Anyone who reads The Digital Home knows that I have issues with Windows Vista. I think it's a sub-par operating system with too many quirks and far too many flaws to make it worth using. I only use Vista when I have to.
So I entered into the world of Windows 7 with some trepidation. Would it be the bloated mess that Vista is? Or would it bring me back to the golden days of Windows and whisk me away from the clutches of Apple? I didn't know.
But after using the beta (a term I use lightly, since this so-called beta is better than anything Microsoft ever shipped as Vista "Gold"), I can say with the utmost certainty that Windows 7 isn't only the best operating system I've used in the past decade, it might be my favorite of all time. And as a person with four Macs staring me in the face as I write this, that's something I never thought I'd say.
But I should note that so far, all we've seen from Microsoft is this beta. The company has a proven track record of promising, and even offering, features in betas that never seem to make their way to the finished product. Yes, I'm looking at you, Vista.
Regardless, the Windows 7 beta provided me with an unparalleled experience. From install to surfing the Web, it's fantastic.
The Windows 7 install provided the most surprising experience during my testing of the OS. Anyone who has ever installed a version of Windows knows that you normally need to set three hours aside to get it right. First, the install would take about 30 minutes to an hour, then you'd need to install all the software updates, and only then could you go out and start finding drivers so everything would work properly.
But installing Windows 7 is totally different. My install took about 30 minutes. Period. The drivers I needed installed were waiting for me and I wasn't required to download anything else.
It just worked.
The Windows 7 taskbar
As a Mac user, I've grown accustomed to the beauty of the Dock. It houses all my favorite apps, avoids clutter, and makes using the OS much easier than rummaging through menus to find an application, like I do in Vista.
But the Windows 7 taskbar takes that functionality to a whole new level. See, one of the major issues I always had with Windows was how difficult it made finding a specific window if many were open. With the help of the new Windows taskbar, that issue has been eliminated.
The new taskbar, much like Apple's Dock, includes all the applications, both open and closed, you have added to it. When you roll your mouse over an icon, thumbnails of every open instance of the application will be displayed. If you're unsure which window you want to open, you can hover your mouse over a specific thumbnail and it will be brought to the front in full size.
Though I enjoy using the Dock in Mac OS X, it doesn't compare on any level to the new Windows 7 taskbar. In Windows 7, I can find every instance of an app in a matter of seconds, thanks to outstanding usability and design. In Mac OS X, I'm required to right-click on the icon to find the window I want or resort to using Spaces. When going back to that after using Windows 7, I felt like something was missing. Something was: ease of use. Suffice it to say that Microsoft has totally changed the "Dock Game."
It's fast. Very fast.
Whenever you perform a clean install of an operating system, it's fast. Windows XP was snappy when I installed it on my machine and so was Vista. Mac OS X is still fast and responsive. But after using Windows 7 and comparing it to a clean install of Vista, I found it noticeably quicker.
Windows 7 and Windows Vista differ greatly in the amount of time they take to boot. Windows Vista generally takes too long, in my opinion. But Windows 7's boot time was significantly improved and matched the boot time on my Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard machine.
Beyond that, Windows 7 did everything else quicker than Vista. It opened applications faster and it shut down sooner. It loaded documents quickly and it took less time to open my music and listen to some tracks. Is the difference major? No. But it's noticeable. And that's all I ask for.
User Account Control is (almost) gone
When I used Windows Vista, one of my biggest complaints was the almost constant annoyance from Microsoft's attempt to hold my hand in making computing decisions: User Account Control. It was everywhere. "Do you really want to open this application?" "Do you really want to download this program?" "Do you really want to sit that way? It might hurt your back." It was extremely annoying.
But in Windows 7, the UAC has quietly stepped back into the shadows and I only saw it once or twice over the course of a week. I can live with that.
After using Windows 7 beta since its release, I can say that I'm genuinely impressed. For the first time in well over a decade, I have the desire to own the latest and greatest operating system from Microsoft. There was a time when I thought I'd never say that again. But finally, that day is here.
That doesn't mean I don't have any reservations, though. Sure, these four features (and a slew of others I didn't mention) get me excited about Windows 7, but there are still some question marks that scare me about Microsoft's latest OS.
I'll detail those Friday on The Digital Home.