I’ve been using Ubuntu 9.04 (64 bit) as my sole operating system for many months now. I’ve been a long time Linux user and enthusiast however this was the first time I’d fully migrated over to Linux at home. There were two reasons for this switch, the first being that 9.04 had just hit the shelves at the time I upgraded my system, the other being that my new system had 6gb of RAM and my 32 bit Windows XP install did not utilize that. After a quick jaunt with Windows Vista (which is a nightmare I will not get into with this post) I decided to switch fully over to 64 bit Ubuntu.
Several months later I found myself still very happy with that decision, however after all the Windows 7 hype I decided to install the RTM and give it a try. So I downloaded a copy of the 64 bit image and went to work. I had decided that I would give it a full 7 days before I let myself boot back into Ubuntu.
Athlon Quad Core Phenom 9950
Asus M3N78-VM Motherboard w/ Onboard Video, LAN and Sound (disabled)
6gb DDR2 RAM @ 800 MHz
SoundBlaster Live! Value (ancient, I know)
750gb SATA2 HDD
1tb SATA 2 HDD
And several ATA100 HDDs as well
I was hopeful when it came to the installation process. I had heard that Microsoft shifted towards an unattended installer which would ask the questions either up front or at the end rather than require you to sit there for an hour answering them as it installed. That part turned out to be true, but the install process was not quite as hassle free as I had hoped.
I ran into a road block at the first step. I selected the first partition of my SATA drive and told it to delete the Windows Vista install and create a new partition. I was presented with a rather vague error:
Setup was unable to create a new system partition or locate an existing system partition
It then directed me to read the error log, which I could never locate. So I was a little frustrated but figured I could solve it. So I booted into Linux and deleted the partition with GParted and left it as unformatted. The installer gave me the same error. Next I went into my BIOS and disabled my IDE controller leaving only my SATA drive visible. This did the trick and I was on my way with the install process. From there on it was it was a pleasent experience, and I was successfully logged into Windows 7 only a short while later.
And then I encountered my next set of road blocks. Much like Vista, I was presented with an abundance of unknown hardware. I put in my motherboard’s driver CD and found it only offered working drivers for 2 devices. Windows Update took care of a few more. In the end I was stuck with 3 unknown devices, my sound card, a PCI Input Device and the Mass Storage Controller.
Since I dont use the game port on my sound card I disabled PCI Input Device and moved on to the sound card drivers. They werent too hard to find, about 10 minutes of Googling found me 64 bit Vista drivers that did the job. From there it was the unpleasent task of finding drivers for my ATA Controller Card. I considered plugging the drives directly into my motherboard but the whole reason I was using the controller card was because I couldnt find Linux drivers for the onboard controller. Since I wanted to keep the hardware consistant on my dual boot I was forced to spend hours trying to find drivers. It took about 2-3 hours but eventually I found some Promise ATA 100 drivers for 64 bit Vista. After that I had all my drives available and was able to start exploring what was new with Windows 7.
Having almost entirely skipped over Vista I found it hard to determine what what was actually new in Windows 7 and not something that was implimented in Windows Vista. That being said, there was one new feature that was overwhelmingly obvoius — the superbar. This is something I had heard about beforehand and had expected to hate it. Whenever I use Windows XP the first thing I do with my account is set it to use the classic start menu (as it was in Windows 98). Seeing how I was never a fan of the XP or Vista start menu changes I only assumed that I would despise the new superbar. Oh how wrong I was.
The truth is, the superbar is incredibly intuitive and useful. It eliminates the clutter and still allows me to quickly access my running programs. Plus the ability to see the progress of a download just from the icon is quite handy as well. That being said, it still has some quirks. For example, it shows an extra entry for some programs, such as MSN Messenger and CamStudio. One other gripe is that there is no way to enable another bar for my second monitor. But I’m confident they will have these issues resolved before it is launched.
In case you have seen or heard about the superbar and what makes it different, here’s a video I dug up on YouTube:
As you can see, the taskbar entries have been reduced to their icons (though the text can be enabled if you prefer it). The icons are grouped much like they could be in XP if your bar filled up, but now you can hover over them and see a preview of each entry and jump to them quickly. You can also “pin” an entry to the bar so if it is not currently running it becomes a shortcut, so in effect the quick launch bar has been merged with the regular task bar.
Such a simple yet powerful addition. I can’t believe we didn’t have these sooner. On XP I always remapped the My Documents, My Music and My Pictures folders to another drive. That way when it was time to reformat you didn’t have to work about backing all that data up, it was already safe on another drive. With Windows 7 these special folders have been replaced by Libraries which can be mapped to different parts of your file system, whether it’s in one folder or many doesn’t matter.
An example of how this would be useful is if you had several programs installed that each put music in different folders, so you’d tell the Library to look in iTunes’ default directory as well as eMule and BitTorrent’s download directories as well. So now when you open your My Music library you see the results from all of these other folders as if they were in one folder.
Although this was first introduced in Vista, it has been greatly improved with Windows 7. As someone who frequently use the run dialog in Windows XP in or to save time, Instant Search felt very natural to me. Just hit the Windows button and start typing what you want, unlike with the run command you don’t need to type the whole name or even know where it is, it will filter the results as you type and break them up into different categories. I very rarely find myself browsing through the menu for an application, it’s much faster to just use Instant Search or just pin it to the superbar if you’re going to be using it often.
This is a bit of a strange one which I find myself forgetting about frequently. Just grab the title bar of window and give it a shake and all of the other windows will minimize automatically. It’s great for getting rid of the clutter of windows on your screen.
An especially useful feature if you have a wide screen monitor. Just drag a window to the far edge of the screen and it will snap to it, taking up exactly half of the screen. Great for when you’re writing a document and need another document or website open for reference. I personally find this feature annoying more than I do useful, but that is likely the result of the way I use my computer and the fact that I always have a dual monitor setup. But to each his own.
This is one that is especially useful if you use a laptop that you dock when at home. Hold down the Windows key and press P (Win+P) and you will get a screen showing you four options:
One of the biggest improvements in Windows 7 is its increased performance. Unlike Vista, which is a resource hog, Windows 7 runs faster than any other operating system has on my computer (that’s partially due to Windows XP not seeing all my ram and not being 64 bit). In fact, Windows 7 has such a small foot print that you can use it any computer that ran Windows XP or for netbooks. Not only does it run programs faster, but it boots in a fraction of the time that any previous Windows release has. So if you’ve been thinking about upgrading your Vista computer because it’s starting to get slow, consider just upgrading to Windows 7.
There’s a hundred more things I could cover about Windows 7, but most of them are so subtle that there isn’t much to say about them individually, but as a whole they have created an amazing new experience. So I won’t bore you with a paragraph about the new Calculator or the fact that you can set it up to switch backgrounds every thirty minutes. What I will say is this; try it! If you’re at all skeptical due to a bad experience with Vista or you’re just another Mac Fanboy I challenge you to try it out for a few days. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. As for myself, I’ll be sticking with Windows 7.