Windows 7 – is it worth it?

Software Review

I don’t know about you but I have found Vista to be the most frustrating Windows system I’ve used to date, and I’ve used almost all Windows versions since 3.1. I’ve had more crashes, BSOD’s (blue screen of death) and system hang-up’s whilst using Vista than I’d care to shake a stick at and at times I’ve sworn I’ll never touch another dam Microsoft product ever again. There’s no two ways about it, Microsoft well and truly lost the plot with Vista and have alienated more users than anyone thought possible. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d recently invested quite substantially in a quad-core 64-bit photo-system complete with 8gb ram and twin monitors early last year, and that my entire software library is Windows based, I would have turned to the dark side by now and bought a Mac. I think Steve Jobs said Vista was the best bit of advertising Apple had ever had and he wasn’t wrong.

So why you may ask did I plumb for Windows 7. Well to try and get me out of a hole. Normally I’d give any new Windows system a wide berth for at least a year and not until the first Service Pack had been issued. But I just couldn’t face another year of constant, almost daily problems with Vista-64. I just had to do something, it was driving me mad. I, like many others, have come to loath Vista with a vengeance. I had two options, revert to XP-64 Professional or risk Windows 7.

Windows 7 certainly seems to have been well received by the press, it’s generally had great reviews, is reputed to relatively stable, and promises a quick boot up and a more responsive system. Well, lets face it, it wouldn’t take much to be a more responsive than Vista, a system which couldn’t hold a lick of paint to it’s predecessor, Windows XP.
But which version to buy, Home, Professional or Ultimate? Well one look at the fine print and I realised the much cheaper Home edition is of no use to me. I need the 64 bit version and I need XP backwards compatibility (as some of my older industry related software only runs with XP), so I had to fork out just under £150 for Windows 7 Professional … what a rip-off Microsoft!

The Installation

I had a stroke of luck here. I downloaded and ran the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor program from the MS website and in doing that I came across the Windows Easy Transfer program. I’d already backed up all my data and user files to external (and internal) drives, but decided to run this and give it ago. It took a long time however, over 3 1/2 hours to create a 32.8 gb MIG file on an internal HD. By the way, I’d been told by my PC manufacturer to go for a clean install, so I did NOT buy the Windows 7 upgrade version. Reading the feedback on Amazon had already made me wary of that. I placed my 64-bit version in the DVD drive and crossed my fingers and prepared for a long wait.

Rather surprisingly the installation went very quickly, certainly a lot faster than other installs I’ve done in the past (which are too numerous to mention), so I was quite surprised to be staring at a clean desktop just over an hour later. First impressions were good, opening, closing menus and moving windows certainly seemed a lot more responsive, and boot up time was much much quicker than Vista, but far from being fast. I can’t say I liked the new large task bar which displays just Icons, but thankfully you can configure it to look like the far more sensible taskbar we’re all used (why do MS keep messing with things?). I also found many new drivers had been installed and my internet connect worked first time…things were looking promising. However, the new Nvidia control panel seemed to have rendered garish oversaturated colours to the desktop.

Windows Easy Transfer
I then decided to try the Easy Transfer and double clicked my saved MIG file. I’d saved all my email, documents, pictures and UAC settings and it even allowed my to merge my previous user account with the new and different named account in Windows 7. Initial timings suggested this process was going to take forever, but that gradually decreased to somewhere in the region of 5 hours. I went to bed.

The next morning I was surprised to find my old desktop had been restored complete with icons (although some were empty), all my documents, pictures and music files were present and correct and even some software seemed to have been installed (VueScan). Other desktop folders were present too, my internet favourites and preferences for some other software reinstated too, even though the software hadn’t been re-installed.

I then had to go through the laborious procedure of re-installing all my software (in my case a hell of a lot), and I’m still doing that even now, a couple of days later.

First Impressions

To be honest it looks just like Vista. There appears to be very little difference. The taskbar as I mentioned is different, the notification area (those little icons at the bottom right) has had a makeover, and the start menu is pretty much the same. But gone are the quick launch icons to the right of the start button. I find this incredibly annoying. This is one of the features I used constantly in XP & Vista and now it’s gone. Well, actually it’s hidden and now almost impossible to find. Why Microsoft do this sort of thing is quite beyond belief. I had to search on the web to find out how to get the quick launch back and found good instructions here.
Items can now be pinned to the taskbar, but in reality is no different from the old quick launch menu which worked just fine. Gone also is the Show Desktop icon, it’s now a menu item when you right click the taskbar and also as a blank button at the far right of the taskbar after the time (which I found by accident). If you opt for items on the taskbar to display Icons and text you will now have the text ‘Quick Launch’ where before you had just icons. There is probably a way to get around this but I don’t want to waste another hour trawling the internet trying to find it. This is another retrograde step I’m afraid and just another reason why I hate Microsoft. It’s just SO annoying when you have got used to a process that works perfectly well and then the designers suddenly decide to do away with it for absolutely no good reason. It’s a sure fire way to piss-off your users. The very least Microsoft should do is have a one click button to gain access to your ‘classic’ interface.

