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Windows 7, a review

Windows 7, a review I have previously blogged about my experience switching to Mac, and then to Kubuntu Linux. It's been my aim to provide pretty aggressive reviews comparing them to the best of what the other's can do. So now it is time for the last in the set – the latest version of Windows, Windows 7.

I have Windows 7 on my laptop, which I've only had for about 4 months. Prior to that I had not used windows as a primary desktop for years. This review will be partly looking at Windows, but it will also be looking at the machines that are sold to run them, because I think this is a key element when comparing to Mac's. This is an HP laptop so HP and Microsoft are in the firing line together ;).

The first thing I noticed is that modern Windows laptops are streets ahead where they used to be in terms of design. I think this is clearly Apple's influences – for a long time PC's were boring boxes, and I think they have had to change. This laptop is beautiful.

The actual experience of using the machine is also pretty swish. But unlike Mac's, I would describe it as "a bit fisher price" and not nearly so stream-lined. There is definitely some clarity of design improvement over earlier versions of Windows. There's a feel that the desktop is a bit more of a clean and realistic metaphor rather than leaking out technical aspects into it's design, which is something I think Windows has not done well in the past.

Because we've all used Windows before, I don't think there's a whole lot to talk about in terms of the feel of the machine. So instead I am going to simply do this in terms of the good and the bad…

The bad


One really annoying thing is that often alert messages seem to popup in the backgroup where you can't see them. This is particularly annoying due to the 'Dock-style' taskbar which makes it so you have to inspect quite closely to see what's running. I had the same gripe with MacOS and MS have replicated it! But at least the Mac doesn't seem to put the alerts in the background in the first place.

When installing things, there are so many "Are you sure?" messages. I don't want to say I'm sure I want to download a program, I'm sure I want to run it, and then I'm sure I want to give it permission, before I even start installing. Also half these permission things have the above problem with hidden alerts, so it can be really confusing why a program has suddenly stalled. I understand the need for security, but it needs a very strong UI to make it as streamlined as possible. A series of separate often-hidden and poor-flowing confirmations is not that.

The Dock

Generally the introducing of the Microsoft equivalent to the MacOS Dock has made things a bit inconsistent. The icons have been made smaller, so you now kind of have what was once the quick launch bar and once the taskbar, merged - but the system tray is still there, meaning you get tray icons and taskbar icons for the same programs. It really messes with the metaphor and is a poor imitation of Apple's Dock.

Another problem is that a lot of Windows software asks about adding to the quick launch bar when you install, but this no longer exists, so it's created a bit of a compatibility break. I see why it was necessary, but I think Microsoft should have gone further and avoided the rather uncomfortable half-way solution they now have.

One thing Mac does very nicely with the Dock is that you can easily set an item for startup by right clicking on it. This hides unnecessary implementation details (the startup folder) from the user very well.

Sound effects

Windows 7 comes with some bizarre sound effects that are completely unintuitive (e.g. the horn sound that apparently indicates 'mail sent'). The point of sound effects is to convey something, but when using Windows 7 I find it plain confusing.

Also I decided to take a look at the sound settings. This is just the kind of area where Windows continues to be over-complex when compared to Mac. For example I found references to "quiet mode" (isn't that just Mute?) and "SRS WOW effects" (what the heck is that, and why such a jargon-filled name?).

Other problems

  • Notepad still does not support Unix text files
  • IE8 still sucks compared to the default browsers on other OS's
  • The different versions of Windows's is silly – people see it for the gouging it is when other companies don't do it
  • Often it is necessary to run software as administrator to install it; for example, you need to run the PHP installer as administrator or you get weird error messages. Something is going wrong somewhere, as this is where Windows is meant to automatically detect need for authorisation and handle it.
  • HP install so much junk by default, including trialware. If I bought a computer it should come with everything licensed, or it should provide a neat way for me to buy licenses without it being all over the desktop and when I start up. I said I'd be finding fault with HP as well as Microsoft ;). These companies need to provide a clean experience to compete with Apple.
  • There are references for "roaming" and "local" in my user directories, but as far as I am aware this is not related to any feature I use and it makes usage more complex.
  • Unfortunately my machine BSOD'd about once every day. This seems to have been a BIOS problem - I had to return it to HP and they upgraded the BIOS and it has not been a problem since. But this kind of weirdness exists too much in the PC world.
  • Whenever CD drive activity happens, it seems to block hard disk IO too. Shoddy!
  • Likewise, when OpenGL is initialising, it seems to block hard disk IO. It's perfectly smooth on Mac.
  • There is a virtual directory system for documents. So why not have one for "Program Files" vs "Program Files x86" also?

The good

  • I really like being able to alt-tab to the desktop
  • I like how you can copy and paste file paths from Windows explorer whilst they look nice before you click there (on Mac they look nice, but you can't copy and paste)
  • There are some really cool sound mixing options.
  • The quick maximise feature is pretty cool
  • Windows 7 is fast!
  • I really like the automatic background changing feature
  • I love the ability to find recent files via the taskbar

That's it folks! When I started this series of posts I annoyed some Mac fans. Hopefully now I've shown that I think all computer systems still suck :lol:.

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