Windows 7: the First Month Review, Part 2

Contributing Editor

Windows 7 reviewThis is a 3-part review of the first month with Microsoft Windows 7. In part one, we discussed installation and the interface. Today, we look at productivity, software and security.

Productivity

One of the best new productivity features is jumplists. Right-clicking a taskbar icon or hovering over an icon in the Start menu shows a list of documents that have been recently opened by that application. Regularly-used files can be pinned to the jumplist for easy access.

Libraries is another great feature that few people will notice but it can save time. In essence, a library is a list of associated folders. For example, you might store photos in “D:My Pictures” and “E:My Camera”. You can add both locations to a “Photos” library and treat it as though it was a single unified folder for searching, saving, etc.

Networking has been improved and Windows 7 introduces a “HomeGroup” which simplifies file and printer sharing across multiple devices. The options are still a little daunting for novice users, but it’s a step in the right direction.

We can’t examine productivity without discussing the dreaded User Account Control (UAC). This was perhaps the most irritating “feature” ever introduced and Vista continually nagged for permission to do anything (until you disabled the damn thing). The UAC is still in Windows 7, but it’s less intrusive and significantly easier to configure. Perhaps the Windows 7 UAC isn’t an improvement because it should never have effected productivity in the first place. But for many Vista users, it’s a dream come true.

Finally, we have XP Mode. For me, this was one of the most compelling reasons to upgrade because it allows you to run real versions of IE6 and IE7 (or any XP program) as if it were a native Windows 7 application. Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate users are provided with a fully-licensed copy of XP SP3 which is easy to set up (see Run IE6, IE7, and IE8 on the Same Machine Using Windows 7 XP Mode). However, it’s also possible to obtain many of the benefits of XP Mode on Windows 7 Home.

IE6, IE7 and IE8 on the same Windows 7 desktop

Software

Windows 7 provides surprisingly little software. That’s good — I really don’t need Photo Gallery, MSN Messenger or all the other dross that cluttered my system. Some have complained, but I think it’s good Microsoft have returned to basics. I’m sure anti-trust regulators do too.

Should you need it, all the software is available to download from http://download.live.com/. Links are provided throughout the system and in the Windows update.

For developers, Internet Information Server (IIS) is still available as a component on all versions of Windows 7. Microsoft has also released the Web Platform Installer which installs and configures a variety of development systems such as PHP, SQL Server Express, Visual Web Developer, and popular applications such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. That’s a good move. Microsoft appear to be embracing open source using Windows as the development platform.

Internet Explorer 8.0 remains omnipresent in Windows 7, although European users should eventually see the browser ballot screen if they retain IE as their default browser. Ballot screen issues are still being agreed, but most developers will switch browsers within 10 seconds of Windows booting for the first time.

Few people realize the incredible lengths Microsoft go to with software compatibility. I’m yet to find an application written for a previous version of Windows that does not work … although I’m probably more cautious than some.

My only gripe is the lack of native 64-bit software. Most 32-bit applications will work without a hitch, so you’ll be able to install Firefox and Microsoft Office. However, issues can occur when 32-bit software needs to access a device with a 64-bit driver. For example, Skype’s webcam functionality fails and few media player codecs are available in 64-bit versions. The ludicrous situation is highlighted by Java: you need both the 32-bit and 64-bit runtimes installed depending on which applications you want to run. It’s a mess that will confuse users and it really should have been solved well before 2009.

Security

Microsoft claim Windows 7 is the most secure version to date. I’m not doubting it. However, British security company Prevx recently suggested Windows 7 users were experiencing a “black screen of death” owing to a Microsoft update. This claim has been retracted since malware was discovered to be the culprit.

It’s evident that Windows 7 can still be infected. However, in my opinion, the anti-virus industry makes a lot of noise about Windows security because they have the most to gain. Horror stories and paranoia feed their profits.

A computer system is only as secure as the person who’s using it. Novices who open every email attachment and click “yes” to every software installation will undoubtedly stumble across malware and viruses. That won’t happen if you’re careful: I’ve run every version of Windows from v2.0 without a memory-resident anti-virus solution and have yet to be infected.

Until recently, I used lightweight solutions such as ClamWin to check the integrity downloaded files. However, I’ve now opted for Microsoft Security Essentials — independent tests show it offers better security than many, it’s fast enough, and doesn’t hog your hard disk or memory. SE isn’t provided with Windows 7, but it’s worth considering if you usually purchase anti-virus software.

In my next post, we discuss performance and the future for Microsoft and Windows.

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  • ladychavez

    Great comments. I’ve recently bought a new desktop with Windows 7, and am impressed by the quick shutdown and restart times, as well as the enhanced window choosing options when you have multiple windows of the same program open – much more convenient.

    I’m curious to read your future installments of this series. Cheers!

  • http://designintheraw.com Roy Ho

    I have found several issues with W7 64 bit. First is the mouse. The precision on the same Logitech RX1500 I used on Vista 64, is now degraded. Sure it still tracks fast when moving the mouse around but when you go to Photoshop and try to do a fine 1 pixel adjustment, you will notice it is jumpy. And yes it is the latest drivers.

    Second, my graphics card driver would sometimes take a dump in W7 and you will get a lovely icon stating a problem has occurred with the graphics card and you will get a momentary black screen. I am using the GTX285 with the latest drivers.

    I am trying to love W7, I really am….I hope vendors and Microsoft pushing out 100% compatible drivers soon….

  • mhamann

    You mention problems with 64-bit versions of Windows 7, but relate that to all non-Windows products. You should be more clear that this is not a problem with the operating system itself, rather an issue with 3rd party vendors laziness in taking care of their issues. I agree that this should’ve been rectified before now, especially since Vista 64-bit editions use the same architecture. The “exception” to this is Microsoft’s Office products. Office 2007 was too far into the production process to create a 64-bit edition. This is rectified with Office 2010 which comes in both 32 and 64-bit versions. Users can choose whichever they want.

    Windows 7 64-bit is every bit as good as it’s 32-bit counterpart, if not better. The problem lies in the cooperation of other software vendors.

  • dawgbone

    Curious… what on earth are you people doing all day that the UAC bugs you that much? The only time I ever get it is when I install a new program or try to make changes to the settings. Both are rare enough that it isn’t a problem. The only exception is when you first get a new system and have to install a lot of programs on it right off the bat… I’ll disable UAC then re-enable after I finish the installations.

  • Eric_HE

    There are too much software i do not need in Windows,wo hope W7 provides little software