Author: contributor

Windows 7 promises to be a vast improvement over Vista. While this is most definitely a Mac-focused blog, I think it’s a good idea to compare all the next generation operating systems together — the other two being Snow Leopard and Ubuntu 9.04.

Having installed the RC build 7100 and using it on and off for the last few weeks, I must say that I actually like this software. Despite a few annoyances here and there, overall Windows 7 is a big step up from Vista, and even XP. Let’s take a closer look.

Installation

Right away, I was impressed with the changes to the installation process. Nearly all irrelevant options are hidden, and the important ones are out in plain site. Formatting my Boot Camp partition was as easy as clicking “Format” and waiting less than 10 seconds. After entering the RC serial number, all files were copied, settings updated and the computer reboot into Windows. From start to finish the process took 50 minutes, but that doesn’t include the extra finagling I had to do to get the setup disk to work properly with Boot Camp.

Interface

There are a multitude of changes in the interface, and most of them are for the better. The taskbar has now been called the smartbar and it gets its name from only displaying application icons, and the way applications can be “bolted” to the bar. Personally, I find this an excellent way of managing open applications, and the fact that a simple mouseover displays the entire window means a quick look is possible to make sure you have the right application.

One tiny thing that has bothered me since starting with the RC Beta is that scrolling does not automatically select the window beneath the cursor. On Mac OS X, scrolling is done in the application that the cursor is presently over, regardless if it is active or not. While it sounds like I’m splitting hairs, it becomes a major nuisance when switching back and forth between applications.

My MacBook, with its GMA950 graphics chip, returned a Windows Experience Index score of 3.2, with the lowest score being the graphics system. Despite this, Windows 7 is very snappy, and the Aero interface displayed without trouble. Some machines that were unable to take full advantage of the Vista interface eye candy might be able to do so now.

Application updates

Windows 7 also sees some nice enhancements to core software functionality and application updates. A big component of Windows Media Player is the ability to stream to other devices on the network using the UPnP server. While I didn’t really test this feature, I was happy to see a UPnP viewer included in the application. This meant I could listen to/watch any media that was stored on my file server. Unfortunately, this feature didn’t work completely correctly, as files were duplicated in the library for some reason, but the actual release version may work better.


One of the biggest surprises I found was the new take on wallpaper in Windows 7. As shown in the above picture, some of the choices are very trippy. That psychedelic turtle has found a place on my wallpaper, mostly because it is so unlike any of Microsoft’s previous wallpapers.

Many other applications have seen updates as well. Paint has more features seen in a standard image-manipulation program, Screen Capture is more versatile, network tools are more powerful and the control panel organizes things more clearly, to name a few.

This only really begins to scratch the surface of this massive upgrade, but from what I’ve been able to see/use on the last few months, I’d say Microsoft has done a good job listening to user complaints and acting on them. Of course, it will never fully replace the OS X installation on my MacBook, but I no longer dread booting into the alternate reality.

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aboutSLIt’s now been close to three weeks since Snow Leopard arrived in stores, and the Internet has now had a chance to go through the entire system and find the good, the bad and the barely changed. I’ve been using it since that time too, and like some of the subtle changes. Since Engadget, Gizmodo and even David Pogue have all weighed in with lengthy reviews, I’m going to avoid that here. Instead, I’m going to go through some of the changes I’ve seen and whether I think it’s worth the $35CAN upgrade fee.

This is the first of 3 operating system comparisons. Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.04 will be up shortly.

The Improvements

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to upgrade my MacBook from 10.5 to 10.6. I inserted the DVD while logged in, the menubar and Dock faded away and I returned 50 minutes later to my original desktop. There were options for installing additional languages, printers or Rosetta, but the default installation seems to provide all the required data, with the notable exception of Rosetta. If you still run PPC based applications, be sure to click that checkbox.

animatedwifiAfter it was installed, I took a look around and found very few changes to the interface. Sure, Stacks can now scroll when using the tile arrangement, and some menubars have more function, but by and large, the upgrade is behind the scenes. The Airport menu is slightly animated when not connected to a network, as shown on the left. Doing an option+click on the menu items now brings up a condensed system preference panel with the most important functions front and centre. The Sound menu item brings what is probably the most convenient small update, with the ability to choose the audio input and output on the computer with entering System Preferences.

Snow Leopard also seems to change the behaviour of computers exiting from sleep as well. On my MacBook, sleeping the computer for an extended period of time (about 2 hours or so) sometimes causes it to go into deep-sleep mode. That means when it wakes again, you must load the contents of RAM from the hard drive, which can take an extra 30 seconds or so. I’ve yet to determine if this is a change to the OS itself, or simply a flaw with my computer.

Ideal customer

Apple has taken a new strategy here with Snow Leopard. By keeping the interface familiar and improving the underlying technology, they allow users to gain familiarity with the software. As a $35 CAN upgrade, it is easy to recommend, but for regular users of Leopard who use their computer more for email and web than pushing the boundary of computing, it’s probably not all that necessary.

Interestingly, I think Snow Leopard works better as an upgrade for those users still running pre-Leopard installations. As a move from Tiger, or even Panther, SL offers many new features that make computing much, much easier. I’m excited about the new applications that will be released shortly that take advantage of this new technology — it just looks like I’ll have to get a new computer to fully use all the new tools.

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