Windows 7: Vista Rehashed — Missing the Mark
While the initial response of Windows 7 seems to have been positive from beta users, I have personally found it really no better than Windows Vista. In fact, most of the touted improvements really aren’t there. Here is a basic review of Windows 7 as compared to Vista.
Not much improved
Windows 7 has not really improved enough over Windows Vista. It’s no wonder why Microsoft was able to shove this one out the door so rapidly. Effectively, Microsoft gave Vista a slight UI facelift, added a couple of tweaks here and there and then pushed the product to the shelves. In fact, I’m really wondering why it took as long as it did with so little improvement. The same issues that exist in Vista still exist in Windows 7. Namely, these include limited driver support, application compatibility and enhanced security that gets in the way. I’ll discuss these issues below.
When Vista was released, one of the main issues was driver support. This issue is exactly the same with Windows 7. For example, I have a Dell Studio XPS system running Vista 64 Home Premium edition. It’s running 64 bit because I have 12GB of memory and that won’t work on 32 bit Vista (or Win 7). Dell has had months to ready drivers for this brand new system (purchased July 2009). Yet, Dell does not offer any drivers on their support site for this hardware. Yes, they did support an upgrade disc, but that’s about it. Dell expects you to accept the drivers that come with Windows 7 rather than obtaining the proper and updated drivers. Worse, Windows 7 driver support is still very bare. I wouldn’t expect to see full driver support for Win 7 until at least this time 2010 (possibly longer depending on adoption rate).
Note that 64 bit Windows requires 64 bit drivers. Windows 7 cannot load or use 32 bit drivers under the 64 bit edition. So, if you need to use 32 bit drivers, you should use the 32 bit version. Of course, that means you are limited to 4GB of memory. So, if you have older printer drivers that do not support 64 bit edition, you will have to hope that Windows 7 has a driver or be prepared to throw the printer out and buy something new. This also follows with devices like Dlink’s Skype phone adapter.
You may be able to get around some of these issues using Sun’s Virtualbox or MS’s Virtual PC and loading 32 bit XP under a virtual environment. Note, however, that not all devices offer passthrough to the virtual machine, so you may not be able to run those older devices requiring 32 bit drivers. You may be able to get this working under Win 7 Ultimate’s XP mode.
Overall, driver support is rated 1.5 stars out of 5: poor
As with Vista, Windows 7 fails in this area still. Frankly, because Windows 7 is effective Vista with a face lift, all of the same compatibility problems still exist in Windows 7. So, don’t expect your old XP apps to run properly under Windows 7 in many cases. This is especially true of apps that also tie to hardware devices that require drivers.
Worse, I have some 3D apps that work fine on Vista, but do not work at all under Windows 7. This indicates to me that Microsoft has further broken application compatibility between Vista and Windows 7. So, be prepared to lose some apps that may have worked under Vista.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars: fair
Enhanced Security – User Access Controls (UAC)
Security of your operating system and data is a big priority and is understood. Any level of security has to straddle a fine line between securing the system and not getting in the way of using the system. Frankly, UAC is a complete and utter failure. This system is so in-your-face about security that it is a turn off. Combine this with its constant verbose ‘Are you really sure’ messaging, people will soon ignore the messages just to get the work done. Basically, this system is likened to ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’. If you make every alert important and nothing ever happens, people stop listening. Will UAC stop a system from being infected? Probably not. People will still run apps they shouldn’t run.
Beyond UAC, Windows 7 changed nothing over Vista. Windows 7’s UAC appears identical to Vista for all intents and purposes. Frankly, it’s still so much of a hassle that I still turn it off.
Rating: 3.0 out of 5 stars: in-the-way
Other than the above, not much else has changed. All of the main usability problems that were introduced in Vista are still in Windows 7. For example, when you open file requesters, they tend to default to large icons. I prefer ALL of my file lists (whether a file requester or a Windows explorer window) to be in list formatted with the columns Name, Size and Date Modified. Both Vista and Windows 7 default to Name, Tags, Rating and Date. Sometimes it even adds Date Taken. I have no intention of rating or tagging every file on my filesystem. For files in a photos folder or a music folder, yes. Definitely not every file on the filesystem, so these columns are completely inappropriate for 98% of the filesystem. Yet, the headers are there each time a new file requester opens. Why?