You can now shake a Window title bar and it will close all other windows, drag it to the top of the screen and it will expand to full screen, features no doubt for the touch screen users in mind but only a minor cosmetic change for most.

After just a couple of days I’m still getting used to the new system but most things are familiar, however it definitely appears much more responsive. Copying files seems faster too, which is quite important for us digital photographers, although I’ve yet to do any timing tests. The dreaded UAC (user account control) has been toned down somewhat, so you are no longer pestered with so many confirmation dialogs when you want to copy or move files, although you still get them when installing software.

Potential Problems so far

It took less than 24 hours for my first crash and I have a few more since. Internet explorer keeps locking up every once in a while, which I suspect may be due to one of the add-ins, probably my Adobe Acrobat 8 standard, which I’ve had problems activating. My photos and screen colours seem much more saturated. I’ve downloaded the latest driver for my Nvidia 8800 GT card and have calibrated both monitors with my X-rite ColorMunki but they still appear more saturated than before. I still haven’t got to the bottom of this one yet. My Logitech VX Nano laser mouse failed to work, but a download of the most recent driver seems to have done the trick. As I mentioned earlier some of my old software is XP only and won’t install. I can set XP compatibility mode for a program that has already been installed, so no problem there, but have yet to find out how (or if) I can install a program in XP mode. I’m having exactly the same problems with sleep mode as I did with Vista. When the PC wakes more often than not my mouse won’t work and I’m forced to do a hard boot. However most annoying of all, is that Microsoft still haven’t fixed the bug in Explorer if you display files in details mode. The column width still truncates long file names forcing the user to right click the column header and select Size All Columns to Fit. There must be a million posts on the web regarding this problem just in Vista alone never mind Windows 7, so for Microsoft to retain the same bug is just so staggeringly mind blowing it makes you wonder whether those programmers at MS ever actually use the software themselves!

Missing Stuff and Downloads

There’s no Live Mail, no Instant Messenger, no Parental Controls, no Movie-Maker, and no photo Gallery included with Windows 7. Presumably victims of EC anticompetitive laws. You can however obtain these as free downloads from Microsoft where they have all had a makeover. One new addition is Windows Live Writer (which I’m using now) which allows bloggers to compile their blogs offline and upload when complete. It even offers integration with the most popular blogging sites, but although my theme was successfully downloaded, it failed to recognise any of my previous posts.

So Is it Worth it Then?

On cost no way, it is vastly over-priced, and to be honest after the Vista debacle Microsoft should have been giving this away as a free upgrade. Vista didn’t do what it said on the tin, so to charge this much money for what is really a Vista fix is robbery. Lets face it, most of Windows 7 is Vista code anyway, so we, the hapless consumer are largely paying for the same stuff twice. On ease of use, so far so good, a vast improvement over Vista; I’ll keep you posted on that one. For me I really didn’t have much option to upgrade or not, rather I had too. I still hate Microsoft for all the re-installs and troubleshooting I had to do, and all the countless hours I’ve wasted trying to fix Vista. My initial impressions is that Windows 7 is very much a Vista Service Pack in disguise. For people frustrated with Vista Home, then at least Windows 7 Home is a relatively cheap option and my advice (although some what begrudgingly) would be to bite the bullet and upgrade. For Professional and Ultimate users it may calm your Vista frustrations but offers very poor value for money. If you’re a happy XP user and don’t feel the need for a fancy looking interface I’d stay stick with it for the foreseeable future.

A Personal Opinion

It seems to me that Microsoft have lost their way somewhat since XP, roughly about the time Bill Gates relinquished control. Love him or hate him I think they have floundered since. I used to admire MS but not anymore. They don’t appear to listen to their customers, and imposed what they think we should have, rather than listen to what we actually want. They remove features and change interfaces we have used for years and replace them with new ones forcing the user to waste time re-learning our day-to-day software with no options to revert back to the interface we’re used to. Who the hell wanted ribbons for instance, why remove or hide menus. It’s completely bonkers. I’m aware of several major companies within my occupational industry who refuse to upgrade to Office 2007 because nobody likes the new interface and they don’t want their employees to waste further time being retrained even to be able to perform just the basics tasks. Microsoft have managed to piss-off so many of their core customers over the last few years, people who have grown up using Windows and liked the way it functioned. Forgetting them as Microsoft has done is nothing short of appalling. I think the time is ripe for other companies to challenge the Microsoft dominance.

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