Windows 7 Beta Review

Zertz tacohunter52 - 2009-01-20 20:53:02 in Operating Systems
Category: Operating Systems
Reviewed by: Zertz   tacohunter52   
Reviewed on: February 23, 2009

Introduction

We all know that just about every computer is different. Some are built for gaming, some for word processing, others are just designed for watching movies. However, there is one thing that all computers have in common; an operating system. It can make or break any computer. In fact, it is one of the reasons Apple does so well. They've managed to develop OSX, a simple and easy to use operating system that just about everyone enjoys. That and the exploitation of what some people will call Microsoft's weakness, Windows Vista. Some people love it and others, well they'd rather drop kick a cement block than touch the thing. One of the main reasons for this is because most of the computer users don't want to take the time to learn how it works. They don't want to have to fiddle with settings and download third party programs in order to make their desktop the way they want it. Most people want simplicity. On the other hand you have people like us - enthusiasts, power users, geeks, whatever you want to call us! Most of us don't mind playing around in the registry. In fact, most of us enjoy it. That's not to say we all liked Vista. Even some enthusiasts have various qualms with Vista; it uses too much memory, it runs too slow, or maybe the pop-up when trying to run a program was a bit irritating. I personally appreciated Vista, and hopefully Microsoft's new offering will be a step in the right direction to counter Vista's dwindling sales.

Many of you know that Microsoft's latest operating system is called Windows 7. Some of you may even have tried the beta, which has been available for download for a couple weeks now. Why Windows 7? Their have been many more versions of Windows than just seven. Maybe it's because there are seven letters in Windows. Who knows, and it doesn't really matter. What's important? How it performs. Is it another gold mine like XP or another step in the wrong direction? In this review Zertz and I will attempt to give you an accurate summary of how Microsoft's latest operating system performs, as well as how it stacks up to earlier versions. What kind of major flaws will there be and what genius ideas has Microsoft thought up? Let's find out.

 

 

Getting Started

 

Because Windows 7 is currently in its beta form, you can legally download it off Microsoft's Windows 7 website. From there you can choose whether to download the beta in either 32- or 64-bit, mostly depending on how much memory you plan to use. This is also where the system requirements are found and, surprisingly enough in this quickly evolving computer world, they're the exact same as Vista. For those that need some extra help, Microsoft supplies some installation instructions and tips as well, but suggests you shouldn't upgrade your main computer to 7 just yet.

 

 

The three gigabyte file is an ISO, which is basically a CD/DVD image and can be burned to a DVD with proper software. Once you have successfully completed the download, you will need, shockingly enough, a blank DVD. Open your favorite burning software and let the burning begin. Recent operating systems have a way of being extremely easy to install. Simply drop the installation disc in and follow the on-screen instructions. The amount of time it takes to install varies depending on your hardware configuration. Just make sure the first boot device is your optical drive and follow the on-screen instructions. One can't argue that Vista's installation was not only pretty, especially compared to XP, and it was also very easy to go through. Windows 7 is no different and nothing has changed except slight tweaks to the interface.

 

 

The process takes roughly as long as Vista, so you can spend that next half hour reading what we thought about Microsoft's next generation operating system!

First Impressions

One of the first things I noticed was that the startup times had changed drastically. In Vista, it would take only a few seconds to go from the boot screen to my login screen, then another 20 seconds to get completely started up. With Windows 7, it takes about 30 seconds to get from the boot screen to the login screen, but then only a few seconds to get to the desktop. It sounds a little bit strange, but I was actually relieved by it. I have a habit of locking my computer in order to leave the background tasks running. In Windows 7 my computer will only stay locked for a few hours before automatically logging me off. I was a little frustrated, but at least it started up right away with nearly no downtime. Overall startup times may have increased, but if you often simply log off and leave your computer on, you'll see a major improvement.

With Vista, Microsoft introduced Aero, something they kept touting as a revolutionary interface feature, but ended up just being pretty windows with clear borders. In this latest version, not much has changed, but you are now able to make things more transparent, and as such, things seem to look slightly better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of the start menu, while it hasn't changed much compared to Vista, it brings a couple interesting new additions. The recently used programs functionality has been revisited and now brings more to the table than simply a shortcut to the most recently used applications. Some programs have a small arrow on the right of its name, and when you hover the cursor over for a brief moment, a menu will pop up on the right, displaying the files last used by that specific program. This makes it easy to quickly open documents without having to browse to them.

 

 

The beloved task bar icons have taken a turn for the better as well. Now when you open a program, instead of a bar displaying in the taskbar, an icon will appear on your bottom left. Scrolling over the icon will make a miniature window open, and if you have multiple instances of a program, multiple windows will pop up. Scrolling over these miniature windows will make all the larger windows disappear, except for the one directly associated with the miniature window you're hovering over. If you're running a program such as F@H, then the icon will still be on the bottom left. Instead of appearing on your task bar it will be in a little box accessible by clicking an up arrow.

