Guy’s Independent Review of Windows 7

Guy’s Independent Review of Windows 7  Guy's Independent Review of Version 7

I want to give you an independent view of the new Windows 7 operating system.  Rather than regurgitating a list of features, 80% of which you won’t use, I want to concentrate on what it’s like actually working with Windows 7 compared with Vista or XP.

Topics for Windows 7 Review


Windows 7 – A Polished Performer

As I review Windows 7, and compare it with Vista, it seems as though every component has been stripped down and polished.  Moreover, as the menus were bolted back together, it seems as though Microsoft’s technicians give them an extra dollop of intelligence.  As a result Windows 7 performs as my capable assistant, whereas Vista acted like my unsympathetic boss.

To take the new Taskbar as an example, when an icon glows this indicates subtly that its application is open, furthermore, the documents stack behind their program thus conserving space on this bar at the bottom of the screen.  It took me less than half an hour to adjust to this more intelligent behavior.  Yet, some people ‘take against’ the new way, and they try to recreate the old XP Taskbar, the resulting dog’s breakfast represents the worst of both Windows 7 and XP.  My advice is – adapt to the new Taskbar.

Upgrading from Vista

For a server I would always recommend a clean install, but for a Vista client it seemed tempting to avoid the hassle of transferring all my settings and just upgrade the existing operating system. My test machines (one laptop and one desktop), were each running Vista, and I have to say this was the smoothest in-place upgrade that I have ever done. Incidentally, it seems there is no direct upgrade path from XP to Windows 7, thus a fresh installation would be required in that situation.   As for the hardware, I find that computers are always well made and good value.

However, there have been severe problems for a few people attempting this in-place upgrade from Vista to Windows 7.  On the one hand it’s disappointing that Microsoft has not corrected these compatibility problems given that they emerged during beta testing.  On the other hand, upgrade’s notorious glitch in hanging at 62% complete only affects a few well documented hardware components.  To keep this glitch in perspective the worst case scenario is upgrade rolls back gracefully, and you carry on with a fresh install, which is no bad thing.

When researching for my review of Windows 7 it has not been easy to see if this upgrade problem affects 10% or 0.0001% of all attempts.  A more general question is what percentage of all hardware combinations can we reasonable expect Microsoft to test?  After all, they do produce a very good free Windows 7 upgrade advisor which I found both a joy to use and remarkably accurate with its conclusions.

64-Bit Hardware Performance and Compatibility

Windows 7 is the first operating system that does not require more memory (1 GB 32-bit, 2 GB 64-bit), or a faster processor (1 Ghz) than its predecessor.  Even so, installing a new operating system such as Windows 7 or Vista presents a golden opportunity to buy new hardware.  If you are assessing new kit in 2009 then it seems logical to choose a 64-bit processor rather than a 32-bit version.  However, I have been underwhelmed by my new 64-bit system, and this is quite independent of Vista or Windows 7.  To me Office 2007 does not seem to any run faster on my 64-bit hardware (Benchmarks say 10% better).  Worse than that, Office 2007 seems to hang and crash much more than Office 2003 did on a 32-bit operating system.

The most annoying problem that I faced was down to Cannon, they could not be bothered to make a 64-bit driver, consequently, I had to throw out a perfectly good scanner.  Admittedly my new scanner really is faster, and it cost less, but I was happy with its predecessor.  Overall I have no clever conclusion.  Other than sticking with my ancient 32-bit kit, I cannot see what else I could have done, it just does not seem right to buy 32-processors in 2009.

Cam Ferguson points out that Windows 7 is designed take advantage of 64-bit dual and quad processors.  Guy says what you find with Windows 7 is that everyone is passionate about a different new feature.  This makes a change from Vista where everyone was moaning about a different new behavior.

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Guy Recommends an Upgrade to Windows 7

If you currently have Vista, then I would unreservedly recommend an upgrade to Window 7.  Also if you have XP, then I believe that the time is ripe to swerve Vista and upgrade to Windows 7.

Let us imagine an old see-saw with Vista on one end and XP on the other.  Setting aside the question of cost, I see that the productivity and security advantages of upgrading from XP to Vista, are counterbalanced by the teething problems with Vista.  Now imagine a new see-saw, this time with Windows 7 against XP, in my opinion the balance has swung firmly away from XP, and towards Windows 7.

But it’s your decision, and it much depends on what your motives were for resisting Vista.  What I can bring to the debate is how much smoother Windows 7 runs compared with Vista.  For example, when my Vista laptop went into sleep mode, it was always touch and go if it would wake-up gracefully, or whether I had to resort to power-off, power-on.  With Windows 7 I have experienced no such problems.  Also my Windows 7 does not hang when I search in Windows Explorer as Vista did.  In addition Windows 7 brings zillions of other tiny improvements, which make me think, ‘I am working smart’, and ‘now I am operating efficiently’.  In Vista my thoughts were, ‘I will cope, I will get the job done despite your cranky ways’.

Review of Interesting New Features in Windows 7

Taskbar – It is fractionally easier to position the icons, and keep it the way you like.  There are also better previews, and also easier access to the Windows Explorer.  On a related matter the Navigation Area is better behaved.

Start Menu – The jump list has a bigger list of recent programs. Tip, do remember to pin those programs that you want to stay on the list.

Desktop Search – This has come of age.  In Vista, you can type a word into the Search box, and you get a list.  However, if what you are looking for isn’t there, you have to click Search Everywhere.  The improvement in Windows 7 is that each heading is a clickable link for you to investigate.

Resource Monitor –  This is real techie’s delight.  It’s also better than Vista’s Process explorer at tracking down a program that is hogging CPU, memory, or disk resources.  The killer new feature is the ability to filter a list of processes so you can see which files they are reading and writing.

Better Device Management – Every version of Windows claims ‘Better Device Management’.  I await the perfect system, meanwhile it is handier to have the mouse, monitor, and camera in the same ‘Folder’ as the printers.

IE8 and PowerShell 2.0 – As expected, these latest versions of these programs are built-in.  However, there is a new twist, an ability to disable features such as IE8 should you want to replace it with Mozilla Firefox.

Windows Live Essentials – Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker.  Share your music and videos.

Gadgets – Now embedded in the desktop

HomeGroup – I call this Home Network, and it is useful for controlling wireless communication, configurable through the Network and Sharing Center.

Backup – Let us take backup as mini-case study.  With XP you could select individual files from the backup menus, whereas in Vista you could only backup the whole system.  Windows 7 reverts to giving the user the choice of what to archive. 

Staying with backup, here is an example of progress.  In XP, if you wanted to back up to an external drive, then you needed a third-party program.  In Vista the procedure was indeed a little better, after plugging in the external device, it was possible to backup but only if you could ferret around and connect to the backup program.  Now in Windows 7, once you plug in an external hard drive, its AutoPlay produces a menu item: ‘Use This Drive for Backup’.  It then guides you through the steps needed to automated backup.

More Improvements Brought by Microsoft Windows 7


As I review Windows 7, I can see that people are not too concerned if the operating system’s boot time is 60 seconds rather 75, but it is irritating when the battery life is reduced from 300 minutes to 240 minutes.  It is evident that extra features such as Aero Graphics will mean more power consumption.  Hence Microsoft faces a tough challenge to make a battery on a Windows 7 laptop last as long as the same battery on XP.  One solution has been to try new technologies such as to dim the display and slow to down the system timer.

Talking of laptops, entering and leaving ‘Sleep’ was a lottery in Vista RTM, matters improved after applying SP1,  and now Sleep is rock solid in Windows 7.  Another tiny but welcome improvement is that the battery % indicator is accurate rather than a work of fiction.

To achieve this transformation Microsoft has tackled dozens more features that lacked perfection in Vista.  For example, changing the screen resolution quickly, and configuring IP addresses with minimal clicks.  These, and a hundred more refinements, are not worth commenting on individually, but the whole improvement is greater than the sum of the individual parts.  Moreover these are real gains because whichever 20% of the features you use the most, in Windows 7 those features will work better than they did in Vista.

One day it dawned on me that in Windows 7 there was less intrusion by the UAC and associated ‘Wizards’ than I remember in Vista.

I cannot emphasise enough that this is not a one-off improvement; there are dozens of other small but time-saving improvements in Windows 7.  As a result Window 7 not only catches up with everything that XP could do, but also delivers the improvements that we had hoped Vista would provide with its brand new operating system.

3rd Party Software

It always seemed a most reasonable expectation that programs which work on XP would work on Windows 7 (and Vista).   Rumour has it that some programs failed simply because XP reports ‘Major Version = 5’ whereas Vista and Windows 7 report ‘Major Version = 6’.  If this is true then it could not be hard to modify the run routine to say ‘If Major Version greater than 5 then proceed and launch this app’.

An indication of Microsoft’s commitment, worry, sensitivity – call it what you will, is that they are extending testing to include 50% more 3rd party applications for Windows 7.  What impressed me was that each application warrants its own project.

Hardware and Drivers

When we are in between major operating system changes we take for granted that all software works on all hardware, at the very worst you may have to right-click and update a driver.  Thus in 2007 Vista bore the brunt of user dissatisfaction caused by lack of drivers, or else hardware not delivering the full range of features that Microsoft designed.

Two years on from Vista’s launch the technology the partnership between Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers has resulted in a more effective interaction between operating system and peripherals.  Consequently, even if Windows 7 brought no improvements, it would have ridden on the coat tails of product development aimed at Vista.  This is because Vista and Windows 7 share the same core operating system code.

Developers will now concentrate on new stuff for Windows 7, it may not work on XP.

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Surveys on the Uptake of Windows Versions

I never feel the need to follow the crowd, but it is fascinating to see how other react to Vista and Windows 7.

Microsoft’s critics will tell you that corporations have completely ignored Windows Vista.  However, Forrester’s survey shows that 11% of large companies have already installed Vista.  Meanwhile, 30% of respondents have at least trialled it and a further 25% have plans to begin deploying within 2 years.  15% -perhaps the most savvy – are going to bypass Vista and go straight from XP to Windows 7.

Once again, this pattern is uncannily like what happened when Windows 2000 replaced Windows 98.  There were unexpected complications when operating system version 5.0 replaced version 4.1.  Microsoft reacted quickly and brought out XP (5.1) to usurp Windows 2000 (5.0).  Vista doom and gloom merchants may have also forgotten that took XP at least 3 years to replace Windows 98.

Tales from the Training Room

Take a new feature, such as the Control Panel.  When I am training I have to steel myself to take the ‘Management line’, and tell delegates "The new Control Panel is better, please give it a chance".  After a while I was convinced that the new Control Panel truly was better.

It may shock you that I am talking about the change from Window 3.11 to Windows 95.  And I have seen the same resistance with each successive reorganization of the Control Panel.  The present generation are extremely resistant to a changes in Windows 7, just as the previous generation did not like the switch from Window 98 to XP.  My points are these:

  • Resistance to change is normal human reaction.
  • The young embrace new ways more easily than the old.
  • If such cosmetic changes are the only complaints about Windows 7, then it’s a good system.

About Guy’s Involvement with Beta Programs

Let me start by saying I haven’t updated my phone for 2 years and I drive a 2005 model car, but when it comes to beta software I am a sucker for the allure of a new program.  That said, every time I vow ‘never again’, it’s just not worth all the hassle, the bugs and the fact the final version is much changed from the beta releases.  It’s as clear as day that smart move is to wait until service pack 1 before you use any software for work as opposed to messing about for pleasure.  Sorry I meant testing!

The Source of Microsoft Beta Software

If you totally disregard this advice about avoiding beta software, then you can download all manner of test software in various states of development from  I registered years ago, so I have no idea if the rumours that it’s difficult to get accepted by Microsoft Connect are true.

Summary of Guy’s Independent Review of Version 7

It is true that the Vista design team made crucial mistakes, and as a result people are now wary of Microsoft’s operating systems.  I just want to say that Windows 7 should restore Microsoft’s reputation for producing a state-of-the-art desktop.   You can see how each component of Windows 7 has been stripped down, redesigned then reassembled, then the end product has been given a thorough polish.

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