Windows

Windows 7 report card: The hits and misses

Windows 7 officially launches on October 22, so it's time for TechRepublic's review of what Windows 7 does well and where it still misses the mark.

Windows 7 officially launches on October 22, so it's time for TechRepublic's review of what Windows 7 does well and where it still misses the mark.

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To say there's a lot riding on Windows 7 would be the understatement of 2009. The PC industry is counting on Windows 7 to unleash pent-up demand for new computers - among both consumers and businesses. Microsoft needs Windows 7 to restore the tarnished image of its OS after the Windows Vista debacle. And, IT departments need Windows 7 to be faster, more compatible with the latest hardware and software, and more manageable.

So does Windows 7 deliver? That's a question that we'll be talking about a lot over the next year, and external factors will influence the ultimate outcome, including economic trends, corporate budgets, and the ever-evolving needs of users.

But, focusing on the software itself, it's time to make a few judgment calls about Windows 7. Let's look at where it hits the mark, and where it misses.

Hits

  • A slimmer OS The best part of Windows 7 is addition by subtraction. In other words, it's not the stuff that Microsoft put into the new OS, it's the stuff they took out. Microsoft developers clearly spent a lot of their energy streamlining the underlying code in Windows 7, because compared to Windows Vista, Windows 7 installs much faster and has a smaller footprint. That's why Windows 7 can be installed on minimal hardware such as netbooks and nettops, something not possible with Vista. Microsoft has also taken out software such as Windows Mail and Windows Movie Maker in favor of making them free downloads. That's a very good trend.
  • Power sipping I've reports from the field of IT pros who have installed Windows 7 on laptops and tablets that were previously running Windows XP and they quickly noticed up to 30% better battery life. That was even before Microsoft's Rob Bernard started publicly talking about the power savings built into Windows 7. This has the potential to be a killer feature for business adoption, because it can save companies a lot of money in aggregate and the battery issue can boost the productivity of road warriors.
  • Less UAC pain One of the worst features in Windows Vista was User Account Control (UAC). UAC was designed with good intentions as a security enhancement, but in practice it was far too noisy and resulted in users simply clicking it blindly to make it go away. UAC is not nearly as noisy in Windows 7, thankfully.
  • More tools for IT Windows 7 includes some new tools and enhancements that will be warmly welcomed by IT professionals, including Problem Steps Recorder, enhanced projector compatibility, Biometric device integration, and PowerShell v2. For more, see 10 cool tools in Windows 7 and Five features that will make you love Windows 7.

Misses

  • Taskbar changes The default installation of Windows 7 includes a drastic change to the behavior of the Windows Taskbar and it's not a change for the better. While there are ways to tweak the Taskbar's behavior to make it pretty useful, most users will never change the defaults and they'll be stuck having to make more clicks and spend more time scanning to find things that were fast and simple in Windows XP. For example, I often have multiple message windows open in Microsoft Outlook, and in XP I could quickly get to the one I needed with a single click because they were all shown on the taskbar. In Windows 7, I have to click the Outlook icon and then make a second click on the item - if I can identify it among the group of useless thumbnails of all the Outlook items I have open. Ultimately, the new default Taskbar feels like a poor knock-off of the Dock in Mac OS X and it feels like it's skewing the Windows design toward light users who only use a handful of apps, at the expense of heavy users who typically have lots of apps and windows open.
  • OS and data still on same partition One of the worst things that the default installation of Windows does is to load system files and user data on the same partition. This has always been the case and Windows 7 has perpetuated the problem. I've publicly petitioned both Microsoft and Apple to change this with their respective operating systems. At the very least, the default installation of the OS should create two partitions, one for the system files and one for user data. That way if there's ever a system failure, you can blow away the OS and reinstall it and when you boot back up all of the user files and data will still be there on the data partition.
  • Needs more imaging tools One of the IT tricks that became very popular during the Windows XP era was system imaging, where IT departments configure one machine, build a software "image" off that configuration, and then use that image to replicate the company's standard configuration across all of the computers that use similar hardware. While Microsoft still pushes methods like unattended installs, system imaging has largely become the standard method of doing mass installations. Microsoft has done a few things to make imaging easier in Windows 7, but the company could have gone a lot further. The software giant could have built functionality into Windows 7, Windows Server, and System Center that allowed IT pros to create system images in a much more granular and flexible manner in order to better adapt to hardware changes and company policy changes.
  • Missing cloud integration For all of Microsoft's ambitious talk about Azure and "Software+Services," there's almost no online services integration in Windows 7. This is a huge missed opportunity. Microsoft could have done simple things like providing a Windows Live service for backups to automatically backup a person's My Documents folder. This would have given Windows 7 a reputation for being well-connected and ahead of the curve. It's possible that anti-trust concerns may have tempered any of these types of efforts, but whatever the case may be, it's an opportunity that was squandered.

