soon to a computer near you: Microsoft’s Windows 7
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
January 20-26, 2009; issue 1004
High Tech Office column
Early January brings us the
consumer electronics show (CES), which has traditionally featured a
Bill Gates keynote. This year, CES kicked off with Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer showcasing the company’s next generation operating system:
Ballmer announced availability of the first public
beta of the product, which Microsoft hopes will restore credibility
tarnished by Vista’s unpopularity, while stemming customer migration to
Mac or Linux.
High demand initially over-loaded Microsoft, but
now several million copies of the 2.5-gigabyte image file have been
served. Would-be downloaders were warned: as with all pre-release
software, use at your own risk. I’m always willing to take risks for
the sake of this column, so I downloaded the file, burned it to DVD and
installed it on to two test systems: a three-year-old Dell laptop and a
Some quick impressions:
fairly quick: about half an hour on each system. It was also
straightforward and requires little user intervention.
Microsoft has worked to reduce the number of times users are required
to enter information then click next.
Installation required about 10 gigabytes of hard drive space, a bit
less space than a similar Vista installation.
the basic hardware on both systems was supported; video, network,
wireless, sound – all worked. On the Mac, the drivers that Apple
includes for XP or Vista installed without a peep, giving additional
support for that system’s hardware.
I was able to install my
basic set of applications without problems. (That’s no guarantee, of
course, that your experience would be equally problem-free.)
Boot up, program startup, and performance seems a bit perkier than
Vista on these same systems.
decision to drop the Vista sidebar feature speeds up boot time: that
took about a minute to load on my systems. (You can choose to add Vista
sidebar-style gadgets anywhere on the desktop if you want.)
Several Vista features that annoyed many users have been redesigned.
default for user account control (UAC) no longer pops up warnings in
response to user actions – only to possibly insecure software actions.
new slider lets users fine-tune the actions of UAC, but most users can
ignore this. Unlike in Vista, the default settings for this security
feature strike a balance between security and nagging.
And unlike in Vista, there’s an easily accessed shutdown button in the
other changes may take more getting used to. A redesigned task bar at
the bottom of the screen shows icons only – no program names – and
mixes icons for running programs with shortcuts to favourite programs.
reminiscent of the Mac OS X dock, but goes beyond Apple’s dock with
pop-up menus and thumbnail views when there are multiple windows
Ribbons, similar to the ones in Microsoft Office 2007,
pop up in new versions of Paint and WordPad, and may sprout up in other
Windows 7 accessories. And several familiar accessories – Mail, Movie
Maker, Messenger – are no longer included. The missing pieces, however,
can be downloaded at download.live.com
which is an added step for users.
Overall, I like it.
what Vista should have been. But XP diehards may be less impressed;
this is, in effect, a reworked Vista rather than an updated XP.
If you rely on hardware or software that doesn’t work under Vista, it
probably won’t work with Windows 7 either.
has not announced a release date, but this beta feels solid and is
reportedly “feature complete.” I would expect to see the release
version sooner rather than later – perhaps timed to coincide with a new
Microsoft Office version. July, maybe?
In my dreams, I’d like the company to make it a free upgrade for Vista
If you want to see what the fuss is about, downloads will be available
until January 24.
Just remember, it’s a beta. Despite my positive experiences, don’t bet
your vital data on it.