Windows 7 – better than sliced bread

24 02 2009

If you’d like to see me give screenshots (at full resolution, instead of the crappy Youtube video quality) or more info of anything else at all, let me know and I’ll post as much as I can about it.

The public Windows 7 beta is build number 7000 (nicely timed, Microsoft).

Honestly, the easiest way to get the beta (as of the time of this writing) is to use an MSDN account.  MS really gives away their software like candy to anybody with an account on MSDN.  You can generate activation keys on the spot, and download whatever software you want.

Especially in light of jokes (such as the one found here) and overly harsh criticisms,  I thought I’d help defend Windows 7.  (Notice that I didn’t say that I was defending Microsoft.)

I run the Windows 7 beta as my primary operating system, currently, so I’m speaking from 100% pure experience.  And your Linux/Unix lovers will need to come to terms with the fact that Windows is getting better and better, not worse and worse.  If you think it runs too slow, then your computer is outdated for personal desktop use on a modern operating system for professional software.  I would like to take this opportunity to shout out to a nameless person whom I met one evening, to let him know that if only Windows had a built-in SSH server and a distribution of gcc or something, it would give Linux a run for its money, in terms of the tech world.  The base kernel has been shrinking in size with each release, and in all reality, it’s getting faster.  If it appears to be slowing down, then it’s because your GPU sucks, and you need a video card.  Instead of running the visuals in Windows on your raw CPU, Vista and Win7 tap into the Graphics Processing Unit to more intelligently dish out the visual work load.  That way, your actual computing doesn’t need to bump shoulders with graphics stuff.

Some of the greatest things about Windows 7 are simply the UI improvements.  People take stabbing gashes at Win7 for simply being Vista in a new skin.  Partly true.  But are you completely daft?  Giving Vista a UI overhaul is great!  Win7 is the way that Vista was meant to be from the very beginning.  MS had some troubles back in the late days of XP, and couldn’t focus on Vista enough.  Therefore, Vista came out kind of gimpy-like; it was XP in a new skin, with only a few improvements.  In fact, a lot of the various menus were just lame rips of the old XP menus.  For instance, if you right click your Vista desktop and choose “Personalize”, just about any of the links you can click from there are just single-tab settings dialogs.

Windows 7 fixes that.  It improves upon so many of the various menus, that you’ll grumble to yourself the next time you have to use XP’s menus.

Aside from that, the taskbar got a makeover.  The Quicklaunch toolbar has been sacrificed in favor of the new taskbar.  Those familiar with XP’s “Pin to start menu” option will quickly catch on, since you now have a “Pin to taskbar” option to accompany it.  Basically, your icons get pinned to the taskbar so that they act like the old Quicklaunch toolbar.  However, when you click on the icon, it will become “active”, and the ‘quicklaunch’-ish icon then becomes the active window on the taskbar.

You can do drag-and-drop reordering on the taskbar.

The taskbar items are kinda slick now, as they glow according to the most outlying color in the icon.  Don’t think that this is too much of a waste of system graphics time– MS had been going the route of ‘vector’ graphics, which are calculated in real time, rather than trying to apply bloated bitmaps to everything.  It seems to me that it tries to pick a color on the lighter half of the color spectrum, so that it does in fact “glow” and not “emit dark shades”.  It might seem trivial, but it’s really nice for us visual folks.  It’s great to be able to quickly associate a color with your open programs.

On a similar note, any tasks which take a progress bar will actually display the progress underneath the text of the taskbar item.  Kind of hard to visualize without a graphic:


I threw open a few extra windows for you to see.  Notice that Photoshop is in the middle of the other icons because it is normally “pinned” to the taskbar, but I have it running, so it’s expanded.  Also, it  knows that my instance of Chrome and Gmail are both running from the same executable, so it links them together, and lets the glowly highlight spill into the Gmail item.  The glow changes to red on the Gmail item because the icon’s color is different than the normal Chrome item.  My mouse was sitting at about 2/3 of the length of my Chrome item.

Hidden system tray items pop *up* into a little tray window, so that they don’t have to worry about animating into some goofy sliding motion that crunches your taskbar items.

My wireless signal is represented by an actual signal icon in the system tray, instead of a useless “you have a connection, but i won’t tell you how good it is” icon.

FINALLY (holy heavens) the clock in the system tray tells you what the date is, as well.

That little vertical rectangle at the far right side of the taskbar is a magical “show me the desktop” button.  if you click it, your windows will minimize.  If you just hover over it though, all your windows will go transparent, leaving only outlines, so that you can see down to the desktop if you want, without actually minimizing everything.  This is nice if you have desktop widgets running down there.  (The Sidebar is gone, as it is now just a bunch of free-floating widgets.)  This eliminates the need to make your widgets “always on top” if you don’t really want them to be.  As soon as your mouse moves away from the hovering-enforced hot-spot, your windows come back into full opacity.

Similarly, if you hover your mouse over a window preview on the taskbar, all other windows will fade into the same Aero-esque outlines, while the window whose preview you’re hovering over will stay at full opacity.  Nice for a developer like me, when I’ve got several windows open from the same program.  I quickly lose track of which window is which, so visual feedback like that is wonderful.

And check out this “removable device” popup when you click on the icon in the taskbar:

removablemediaI’ve got one of those 12-in-1 memory card drives, so it was pretty useless in Vista or XP when I clickedon that icon, because it would only tell you random drive letters and the like.  Now, it tries to split it up by the physical hardware.  I intentionally put in my camera and iPod, so that you can see what kind of effect they were shooting for this time around.  That main “F:\” section on the bottom is my 12-in-1 card reader, which has 5 slots in it.  Only one currently has a card in it, so it naturally shows the card’s  name.

On a related note, Windows Explorer now hides (by default, changeable via options) your empty drives, so that if there’s nothing in it, you won’t be overwhelmed by an onslaught of drive letters, where you have to guess-and-check to discover which one your card is in.  I think  your CD/DVD drive stays there at all times though… not sure.  Actually, I checked last night, and it does hide CD/DVD drives, though if you simply click on “My computer”, it’ll show you all your drives, whether they have media in them or not.

The other major thing that “matters” is this new thing called your Libraries.  A Library is basically a folder that aggregates files from other ‘source’ folders.  For instance, I have a backup external harddrive, and so my Pictures Library aggregates from “My Pictures” (from my User folder), “Public Pictures”, and then my backup drive’s “Picture” folder.  Pretty sweet.  They’re trying to have the Libraries replace your User folder’s “Documents”, “Pictures”, etc… You still have access to your personal folder, but by using the Libraries, you don’t have to worry about digging around to see Public documents, images, or videos… they’re just right there in one spot, even though they exist in separate spots.

I won’t bore you with the other little details, but let it be known that Win7 is a big step forward.  It seems to take up 150-250mb less RAM when turned on and sitting idle in it’s “ready” state after startup.  Even while I was running a remote desktop session last night, along with Hamachi, the basic iPod services, and a few other nickknacks, the OS was running at 632mb of RAM usage.  Compare that to my work machine with Vista Business on it, which instantly takes up about 865-900 after startup.

And finally, a FANTABULOUS selling point is that it’s written on the same Vista code-base, so programs are generally compatible with Windows 7 right out of the box.  Photoshop warned me that it couldn’t verify that I was running Vista SP1, but allowed me to install anyway.  My motherboard driver refused to install because it was coded by a bunch of lame idiot programmers who detected my OS’s name, rather than my OS’s actual capabilities.  Let that be a note for programmers everywhere: code with your platform’s/object’s abilities in mind, not it’s actual type.

And that’s that.  I may post more in the future.