 

 

New Features

So what's totally new, you ask? Honestly, Windows 7 doesn't really bring anything you haven't already seen in Vista or any other operating system for that matter. However, most existing elements have had their user interface improved with focus on ease of use, and it looks like developers understood there is no need to have to dig deep into a multitude of menus to modify simple options.

While Microsoft may not have made any huge or innovative changes, they did improve upon the usability. To keep the neophytes from getting frustrated, Microsoft didn't redo the whole user interface, or change all the things that were deemed "wrong" with Vista. What they did was make small and simple changes that make everything easier. Sometimes this is all you need. Some of the best changes are the ones where you know something is different, but you can't quite put your finger on it. You have to think about it for a few seconds to remember, "Oh yeah, there used to be a preferences tab there. I'm glad they changed it." Microsoft managed to make quite a few of these, and not one change is for the worst.

One of my favorites is something that's been around for a while now. If you're in a program, let's say Internet Explorer, and you want to maximize your window, all you need to do is drag the window up to the top of your screen. While this may take a few nanoseconds of your entire life, in the grand scheme of things, it is more visually pleasing than clicking the maximize window button. An invisible outline will appear around your screen, and when you let go of the mouse, voila, you've successfully maximized your window...THE SEXY WAY! Microsoft took this a step further by implementing what I'll call the "Window Stretch". If you decide you want your window longer, all you need to do is stretch it down to your task bar, and it will automatically stretch it to the top of your screen. While I'm not sure why you would want to do this, I'm sure someone has the need for "stretchy" windows.

 

 

 

Most of us have right-clicked our desktop, scrolled down to preferences, and gone to display options in order to do things like changing resolution or adding a second monitor. But why should screen resolution be in the same place as screen savers and wallpapers? Microsoft apparently felt the same way, as now all you have to do is right-click your desktop and BAM, screen resolution. I know it's not that big of a deal, but they tried. And hey, I like it.

 

Another nice little change that has been made is that you no longer need to fish through your control panel in order to find how to change your desktop settings. Microsoft made a nifty little category in the start menu titled "Getting Started". While they have always had this, it has never actually been as helpful as it is now. When you launch it, you will have options to make text larger, change the annoying User Account Control (UAC) settings (frankly, it really doesn't do anything besides give you annoying pop ups for the things you run), and personalize windows. In the latter section, you can change the color of your task bar and windows, set the transparency, change screen savers, and switch wallpapers.

 

 

You can also change your themes and their settings, although messing with the ease of access settings can give unwanted results.

 

 

Performance

As you are most likely aware, Vista has been receiving negative reviews since launch day and even before it was released to the public. People complained, and rightfully so, about performance. It was crystal clear that XP's successor wouldn't be a hit - it was slower, resource hungry, it suffered from well below par software support and it was late...too late. At the same time, it was also well ahead of the mainstream computer hardware. Of course, pushing XP off its pedestal isn't exactly the easiest thing to do, as it has a huge user base and could easily run on most computers.

With Windows 7, the software giant went back to the drawing board. The main reasons Vista was criticized so much over XP, was for the simple reason that it was slower and used up too much RAM. The main thing I was looking for while using Windows 7 was to see whether or not Microsoft improved upon these issues. By just using a few basic features it seemed like they did. Internet Explorer opened up faster. Startup was shorter. The Control Panel opened up right away. However, this was all too good to be true. Further investigation showed that any program that did not come with the OS was slower. Programs such as word processors, games, and media players took the same or longer to open. On the other hand, Microsoft products such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel opened at the same speed as before. Coincidence?

As for RAM usage, I was once again disappointed with Microsoft's new OS. I had no expectations that Windows 7 would use less RAM then XP, but I did think that it would do better than Vista. I personally like Vista and have it installed on all my machines. When just F@H and a few background tasks are running in Vista, the RAM usage can be anywhere from 400-600MB and doesn't usually exceed 700MB. With Windows 7 and similar background tasks it was showing over 1GB of RAM usage. To test it, I closed all my windows, closed most of the background tasks, and even lowered the CPU usage for F@H. After all of this, the RAM usage was still close to 800MB. If you completely Idle your rig you'll be able to lower the RAM usage to just over 500MB.

 

 

 

While this may stop a lot of people from upgrading their old XP machines, it really didn't bother me too much. I personally love Windows 7 because it is one of the most fun OS's I've used. Sure it does take up a lot of RAM, but with memory prices these days most people can afford to go pick up a few extra sticks. Heck I know some people that use Vista with 8GB of memory, and swear it's the fastest computer they've ever used. Besides, Windows 7 is still in beta, so Microsoft still has a chance to fix it.

System Requirements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Be aware that System Requirements can change at any time

Courtesty of http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/beta-download.aspx

 

 

 

 

Testing

 

How exactly do you test an Operating System? There are no pre-made benchmarks. There is no FPS. There is no set of numbers to use in a graph. How do you test an Operating System in order to compare it with another? The answer to this is to use it and the programs that came installed with it, in order to see how you like it. The only problem with this method is that everyone will get different results. Some will love it, others will hate it, and some will be irritated by just a few things. So how do you decide if an Operating System is right for you? Simple, you read what other people liked and what they criticized. Then compare it to the things that you would like and the things that would pretty much irritate the hell out of you. I will attempt to use Windows 7 as an ordinary user would. Then I'll try to give accurate descriptions of the things I liked, as well as the things I could care less about.

