January 23, 2009#

Is that really you, Microsoft?

“Change is the only constant.” I think it was Einstein who once said that. I also think it was Microsoft who tried to prove him wrong over the last years by constantly looking the other side whenever users did complain about their operating system. The ultimate proof I guess was Windows Vista. I don’t really hate it as much as most other people out there and I’m actually quite fine with it, but it took Microsoft way too long to get it released, the update, version and compatibility lists were way to complicated, it took them months after the initial release to get the system really stable and usable and finally, it’s hard to neglect the fact that Vista’s needs regarding memory, hard disk access and CPU load are quite a bit over the top, which is especially problematic for notebooks or even more netbooks. While I’m still quite ok with Vista though not particularly fond of it, I can absolutely understand everyone sticking with Windows XP for the time being. Microsoft never really admitted that Vista might have been a mistake, but obviously they must have taken note of that. Otherwise it’s inexplicable how they come to do so perfect with their next operating system, Windows 7.

windows7(2) It is mistakes from which we learn and judging by how much Microsoft has learned between Windows 7 and Vista, the latter one must have been a really, really big mistake. This time, Microsoft seems to be doing right everything. I’m finding it hard to believe I just said that, but looking at Windows 7 so far, I’d be lying if I said something else. From the beginning till now, they’ve gotten everything right. Towards the end of last year, they presented an early preview of the system, a preview with a stunning new taskbar UI and a preview that was probably more polished and stable as Vista was at its actual release. Since I didn’t have a spare computer by then, I decided to install this version on my everyday laptop, a HP 2710p with a 1.3 GHz ULV CPU. That’s exactly the type of computer where Vista will show it’s flaws in their full glory and it’s also the computer kind of computer that, once installed on, makes you fall in love with that new operating system with the big ‘7’ in its name.

Faster boot time, tremendously faster shutdown / standby time and a really noticeable increase in battery runtime are just a few things Windows Vista promised and Windows 7 actually delivers. The really big thing though is the new taskbar UI (once activated using the magic trick here). Looking really closely, in Vista, I can maybe find one or two good and really helpful UI improvements, the rest just being optical sugar. Now in Windows 7 I can instantly name like 20 new features and improvements on the UI, at least 18 of which are of the type “can’t live without it anymore”. And I really mean that. Ever since I touched that Windows 7 CTP, I’ve been so waiting for Microsoft to release a feature complete Beta version with a reasonable installer so I can update the rest of my computer to Windows 7. The difference between the old taskbar and the new super bar is just enormous, which is also the reason why I don’t want to list the changes here now but rather ask you to wait for another blog post coming within the next days which will cover just the new UI.

Anyway, besides all the improvements I just mentioned, Microsoft added a lot of minor tweaks, like a modern UI for old programs like Word Pad and Paint, an improved calculator, Aero Peek and Snap window arrangement aids, quicker Wi-Fi connection management, sidebar gadgets without the sidebar, easier file sharing on home networks, tablet PC and touch panel improvements, and many more.

From the moment of naming the product, when they kept the clear and simple codename Windows 7 as a final product name instead of some stylish, trendy new marketing name to the point where they underestimated the mass of downloads of the EARLY published PUBLIC beta version, apologized for the error and corrected it by extending the download period and removing the limit on the number of license keys they were going to give out, Microsoft has clearly shown one thing: they have heard the complaints and are willing to react and change things. Personally I think, this time, they got it ALL right! And unless they miraculously find a way to screw it all up right before the finish line, I think Windows 7 will be what Vista was promised to be and much more, probably the best operating system we’ve seen from that company in over ten years!

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