For the latest on Windows 7 and other tech topics, follow my Twitter stream: @jasonhiner

Final verdict

The best thing I can say about Windows 7 is that it does a better job of simply getting itself out of the way, which is critical in an era where the OS is becoming less important. The fact that the Windows 7 code is leaner and that the new OS can make PCs more power-efficient are factors that will play well with IT departments.

Of course, Windows 7 isn't all good. Microsoft still hasn't fixed the problem of system files and data on the same default partition. The new Taskbar changes will confuse a lot of users. And, Microsoft has missed a big opportunity by not showing off the potential of "Software+Services" in Windows 7.

Ultimately, because Windows 7 is more efficient, because so many consumers and businesses have delayed PC purchases, and because Windows 7 takes advantage of the latest hardware (such as the speedy Intel Core i7), over the next 24 months I expect it to methodically displace Windows XP as the world's most widely-used OS.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

294 comments
ElijahKam
ElijahKam

I agree 100% with Jason Hiner about the Taskbar. I hope that when I get Windows 7(not in the near future) I will be able to turn off all that nonsense and set up toolbars similar to QuickLaunch.

dmat1001
dmat1001

XP To the End I still love XP the best, the Taskbar is a cheap knockoff and pathetic attempt to duplicate/imitate the OS X Dock and I think its in the way. I doubt I will ever switch to Windows 7

agorman
agorman

I agree with Jason they still did not address the issue of keeping the data and system file separate. Also, I wonder if they taken care of the backup problem of files being used. We should be able to backup our systems regardless on who is using that system file but make them aware that it is being used. THis could be done in a backup logfile. After all what good is backup if you can not restore a system file during a disaster recovery process. I should not have to reload windows simply because windows did not backup a copy of that system file in the first place. That is a bunch of S$#T in my books by the developers. I would not have designed it that way.

apontiflette
apontiflette

I like Windows 7 and I'm prepared to make the transition if necessary from XP; but I miss the search feature in XP that allowed the user to drill down and simplify the search by date, by document or just by file name in the document. The new search feature also does not give the option to just search a removable drive or folder without scanning the system.

randy2909
randy2909

The disadvantage of OS and data still on same partition is a good point. Is a patch on install a topic for the IT Dojo?

computerflyer
computerflyer

I have two Canon products that are just 4-years old and work fine. Canon does not have ANY 64 bit drivers for the scanner and cares less about x86 drivers for the shared printer on the Win7 X64 host. They tried to put this onto Microsoft, and then lectured me to upgrade printer and scanner to network models. I asked before installing X64 and Canon's reply just last week was 'no information until 22 Oct'. With projections that 50% of Win7 will be X64, this reflects a bad corporate attitude in my opinion. At some point peripherals do get old, but 4 years is a bit rich at domestic duty cycles. This whole situation is a huge miss.

heres_johnny
heres_johnny

There is one head-scratching 'why didn't they do that?' item in your misses column, the partitioning scheme. Easy, fast, no-brainer. They could even tell people what's happening during the installation process so they know. The task bar thing is a non-issue; most people will stumble upon it while doing other stuff, say 'Wow, that's pretty cool!', and they will start using it. It's not a problem, and it's a definite improvement over XP/The-OS-which-shall-not-be-named. Cloud integration could- and should- be done as neeeded through a separate download, because not everyone needs it or wants it. Imaging tools, idk, doesn't everyone already use Acronis TrueImage or something like that? Sure, it would be nice, but is it needed? Doubt it.

