Window of opportunity.
Published in The Student, University of Edinburgh’s oldest student newspaper
Had a more computer-savvy follower ascended Mount Horeb to receive the Ten Commandments, they would have come back down with 11. And it would have read in the Book of Tech: “11Thou shalt not buy an operating system upon its day of release”, and then in harshly chiselled characters, “especially from those bastards at Microsoft.”
Microsoft has a bad reputation when it comes to releasing new operating systems. Both Windows XP and Vista were riddled with bugs and crash issues when released and were rightly met with indignation. Microsoft’s tendency to sell unfinished products to the public will only truly be bested should Ford choose to offer the new GT with deflated tyres, a broken engine and a few charred crash-test dummies in the boot.
Which is why buying a new Windows system on Day One is a risky move. The general advice is to just ignore it for a few months and let those brave souls who queued up all night for the first copies discover all the major bugs for you. Once Microsoft addresses these faults they release large-scale fixes, known as service packs, and only then should you even consider taking out your wallet. Windows XP only came into its own a few years after the initial launch thanks to its second service pack.
Windows 7 is different. Windows 7 works beautifully right out of the box. This is because Windows 7 is unaware that it is in fact Windows Vista: Service Pack 2.
Many of Windows 7’s new features are flat-out apologies for Vista’s numerous misdemeanours. The UAC nanny that would bombard you with security prompts for the most mundane of actions can now be scaled back, so you don’t have to plead your case when moving, renaming and opening a file. The glossy, translucent windows from the Aero Theme no longer come at the cost of performance. And with Windows 7 being more efficient overall – start up and shut down times are noticeably shorter – if you can run Vista, you can run Windows 7 with ease.
The increase in speed is also evident when searching your computer. The search functions are now a viable option. A tap of the once forlorn Windows key brings up the start menu where you can search files, programs and the control panel in real-time. Although this now indispensible searcher is inspired entirely by the Mac’s Spotlight function, it’s nice to see that the Windows key is finally pulling its weight – unlike Alt Gr which is still bloody useless.
The new Libraries feature also aims to reduce the time spent wasted looking for that misplaced file. These take the form of a sort of virtual folder that collates files into the four essential food groups: music, pictures, videos and documents, linking to their locations. How this is supposed to make things quicker eludes me for the time being, as I find myself using the searcher function more times than not. Also I can’t seem to delete the Libraries icon from my desktop, which is enough to make me distrust the damn thing entirely.
The most pleasing change in Windows 7 is also its most visually distinct. The Quick Launch and taskbar have been merged into a new multi-purpose Taskbar. Favourite program buttons can be pinned and launched directly from the Taskbar, while still allowing switching between open windows and applications. While this hardly sounds revolutionary – remember that this strip hasn’t changed much since Windows 95 – the innovation is in the details. Multiple instances of a window are now tidily stacked together. Roll the mouse over the button and a thumbnail preview of the window appears above. Roll over the preview and all other windows turn invisible. Simple and nimble.
Windows 7 is different. Windows 7 works beautifully right out of the box. This is because Windows 7 is unaware that it is in fact Windows Vista: Service Pack 2
A new layer of functionality is added to the Taskbar and it doesn’t totally suck. Right-clicking on a button brings up a context-sensitive Jumplist. The Jumplist for Libraries brings up pinned and frequented folders; Word brings up a list of recent documents; and Internet Explorer has favourite websites and the ability to start an InPrivate/InPorn browsing session. While it’s still early days yet for third-party programs, the thumbnail for iTunes has an elegant little playback control, so there is potential here. Not to mention the whole Taskbar is a whopping ten pixels taller – that’s 15 years of progress right there, folks.
The remaining notable features are really just the basic upgrades and revisions you’d expect from ‘the latest version’. But while basic programs like Paint and WordPad receive much needed facelifts and the wallpapers look like they were designed by Japanese anime artists on crystal meth, there’s still plenty of the old Windows agony to be found. Why don’t they get rid of the Registry and just install everything in the one place? Why do the compatibility virtual machines still not work? Why are there so many versions on offer each with seemingly random features? Why is there no Sudoku or Poker but Internet Fucking Checkers is brought back from the dead? Why do I have to run things as an administrator on my laptop?
But if those questions bothered me that much then I’d just succumb to peer pressure and just buy a Mac. The only question that matters to most people is whether or not Windows 7 is better than Vista. And it is, by miles, better than Vista. It’s quicker, hasn’t crashed on me once and is easier to use. But more importantly, I’m glad I’m not using XP anymore. Windows 7 makes XP feel decrepit and biblically old, and that’s as big a success as Microsoft could have hoped for.