 

Testing Setup:

Microsoft has had the "Show Desktop" button for a while now. It was a relatively useless way of minimizing all your windows at the same time. Once again Microsoft has implemented this in Windows 7. At first I thought it was really, really cool. I thought wrong. Instead of being located in its usual spot (bottom left-hand side), the button has migrated to the bottom right-hand of the task bar. Upon moving your mouse over, it will turn all your windows invisible. If you click it, then you of course minimize all your windows.

This sounds pretty cool, but it got very irritating, very fast. I have a habit of quickly moving my mouse aside whenever I begin to write anything. Of course the mouse cursor usually goes to the bottom right-hand corner. This just happens to be where the new "Show Desktop" button is located. For the first several hours of using Windows 7, I'd suddenly be writing into a window I could not see. Luckily you can easily disable this feature. However, in doing so you lose the ability to minimize windows by scrolling over their miniature window counterpart. This probably won't happen to most people, but for those that have the same habit as me, it's something you may have to deal with by retooling the way you do things.

Internet Explorer:

Many people do not even use the default browser provided by Microsoft, but for those that do, there are a few things you should know. Like all previous versions of this browser, it is extremely easy to use and makes for a great default. That's pretty much the only good thing about it, but that's not to say it's full of problems. The only two annoyances I actually had with it can easily be fixed by Microsoft before the final OS is released. The main problem I had was that clicking on the icon would not open a second window. It would bring up the one I had already opened. The only reason this irritated me was because IE crashed on me twice. Normally I would just reopen the program, but clicking on the icon would bring me to the already-opened browser window, thus greeting me with a non-responsive window. The solution to this was to just end the process.

The second problem was that tabbed windows were very slow to open. It would take about 12 seconds to open a link in a new tab, whereas opening in a new window would take only a second. I'm going to forgive this one though, as it is probably a bug.

Just as in previous versions, Windows 7 will provide warnings if any updates are available or if your computer is not secure. For instance, if you do not have an antivirus installed on your rig a warning message will show up prompting you to download one. Clicking on this warning will bring up a page in Internet Explorer with links to antivirus software supported by Windows 7. From there you can click the link of your antivirus of choice, and as long as you don't open in a new tab, you'll be able to download the software fairly fast.

 


Paint, Calculator, Folders, and all other software included with the OS ran as they should. Occasionally, however, I would encounter a crash. Shall I assume that this is due to it being a beta version and will be fixed before the final version is released? I hope so, as I really enjoy this OS, and if you can get past the RAM usage, I think most people will as well.

 

Conclusion

Right now, Windows 7 may not be the fastest operating system, but it feels better than Vista ever did and is extremely fun to use. Boot up times seem to have increased, while logging in and waking up from sleep or standby is definitely quicker. The refreshed Aero interface for transparent windows is a small but pleasant visual upgrade, and the automatic maximizing of windows when you drag them up top is a new and interesting feature. While I did experience a few bugs, the occasional crash and a few obnoxious features, they can almost all be chocked up to the fact that this is still an unfinished project. There is still room for improvement, and I'm optimistic Microsoft will make sure Windows 7 is the XP killer. With the vast majority of netbooks running XP, Redmond's software giant really needs something to make manufacturers move on to something newer. After having used Windows 7 as the main OS for a few weeks now, I can say it runs surprisingly well. The underpowered Atom coupled with a slow hard drive and 2GB of RAM was enough to tame 7.

In the very unlikely event that Microsoft makes no changes at all, I would still choose this OS over Vista any day of the week. Sure it does use a lot of RAM, but with memory prices as low as they are, you'd be better off to get a couple more gigabytes than stick with eight year old XP. Let's face it, XP has lived a long and successful life. Somebody buy it an aluminum walker! One of the main reasons it has lived for so long is that it runs on barely half-decent hardware. However, with hardware quickly progressing and getting faster every day, handling a relatively "heavy" OS is not much of an issue anymore. Honestly, Vista was ahead of the mainstream hardware and that explains the bad press it got and still receives. Windows 7 may not have all that much to offer you over XP or Vista, but you will have to upgrade eventually and the way I see it, the sooner the better. Even though there isn't anything clearly revolutionary, it adds a bunch of small things that make the whole experience that much more interesting.

Right now, Windows 7 is basically an enhanced version of Vista - what Vista should have been back in January 2007. I hope that by the time it is done, it will be even faster and more user friendly. I can't wait to see where Microsoft goes with this; I hope they make good choices. If they do, Windows 7 could definitely be the operating to have. After all, OS X has been continuously gaining ground for a couple years and if Microsoft wants to conserve its lead on Apple, they need something big.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: