It’s been a long time coming, but the press that Microsoft received for the public beta version of its upcoming Windows 7 operating system was in stark contrast to much of the criticism that Vista became a magnet for.
As we concluded ourselves, this was much more like the operating system we thought we were getting with Vista itself: it was tighter, it was less cumbersome to work with and it didn’t get bogged down with anywhere near the same regularity.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect, and there were still concerns, yet Microsoft’s confidence is such that this Release Candidate edition has also been given a free-of-charge public bow, with the firm relaxed about letting you use it until well into 2010 before asking you to pay for the full version. And that full version is coming sooner than first thought, too, running – once more in contrast to Vista – some months ahead of original plans.
We opted, as we did with the beta, to install the Release Candidate onto a laptop sporting a 2GHz T7300 Core 2 Duo processor, along with 2GB of RAM. The download is easily obtainable from Microsoft’s Windows website, and then you just need to burn it to a DVD as a bootable disc.
You’ll then find that if you opt for a fresh install of Windows, as opposed to an upgrade, it’s the zippiest installation of Windows you’ll have seen in a long time. We had it up and running in just over 20 minutes, a speed that even the occasional Linux distro touches from time to time.
What’s more, it worked from the off. All the hardware in the laptop was properly detected and there was no chasing around for an elusive driver. All we needed to do was resize our display. The desktop itself seemed the same as the beta, although we did quickly notice an abundance of additional wallpapers from which to choose. But then the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, one of the highlights of the beta, has also been tweaked.
There’s now room to add more icons to the taskbar, but there are also jumplists activated via a right mouse click. For instance, should you have Windows Media Player on your taskbar – and it’s easy to add or delete entries – then you can get a contextual menu that allows you to jump to your favourite or regularly played music.
Likewise, with a web browser you can jump to bookmarks and suchlike, and basically jump straight into a program. Before you can say Apple, you can also drag and drop files directly onto an appropriate taskbar icon and they will be opened from there.
The most talked-about new feature has perhaps been the virtualisation included, with a specific Windows XP compatibility mode. This is a wise inclusion on Microsoft’s part, given the dissatisfaction in some quarters with Vista and the sizeable reluctance to upgrade to it.
Then there are some minor tweaks, things such as instant access to disc burning from Explorer, the customisation of power management options for laptop users, small tweaks on the networking side and all-round better organisation.
And, ultimately, there’s a general impression that Windows 7 is shaping up to be a good, solid improvement, with signs that Microsoft has genuinely taken past disgruntlement on board. The proof, though, will be tested in the long term. Windows tends to cause the most problems after six months of solid use, when stray programs and files are scattered across a system. It’s too early to say how well it will cope then, but the early indications remain positive.