Hasta la Vista baby, hello Windows 7

So Windows Vista is finally finished.

Okay, Microsoft is calling it Windows 7, but really the latest version of Windows is what Vista should have been. Having rushed out the already-late Vista, the software maker then cleaned up some of the problems, added a few features and refinements, and called the finished product Windows 7.

Many customers will skip Vista and go straight to Windows 7, as Microsoft itself probably should have done. Based on limited experience with the beta, it appears they’ll get a less temperamental version of Windows, with a few nice refinements and no increase in hardware requirements.

Before going any farther I should say that a few weeks with a beta OS is only a first impression. To get a real sense of how solid it is you need months of messing around, installing and uninstalling apps, using the PC in the real world. So the comments that follow are a first look, nothing more.

I’ve had headaches with Vista, which I adopted after Service Pack 1. I haven’t seen any of the same problems with Windows 7, which is a good sign but doesn’t mean the newer OS is perfect. It’s bound to have some problems – how many will become clear once it’s in widespread use. My sense is it’s more solid than Vista.And that is the main reason customers will upgrade. Most won’t do so for added features.

The glitziest innovation in Windows 7 is multi-touch support – the ability to use two fingers to zoom, scroll and rotate, as on the Apple iPhone. I haven’t tried this, since the machine I tested Windows 7 on lacked a touch screen. So will most of the PCs Win 7 initially runs on, so this feature will have limited impact early on.

More immediately interesting are the taskbar improvements. When you mouse over an application’s icon in the taskbar, you see a thumbnail of the program, like in Vista, but in Windows 7 you can mouse over that thumbnail – a bit bigger than the one in Vista – and the window itself appears on screen. Move the mouse off the thumbnail and the window goes away. It helps find what you’re looking for and can be good for checking something in a document other than the one you’re working on.Right-clicking a taskbar icon gives you a “jump list” – a pop-up menu of common menu options that sometimes includes opening recently used documents. Handy.

There are also some new power-management features, nicest of which is that the screen dims automatically if you don’t touch the machine for a preset period of time. Rather than go black, it just drops to a reduced but still readable brightness.

A real test of the new HomeGroup home networking would require two or more Windows 7 machines, but I was pleased with how quickly and easily the Windows 7 machine joined my existing network.

Since Windows 7 is more a refined Vista than a major departure, there should be fewer device compatibility issues this time around. That doesn’t mean no issues, though; I tried installing one of my printers but the existing Vista driver wouldn’t work on Windows 7 (and, not surprisingly for a beta OS, no Windows 7 driver was available online). So we’ll see. It appears Windows 7 offers some relief for frustrated Vista users.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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