Having installed the Release Candidate of Windows 7 a couple of days ago, I have to say I’m fairly impressed and it may even sway me to keep a Windows box in the future despite plans to move to Apple hardware/software completely. Let me tell you why.
Before I go any further, if you are contemplating trying the Release Candidate be aware that you’ll, obviously, need to back up your working files, and I’d also backup anything you want that lives in your Windows folder too.
I’d also suggest that, whilst there is information available in various places about migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7, mentioning use of a User State Migration Tool, said Tool is a command line run, switch driven application. If you don’t know what that means then obviously the migration will take a little more work.
With all that in mind I decided to go down the completely clean route, and once the Windows 7 installation had completed (20mins odd for me and very slick) I decided to re-install the applications I use. That way, installing apps as and when I need them, my system will (for a while!) only have on it the applications I actually use.
So what is the big deal with Windows 7? Having managed to avoid using Vista for the main, I was keen to see what all that new UI bling actually added, and I have to admit it is a good looking, and well considered UI. Anytime you drop into the operating system functionality it seems far better thought out and much more user friendly than Windows XP. A lot of the Control Panel functionality is stated in understandable terms rather than obscure techno-speak, and there is a sense of confidence when you make decisions now as you have information available that you can understand.
There are a lot of nice enhancements to the usual Windows user interface, with Aero Peek being my favourite, and the whole thing feels a lot more solid.
Functionality wise, there are a few enhancments worth mentioning, not least is are the Libraries. These are, essentially, just a collection of shortcuts to actual folders on your PC. Sounds simple but it does mean that you aren’t ‘forced’ into the “My Documents” convention of the past, and it’s well enough executed to feel like quite a major addition.
There also seems to be better support for 3rd party devices. For example, I turned on my printer to start the usual ‘find hardware’ process that never seemed to quite work reliably in Windows XP and, by the time I’d scrabbled about and found the CD of printer drivers and software, Windows 7 had correctly identified it, had the correct driver and everything was done. Plug and play, that is actually plug and play!
Which brings me, nicely, the comparison between Windows 7 and OSX. And I’ll be honest, Windows 7 is quite a leap forward and the differences now, for me at least, are minimal. Both operating systems look good and are ‘nice to use’ (that ever unquantifiable answer to the question “why do you like OSX anyway?), and both do as much as they can to get the hell out of the road and let you use your computer.
OSX still wins on looks, and there are, of course, other issues that come with running Windows (viruses and so on) but for the average user who is largely using their computer to surf the internet, view and edit photos, deal with emails and so on, there is little to choose between the two.
I’ll happily admit that my familiarity with the Windows platform makes it much easier for me to get to grips with a new version of the operating system, but it certainly seems like, finally, Microsoft have an operating system that “just works”. You know, like that one Apple make.
See also: Windows 7’s Best Underhyped Features