To those who have been keeping up with all the Windows 7 buzz, this post will seem very “behind the times”. Well, I don’t care :) To those who are just casual browsers of the thinkMoult blog, this might interest you. (Well, it was also in my drafts folder for a long time, and I decided to finish it off)
Let’s start off by saying I do not hate Microsoft with a vengeance. True, I do think their Windows operating system is a flop, but let’s not have that impression taint the new Windows 7, eh? For the more technically inclined, I ran Windows 7 build 7000 – amd64, on a VirtualBox. The actual OS underneath was Gentoo Linux. Let’s take a look at what we see first (after it’s all installed):
Well, the install process was…slow. I had to leave it overnight. (started the install at about 12:00AM), and things has a knack of staying at 0%. Choosing the date and time seemed a bit bugged, as I could change the time, but not the date (which was wrong). Of course, the slow install could’ve been because I was running it on a virtual box. (Compared to the Ubuntu install, the Ubuntu was faster, and more user friendly).
The start up screen was nice, and had a flashy little animation showing the Windows logo glowing somewhat. The logon was pretty dumbass proof (type. in. password), and up there you see the screen it shows when you log in. I think there was something wrong because I expected compositing of some sort, but I didn’t get any. So as you can see, the taskbar there is pretty darn opaque. This also meant I didn’t get a lot of the eyecandy, including the well-publisized show desktop effect (which I don’t see what the hype is about anyway).
The taskbar, as you can see, is the most obvious change. The first thought that came across my mind was “This looks like KDE 3.x”. In case you don’t know, KDE is a user interface for Linux, and the 3.x version is … old :) I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just saying Windows has stolen an old idea of Linux. Apparently each application now only shows as a huge icon on your taskbar. At the same time, you have quicklaunch icons which look pretty much identical. I found it a bit disconcerting at first, but to be honest it wasn’t hard to confuse against. However, this concept also made each application have to group, and since I tend to run quite a lot of applications (especially because Windows doesn’t have any concept of multiple desktops – gosh they are slow) this new task bar would personally act as a cripple to my workflow. It would make it hard to manage a lot of open windows. Especially because it doesn’t show the names of the windows, which can show a lot of useful information (eg: file browser – which folder you are in, web browser – the website you’re on, email client- which folder, irc- which channel, etc). Of course, I’m sure there is a legacy option, but I believe this change was for the worse. The ratio of the size of things on the taskbar to the area of the taskbar seem very uneven, and so I also find that there is a lot of space wasted – which is a sign of bad design. Of course, some times these can have good aesthetic effects, but not in this case (in my opinion).
When initally poking around, I was quite impressed with the changes. As you can see, the calculator has been beefed up (small things do count), you can see the grouping in the taskbar, some desktop widgets, and a theme that has been applied. When poking around a bit more, I found that the experience got worse and worse. My initial reaction to the possibility of the themeing support (in the control panel – more about that later) was “finally!”, but apparently all it does is change your wallpaper and your clock design. Ooooh. Innovation. What a anticlimax. The grouping likes to split the tabs in internet explorer into separate items. What a waste of tabs in the first place if you’re going to treat them like separate applications in your task bar. I was also quite disappointed with the packaged set of desktop widgets – hardly any of them would be actually practically useful for me.
Next up was IE. They apparently did upgrades. And yes they did. It looks…bulkier than ever. The menus and such take up about 300 pixels, if not more. The bookmark support is pathetic, the url bar doesn’t guess well, the new compatibility mode is well… hell for web designers, as now we’ve got even more stuff to try and insert hacks for, the refresh and stop buttons are put… well, at the opposite end of the interface. This is quite daft to be honest. THe search uses live search which is next to useless, and it still likes to block my downloads randomly. The zoom has improved though, and I have heard the speed has increased, but since I use TMNet as my ISP, this is uncertain. If you look on the taskbar, you can also see that a little extra line has appeared next to the IE icon, this shows I have more than one tab open. This is useful. However treating tabs as separate applications like I mentioned before, is not.
Finally we look at the start menu and the control panel. The conrol panel is a maze. There are about a hundred options, and within them cross links to each option, and further subsections. Take a look at the screenshot. See how many are shown (there are two columns), then look at the scroll bar. Thankfullly they’ve implmented a Control Panel Search option – however the search doesn’t yield very useful results. That control panel really needs to be completely redone -it’s horrible.
The start menu is … well, not much of a huge change since vista. For some reason they thought it might be a good idea to put a “screen capturing” application as one of the options in the main start menu. Personally I believe that space should be reserved for the most often used and important applications. Oh well. Also, all the other power management options have been put into a menu that you can access when you press a tiny little arrow next to the shut down button. There are 5 options you can do there. So much for keeping things simple – mark my words: that menu’ll confuse people. Oh, and here’s the really great thing, the shut down doesn’t ask for any confirmation. Once you click it (especially easy because it’s right next to “My Programs”, some options, and the power management options) it just shuts down whether you like it or not. Who cares about your work, now Windows wants you to be able to shut down with one click. Might as well pull out the power plug whilst your at it. The lack of session management is also disappointing.
Oh, and finally for general things I didn’t like. The sticky notes seemed to be a whole other application on itself, and not integrated at all. I might be wrong, but that was how it seemed to be managed. Solitaire lagged like crazy (maybe because I was on a VirtualBox, but all the same, nothing else seemed that laggy – just the usual Windows speed). Paint had stolen some ideas from Linux’s KDE Paint (KolourPaint I think it was called) and now has a ribbon – wow, how complex do you want to make it? Also, the file structure has gone bonkers. The Documents and Settings has been replaced by “Users”. Also, who uses My Documents, My Music, and My Pictures etc as they should be used? (eg: Documents only for office docs like .doc, .ppt, etc, music for music files, pictures for picture files) Most people create their own structure all within My Documents. Windows trying to enforce some crappy file directory structure upon people, telling them how it should be organised is pathetic. Especially because now we have My Docuements, My Pictures, My Videos, My Music, My Links, My Saved Games, My Notes, My Bookmarks, and a whole bunch more “My” folders.
Now, it wasn’t all that bad. There were a lot of new special effects, and enough glowing items to make me die of epilepsy if I move my mouse across the screen of the regular file manager. They’ve really overdone the characteristic glossy style that Windows has been employing lately, and though I hate that style, maybe some like it.
A change nonetheless. A change worth a couple hundred bucks and the next gen hardware? Probably not.