When you’re constantly having to change the columns to show the data you need, that’s very inefficient and wasteful. Let me set it once and forget it. No, can’t do that. I have wasted a ton of time just rearranging these windows each and every time I open a new file requester. Please Microsoft, figure out a way to let us save our favorite columns and make it actually STICK.
In Windows explorer, this USED to work in XP. In Vista, and it also now appears Win 7, you could set up your preferred folder view and go into the options and ‘Make all folders like this one’. That works for a while. However, inexplicably the folders eventually revert back to their old column headers without any warning. So, changing this setting and saving it doesn’t work. Again, it’s another inefficient use of my time.
On top of the above inefficiencies, Microsoft has decided to bury many functions down up to three layers deep to change system settings. For example, you used to be able to right-click ‘My Network Places’ and get right to the settings for the network adapters. Now, however, if you do this you get to a new UI interface that requires you to click one or two additional links to get to the configuration panel. In some cases, they’ve split features out into multiple separate windows to do the same thing that one panel used to do in XP. Again, this requires not only digging through multiple places, you now have to dig through multiple panels.
Windows 7 should have been redesigned in a major way. Instead, we get a rehash of Vista. The learning curve is still there. Nothing has been done to increase user efficiency in the UI. Overall, I’d give Windows 7 a 3 stars out of 5. Microsoft has a lot of work to get Windows 7 even close to the efficiency level of XP. They also need to address the lack of drivers, driver compatibility and application compatibility issues. Eventually, they won’t be issues once developers redesign their apps to work with Windows 7, but there are still lots of legacy apps that do not work.
Should you buy Windows 7?
That’s really the question of the year. If you are buying a new machine that comes with Windows 7 loaded, go for it. If you are running Windows XP, you might want to think twice. Windows 7 does not solve all of the XP compatibility problems. So, if you’re looking at upgrading an existing system, I would recommend against that. In fact, you can’t directly upgrade (see below). You will find that most of your apps may no longer work. So, be careful when thinking about an XP upgrade. Note that you can’t directly upgrade XP to Windows 7 anyway. Windows 7 will move Windows to Windows.old and then install a fresh copy of Windows 7. This means you will need to find all of your app discs and reinstall (assuming that that he apps are Windows 7 compatible). So, this is a real pain.
I would recommend that you buy a new hard drive and place it into your XP machine and install onto the new hard drive. Then set it up to dual boot. So, then you can boot into Windows 7 or XP depending on what you need. Dual booting is a hassle, but at least it retains your apps. You can even create a virtual environment out of your XP hard drive and run it under Virtualbox or Virtual PC in Windows 7. So, you might want to consider a virtual environment for your XP system for compatibility (assuming you aren’t running games). Note that virtual environments work great for Windows desktop apps. Games, on the other hand, don’t always work that well… so be careful with games as they may not work in a virtual environment.
In answer to this question, only upgrade to Windows 7 from Vista. Do not upgrade XP to Windows 7 as it’s a waste. Instead, buy a new hard drive and install Windows 7 fresh. Then, copy over your files from your XP hard drive that are important to you. Consider the age of XP, you probably need to buy a new hard drive anyway just strictly considering the hard drive’s age. Hard drives are only rated to last about 5 years reliably and XP is long older than 5 years since it was released.
[Update 2/11/2010] After upgrading several systems, I highly recommend against upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 using the upgrade process. The reason: while it appears to work, you may find the system somewhat strange during use. Some things won’t install and work properly. Basically, the system just doesn’t always work 100% after an upgrade. It seems that Windows 7 retains too many Vista files and settings and leaves the system in a slightly unstable state. A state that no amount of repair can fix. If you have Vista and want to upgrade, don’t. Instead, install a fresh copy of Windows 7 and reinstall all of your apps. Windows 7 doesn’t have to format your hard drive, so you won’t lose your data. However, you will need to find it all again after installing Windows 7 fresh. So, if you aren’t familiar with reattaching existing data to newly installed apps, you may need to enlist the help of the Geek Squad or someone who knows what they are doing.