all the time. Then the user just has to look for the window they want, which is in the same place as it always is, and click it.

Unknown said...

The only important question: Did they add grep?

Anonymous said...

"UAC notifications are annoying!"

I'm pretty sure this can now be changed in the control panel somewhere in Windows 7 Beta to be, well, less annoying.