If you'll remember, I reviewed Vista a few months back when I first partitioned my hard drive and installed it. Well, I've done it again, this time with Windows 7. I wanted to give it a spin ever since I heard the beta had leaked on to Bit Torrent, even before Microsoft made it publicly available. The only thing stopping me was getting rid of my Windows XP partition. I still wanted to keep that around for emergencies. At the suggestion of some Twitter followers, I installed a copy of Norton Ghost and backed up my XP installation to my external drive and installed Windows 7 Build 7068 x64 over it.
I was impressed right away. First, I noticed that it booted up noticeably faster than other freshly-installed OSs. Once it was booted up, the first order of business was to see what all the "new taskbar" buzz was about. I didn't think I'd like having a bigger taskbar take up a larger portion of my 14-inch screen, but I actually don't mind it. In fact, when I opted to use smaller icons, I found that I was less productive. The main attraction of the new taskbar is a slew of new mouse-over functions. It operates a bit more like the OS X Dock, but it still maintains a distinctly Windows character. A single icon not only opens an application, it also serves to minimize or maximize that window from the taskbar. Placing the mouse cursor over an icon for a minimized application brings up a thumbnail for each minimized window of that application. While this function existed to a certain extent in Vista, Windows 7 improves on it by allowing you to click a thumbnail to bring up the corresponding window. In addition to this is a new preview capability. If you place the mouse cursor over a thumbnail, a full-size preview of the appropriate window will pop up. Move the mouse away and the preview disappears. This is extremely useful when dealing with multiple instances of an application such as Word or Adobe Acrobat. In Internet Explorer 8 (I know, I hate IE too), each individual tab gets its own mouse-over preview. Other browsers don’t have this capability yet, but I imagine that when the final release of Windows 7 ships, Firefox and most others will probably add it.
The overall look of 7 is very crisp and clean. It’s very pleasing to the eyes. The notification area (you know, those annoying icons down there by the clock?) is much improved. For starters, all the Windows-native notification icons are white. It may not sound like a big change, but you’ll be surprised how much less distracting it is. Microsoft is finally listening to the outcries of Windows users everywhere. They’re giving us an operating system that is simpler to use and stays out of our way. It makes everyday computing a breeze.
Now one of the biggest grievances had with Vista was User Account Control (UAC). The constant pop-ups asking me if I was sure I wanted to go forward with every single action got old fast. The only way to be productive was to turn off UAC all together, obviously a less-than-desirable solution. But that was then and this is now. In 7, there are more degrees of UAC customization. You can decide exactly how much control UAC will have over your system. Personally, I prefer to have as few notifications as possible, so I set it to the lowest level possible without turning it off completely. I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to be asked if I’m sure I want to install iTunes or AIM or any other perfectly harmless application. Since I finished going through the initial phase of installing the programs I use most and setting things up to my liking, I haven’t seen a single warning message. And that’s exactly how it should be.
Basically, Windows 7 is everything I wanted in a new operating system and more. At first trial, 7 feels the same as any version of Windows. But after a few minutes, you start to realize that it’s just working the way you want it too. It doesn’t freeze. It doesn’t have driver issues. It doesn’t crash. I’ve yet to hear of a Blue Screen of Death in 7. The first release candidate (Build 7100 for those in the know) goes public today and I fully intend to install it as soon as I have a chance. The version I’m running now (Build 7068) is near perfect; I can’t imagine how much better 7100 could possibly be. If you’re interested at all, Build 7100 will be available for download directly from Microsoft from May 5 (today) through June and won’t expire until June 2010. That’s a whole year to test out Windows 7 legally and for free. How can you possibly beat that?