Thursday, 24 June 2010

Review: Windows 7

Shock, horror!! Surely we don't do Window$ here?

No. I certainly haven't given M$ any money either. I have been providing some tech support to a friend with a new HP, Window$ 7 laptop, however. So here, almost year after release, my less-than-expert opinion on the Redmond Rocket.

So for a challenge, try to get data off a failing Celeron 500MHz laptop with Vista Home Basic. Runs as fast as frozen treacle, should never have had Vista installed on it. The motherboard gave up in protest on installing Vista Service Pack 2. Enter new Intel i3-mobile HP laptop with Windows 7 Home Premium and 2Gb of memory...

Boot speed: W-7 boots faster than Vista (how could it not), but slower than any of my Linux machines.

Interface: the familiar Aero interface with glossy and blurry-transparent effects is all shiny. I find myself preferring KDE 4.4! partly because it's still not quick and things stutter, even on the HP with decent graphics and 2Gb of memory. Yet another shock. Wide-screen on 15.6inches, it's got a personality disorder with big icons in the menus and the Quick-launch bar, but ridiculously tiny icons in the sys-tray. Including the ludicrous pop-out panel for the hidden icons.

Menus: Not slick at all, just one jumble of folders and programs in no discernible order except for new stuff tacked on the bottom. Small and fiddly to operate cascading menu entries - why is everything so narrow in such a small typeface? With the dubious track-pad on the HP, very difficult to hit the target. Peeing into a thimble from 10 feet would be easier.

File management: Windows Explorer in it's Vista/7 incarnation is an unforgivable mess. Menus turned off by default, toolbars not helpful, are the column attributes on random selection for each folder or something? 

File Searching: it's faster than Vista but that's comparing a sedan chair to a Honda Civic. I still want the Porsche. The filtering options are not as clear as I would like. Also I miss my 'search-dog' in the filters panel in XP. It was easy to apply multiple search filters there and the animated dog kept me amused. I find I'm watching a green progress bar building very very slowly to the right. It's worse on non-indexed locations.

Networking: W-7 found the HP's wireless adapter and Belkin router, configured them and only needed the WPK-PSA key to get hooked up to the internet. It still gives me nothing by way of a monitor of up- and down-load speed on the connection. HomeGroups might just make life simpler in future if I'm networking all-W-7 machines.

Browsing: Internet Explorer 8 is functional and I actually like it more than the laptop's owner. It's a competant enough browser, if a little insecure... We put Firefox straight on and set to default. That doesn't stop applications seeking updates launching into IE8, regardless of settings, though.

Security: Windows Defender works well enough, spotted a bit of nag-ware we wanted rid of and took care of it. Windows Update is, well, Windows Update; it's only as good as the patches supplied. They are both faster than the Vista versions. Windows Firewall also does its' job. Windows 7's Action Center (not the best name, but...) does a good job of compressing all of Windows' update/alert notifications into one panel with one icon.

Migration
I rescued the disk from the old machine, mounted it in an external USB-SATA enclosure, thinking that the Window$ Easy Transfer (WET) utility in W-7 would take charge and import all the data and settings. Unfortunately WET assumes that it's been run on the old machine prior to import, so it actually has no concept of importing from a backup drive.

So I had to do it the old fashioned way with a file manager.

I removed the MS-Office 2007 trial edition and downloaded Open Office (which is quick). I binned Norton Internet Security and installed AVG 8.5 to run alongside the Windows Firewall, which is perfectly adequate for the casual user.

Then I hit the problem with Thunderbird unable to migrate profiles on it's own; fortunately I was able to lookup which folders to copy from where on the old drive to the new, then point Thunderbird to them under a new default profile.

Fortunately the HP PSC1200-series multi-function printer drivers downloaded and installed right first time.

Performance
I removed as much of the trial-ware and nag-ware as I could. Tweaked the Start-up applications list. That left me with more than I would like and a large list of running services, some of which I still couldn't identify. As a result the PC was faster when I finished than when it came out the box. But I expected it to fly. It doesn't. I don't know where the W-7 code drains the horsepower I just know an i3 machine like this should be quicker.

Libraries
Don't go there. No, really. Don't go there... Twenty years of IT at home and work and I'm still confused.

Verdict
It may be 'Vista done right': quicker, shinier, more reliable. It's not enough for me. It still carries the Vista baggage I don't like and lacks the XP facilities I do. The new W-7 features aren't all evident or easily discovered unless you get the guided tour. Which may be just as well as some behaviours of 'drag and drop' result in 'pin to the taskbar', not 'launch and open'. At risk of sounding nostalgic, we seem to have gained in complexity without any payback in usability or productivity. Yes, it works, but so does a wheelbarrow.  I still want the Porsche.  RC

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