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Front Page » November 17, 2009 » Tech Tips » The debut of Microsoft Windows 7
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The debut of Microsoft Windows 7

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Sun Advocate/Emery County Progress

In November of 1985, Microsoft made its first step into the graphical computing era with the debut of Windows 1.0. Nearly a quarter of a century later, on Oct. 22, 2009, Windows 7 - Microsoft's latest operating system - hit store shelves and was released to the masses. The question that many seem to be asking themselves is, what is this new version of Windows all about?

During the company's long history, Microsoft has concocted several versions of the Windows operating system - its flagship product. Some versions have been more successful than others. Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows XP, for example, were largely big successes. Windows Millenium Edition (ME) and Windows Vista, on the other hand, didn't fare so well.

In fact, Windows Vista, 7's immediate predecessor, was the target of a great deal of scrutiny that came from both IT professionals and general consumers alike. Many criticized Windows Vista, claiming it had critical performance problems, major stability issues, unusually high system requirements, and a major lack of backwards compatibility with older versions of Windows.

The User Access Control (UAC), which was considered by Microsoft as a security enhancement to Vista, also became a major point of contention with a number of computer users, who found its "allow or deny" mentality more of a constant nag than anything else. It became such a point of contention that Apple began airing satirical commercials about UAC to convince Windows users to switch to Macintosh.

But Microsoft insists that Windows has turned over a new leaf with the release of 7. They say it's faster and more secure, making it the greatest version of Windows ever made to date.

Earlier this year, Microsoft handed out a free, public release candidate of Windows 7. Like any release candidate (RC), this version of 7 was a pre-release of sorts and hadn't been polished like the final version was. But it was close enough to the final version to give any would-be computer enthusiast a good look at its look and feel.

So, like many others across the globe, I was curious what Windows 7 was all about, and downloaded a copy of the RC. The installation went smoothly and before long, I was test driving the "latest and greatest" Windows available.

After several months of use, I have found that Windows 7 actually comes with a great deal of pros:

Performance. First, there's no doubt that Windows 7 out-paces its predecessor, Windows Vista, when it comes to performance. 7 is responsive and snappy. It is harder to determine, however, if 7 is faster than XP. The performance gap is probably wider with older computers more than a year or two old.

Compatibility. Older software or programs designed to run on XP or earlier versions of Windows will feel far more at home on Windows 7 than they ever did on Vista. Microsoft has made great strides to re-establish XP-level compatibility in 7. But that doesn't mean older programs will work correctly in 7, or at all, for that matter.

XP Mode. Microsoft has also introduced a feature they call "XP Mode" for users that absolutely require total compatibility with Windows XP. It does so by simulating an XP environment. Programs that run in XP mode will undoubtedly run slower than those that don't, however, because of the overhead involved in the simulation process.

User Access Control (UAC). Microsoft has introduced a setting that lets users of Windows 7 control exactly how much interaction they want with UAC. The slider goes from no interaction to extreme interaction, with various levels of interaction in the middle. Those that want to leave UAC on but quiet it down a little now have that option.

Window cascade. Drag a program beyond the edge of the screen, and Windows 7 will resize and reposition the program's window so that it touches the top, side and bottom of the desktop, but is only half the width of the total screen area. This can make working with multiple windows of the same screen easier, like copying files between two file explorer windows, for example.

Federated search. Windows 7 takes Vista's search capabilities a step further by allowing users to search for content on the PC as well as files on other computers.

New task bar. Visually, Windows 7 has the same look and feel of Windows Vista, inheriting the same Aero interface, with by and large the same icons, window decorations and so on.

The most notable visual difference between the two is the task bar, which has undergone more than just visual changes. It's as if the "Dock" menu from Apple's operating system, Mac OS-X, was combined with the task bar from Windows Vista.

The task bar, now much taller than before, no longer displays the name of the program aside the icon. Multiple instances, or copies of a given program, now stack on top of each other. Multiple Internet browser windows, for example, show up as a grouping of stacked icons. Clicking on the icon group shows the name of each instance or window of the program. Right clicking the group provides various options, like pinning the icon to the task bar, so it becomes permanently attached to the task bar, even when the program is closed.

Libraries. Windows 7 comes with a series of personal libraries that help make items easier to access. These libraries (Music, Videos, Documents, etc), called "meta-folders" by some, behave much like folders, but are actually a sort of document organization system. A typical computer may contain thousands of files, but the user may only access a handful of them frequently. Users can add those files or folders to their library, which makes them easier to get to.

Security. Microsoft's claims that Windows 7 is the most secure version of Windows yet. Whether or not it's more secure than Macintosh OS-X, Linux or other computer operating systems is anyone's guess.

But Windows 7 also comes with some cons as well.

Higher system requirements. First, it does come with higher system requirements than that of Windows XP. That means 7 probably shouldn't be installed on older computers. But if Windows 7 simply comes with a new computer, system requirements shouldn't be an issue.

Digital Rights Management. Digital Rights Management (DRM) was a contentious issue when Windows Vista hit the shelves, since DRM controls what a user can or cannot do with a file or other digital resource (like a video or audio output device). It is hard to know how much of an influence DRM has had on Windows 7.

XP Mode. While XP Mode is sure to calm fears among potential buyers about application compatibility with Windows XP, it's also important to know that XP Mode won't run on just any computer and requires specific hardware level features found only in the latest computers. This won't affect most computers that come new with Windows 7 preloaded, but it may affect those that may consider upgrading from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7.

Shutdown button. As small as it seems, the behavior of the shutdown button on the Windows 7 start menu is as annoying as the one in Vista. It's awkward to navigate, and does not ask for confirmation. With one misstep of the mouse, a system can begin to shut down instead of sleep. This will be a major annoyance for some users.

Too many editions. Like Vista, Windows 7 comes in a handful of editions, or versions, and makes choosing the right version confusing and difficult.

In summary, is Windows 7 superior to Windows Vista? In my opinion, absolutely. Is it better than Windows XP? Well, maybe. I'm not a big fan of the Aero interface that Vista and 7 share. Like many, my opinion is that Windows 7 is a "do-over" of Windows Vista, and I don't believe it's as revolutionary as Microsoft claims that it is, especially since many of the so-called new features are already present in Mac and Linux (with KDE or GNOME). On the other hand, Windows XP is 8 years old this year (old for a computer operating system), and is becoming limited with what it can do with the latest and greatest hardware. XP also has it's host of security woes as well.

In the end, while Windows 7 provides a far superior experience to Vista, the expense of upgrading may not warrant the change, especially for those with older computers. Some may want to consider waiting until they purchase another computer before they upgrade to Windows 7.

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