A new Windows on the world

It has been a long time since I have looked forward to the launch of a new version of an operating system, but I’m in that position again.

I started talking about Windows 7 last week and said that I’d acquired and installed a copy of the pre-release version, which Microsoft had put out for users to test and evaluate. The real for-sale version will probably be here by Christmas and I have to say that I can’t wait.

New to me, and everyone who managed to avoid Windows Vista, is a snazzy-looking interface called Windows Aero. It’s strong on animating things like windows opening and many elements of it incorporate a glass-like translucent look. You’ll like it if you like that sort of thing.

I didn’t and turned off the glass and animation but I was very pleased with the rest of the interface. There is still a Start button and a taskbar, but they are greatly refined and better than those in XP.

For example, you still get a button appearing on the taskbar when you start a program but you now get multiple instances of a program, like many browser windows, stacked under one button.

Hovering the mouse pointer over a button gives you a thumbnail view of all the windows open under it, and it’s a simple matter to click the one you want. Programs that you use often can be pinned permanently to the taskbar, so that you can click the button to start them.

There are a fair number of accessories new to me in Windows 7 including a Snipping Tool, to capture images from your screen, and Sticky Notes, for leaving notes to yourself on your desktop and there is also a Mahjong game.

That stole quite a lot of my time as I tried to identify and remove matching tiles from the various shaped piles that the program generates. I found it quite a challenge at first but my brain adapted to the task and I got better as I went along.

Also available are Desktop gadgets which live on your desktop and are either ornamental or provide useful information. The gadget idea is not new but the Windows 7 ones I tried, including a calendar and Durban weather report, did not make my desktop feel cluttered, as the Google Desktop ones do.

For me, one of the most important changes in Windows 7 is in how user files are stored. The system works on libraries for storing documents, music, pictures, and videos, and it is now less important where the files are physically located.

There are still a basic set of folders where these files are stored but Windows can also show you files stored in other locations like, for example, music stored on another hard disk drive. Quick access to your libraries is provided from the Start button and from a sidebar in all open Windows, so your stuff is only ever a click or two away.

I was incredibly impressed with Windows 7 and, in spite of it not being a final release, it is elegant, clean, and hassle-free. Best of all, it seems to be quite a speed merchant and will allegedly work perfectly well on lesser computers, which was not at the case with Vista.

In the week or so I had Windows 7 on my machine, I didn’t have a single problem that I could trace to it. I eventually decided to step back to Windows XP only because two of my most vital programs refused to install on it.

All the other many programs I installed, including little freeware ones, worked perfectly but my Quickbooks 8 and my Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.5 refused to install. So many programs worked so I conclude that those two programs try to do something non-standard and fall over when they encounter a Windows they hadn’t heard about.

It would probably be a good idea for everyone wanting to upgrade to Windows 7 to check that all their software is compatible before taking the plunge. There’s no telling what price it will be launched at but, assuming its reasonable, and my software will work on it, I’m upgrading for sure.

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4 thoughts on “A new Windows on the world

  1. As always, an interesting and informative column. Thanks. I am in the VISTA trap having purchased a new fairly powerful laptop. I didnt take a downgrade to XP in view of your earlier comment about "on its way out" in an earlier column. Now i cannot get Audacity to work and a few other favs. Anyone got ideas on how to record streaming sounds (BBC7 etc)? From your review of W7 we are all going to have to adapt or die! We just need guidelines on what will work to replace the familiar.

  2. Sound seems to be a bit of a problem with Windows 7 and Vista. You don't say whether Audacity will run or not but, once it does, you have to manually select the audio source. Can't think why they did that but Free Audio Editor knows about the problem and has a page here on how to fix it. You have to do this every time you want record from a different source.

    As far as the compatibility of other programs goes, Windows 7 already has a reputation of being more compatible than Vista. We'll have to see what happens.

    Apple's new Snow Leopard anyone?

  3. Hi Allan,have you experienced the Vista "photoshop, lightroom, whatever — has stopped working"?? It happens usually after about 42 steps, having just nailed one of Scott Kelby's techniques. OK, I should save every 10 seconds! Microsoft are not in the least concerned unless it is a MS program hanging. I just upgraded to a fairly high-end Vaio laptop and chose, against all my instincts, to try the default Vista Business as it could recognise 4g RAM. Rgds, Roy

  4. Hi Roy. Thankfully, I haven't had the experience, having had the good fortune to avoid Vista almost entirely. You do get occasional crashes in XP but it's not a major issue in my experience. I don't know whether you'd be eligible for a free upgrade once Windows 7 comes out, but, if not, it may be worth your while to buy it. I did use 64-bit Lightroom for a brief time on Windows 7 and it ran very rapidly indeed.

    I am not a supporter of Microsoft these days and would be happy to ditch Windows if there was a viable alternative. The choice would be simple if Adobe brought out Linux versions of their programs, for example…

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