As it turns out, pretty much everyone was right.
Windows 7 is the operating system that Vista should have been. It is the OS that basically fixes Vista, adds some new functions and works a lot better. It does borrow liberally from Apple’s Mac OS. It isn’t the operating system that matches the hype of the past few months, as Microsoft has enjoyed its best press for a Windows product in a long, long time. It is a bit easier to use. It does work a bit quicker. And it is a better choice than Vista.
And it’s still, once you dig past the millions of words that have already been bestowed upon it, an operating system, albeit one Microsoft is keen for you to throw a party to celebrate its arrival. It’s a strange old world.
From the off, it’s clear that Microsoft has done some thinking. We opted for an upgrade over a Vista installation first (and we’ve been testing the Professional Edition, although have dabbled with Home Premium too). This is not something we’d ordinarily advise, since a clean install is generally better than papering over an old one, no matter how effective it may be.
As part of the installation routine, it advised us of the programs for which we may have to seek out updated versions. That, we thought, was a nice touch, and to be fair to Windows 7 it has plenty of similar helpful features. We’ve installed it both from fresh and as an upgrade, and both have been as seamless a Windows installation as we’ve ever experienced. It certainly worked a lot better for us than the installation of the beta.
When you land at the desktop in under an hour (not bad, given that the upgrade of the beta to the release candidate took around three hours to get up and running on our laptop), the first thought is that Apple’s lawyers must have had a good look at things. A visual taskbar that you can pin items to (and a very handy one at that)? We’ve seen that sort of thinking somewhere before.
That said, the revamped desktop is an improvement. Icons adorn the taskbar rather than text, and all items relating to a specific program are grouped under one, with its own jump list, something that becomes so second nature to use it’s odd we’ve lived without it for so long.
So, for instance, from a Word icon, you can look at whatever documents you have open, or launch new ones directly from the taskbar. It’s a slightly different way of doing things for Windows users, but an intuitive one after a while. There are plenty of personalisation options, such as your desktop background effectively being turned into a slideshow, but how much you make of those is inevitably down to personal preference.
There are lots of other little features, though, and there’s likely to be something to help you out, too. Libraries now allow you, for instance, to group together all pictures under one folder. That’s irrespective of whether they’re on a network drive or stored locally: now you only need to go to one folder to find them.
One nice touch is that you can minimise all the open windows apart from the one you’re working on with a simple mouse shake, while you can also quickly and simply snap two windows to align them side by side. The option to quickly and easily push media around a network is interesting too, and like most of the new additions to Windows 7, it worked well. Whether you need it or not is, of course, another matter.
In operation, Windows 7 certainly seems brisker than Vista, although the true test will come two years down the line when you’ve loaded your PC up with so much rubbish that it practically hauls up a white flag in surrender. For now, we were content that we got to a usable desktop screen quicker from booting, and there seemed to be less hanging around waiting for the operating system to catch up.
That said, this is, in the scheme of things, still an operating system, no matter how hard the Microsoft hype machine might attempt to convince you otherwise. It’s no seismic shift either, and comes across very much as a slightly streamlined, heavily tuned version of what went before.
Fortunately, that’s pretty much what was required after the lessons learned from Vista were digested, and Microsoft is likely to enjoy some deserved success with Windows 7. Apple is less likely to be pleased, and this upgrade asks some questions about whether Microsoft will move to a more evolutionary development cycle rather than reinvent things in a Vista style again.
That’s for later, though. For now, Windows 7 is the shot in the arm that Microsoft’s operating system was quite desperately hunting for.