wale2richie
wale2richie

i have often wondered why Microsoft and Apple can't make data safety simpler for OS users by keeping User Docs outside default installation. It makes a lot of sense and will make system troubleshooting a breeze.

dwdino
dwdino

One recurring theme through out this thread by nay sayers is the Windows 7 start menu or the desire for the XP menu back. After having adapted to Windows 7, I can say that I never enter the start menu. If you are using/testing Windows 7, please try the following: 1) Hit the Windows Key, 2) Type part of the application name, 3) Use arrows keys if needed, 4) Press enter. With Windows 7, you should never have to expand the start menu and I can't remember the last time I did. I can now launch any app without leaving the keyboard. So rather than complaining, adapt and realize the improved efficiencies.

ruggb
ruggb

The ONE BIG thing that every POWER user has issues with is the rewrite of WINDOWS EXPLORER. I am VERY surprised that wasn't at the top of your list right after System/Data on separate partitions (which I have implemented since the beginning of XP). Well, I guess it only applies to power users who obviously use WE a lot. M$ managed to make a big mess of WE. To me, the taskbar is only an issue if u don't have Aero running. Then it still isn't as important as the above two.

matthewdowsett
matthewdowsett

Can you have Windows 7 64-bit with 32-bit XP Mode?

cquirke
cquirke

I think you miss the point about partitioning. It's not for the OS to decide how many partitions you have and what's located there - what the OS has to do, is make it possible (ideally, easy) to apply *your* choices on this matter. In XP, one can relocate shell folders straight after installation by right-dragging these, Move, Yes to move Desktop.ini etc. and that updates registry references after the move (and rename, if required). In Vista, there's at last a proper UI for this; rt-click the shell folder in Users, Properties, Location, Apply, and Yes to "move all files?" prompts. I presume Windows 7 will be at least this good. What is missing from XP and Vista, is a way to preset where shell folders will be located when new user accounts are created - and this is part of a larger problem that makes multiple user accounts not worth using, in my opinion as an interactive (i.e. no network domain, AD, "Pro" network client OS, Group Policy, scripting skills etc.) user. It should be possible for such end users as myself to set the new account prototype so that all newly-spawned user accounts start off with my choice of shell folder locations, UI and other safety settings (e.g. "show all files, paths and file name extensions", "do not process \Autorun.inf" etc.). These settings should persist (and not revert to MS's duhfaults) when user rights are lowered from Admin to Limited User. It should also be possible to manage settings across multiple user accounts, much as Spybot currently does for its Immunize section, from at least one admin account. This makes it easier to clean up after malware, etc. and revise safety settings so they are consistent for all users, should new needs arise. There are pros and cons to partitioning, and the way you partition and what you choose to put where will also affect the results. I don't want Windows to impose a "solution" on me; I want it to support whatever solution I decide to apply. And I want the control of multiple user accounts (including those yet to be created) to be fully-functional at the GUI level, so that non-pro-IT folks can actually use these effectively. Does Windows 7 deliver?

sjaani
sjaani

How many computers will I be able to install W7 Ultimate on? I have three computers will I need to buy extra licenses?

trilochan.oshan
trilochan.oshan

There is one another miss If you you accessing ur PC remotely having window7,then you can't access the programs by clicking on taskbar. You need to press Alt+Tab for this purpose

wmclaxton
wmclaxton

Automatic partitioning of the system files and application data is a necessity and I think it is incumbent on the OS to at least suggest it. But next in the line of responsibility is the system builder. Here's how it's done right: 1. Create a modest sized OS partition of 20-30 GB, call it 'C' drive and install your OS there. All your programs and registry settings by default will land there too, which is fine. Back it up with an imaging utility (eg- Acronis). 2. Create a small partition of 5-10 GB for your virtual memory, call it 'Z' drive and allocate around 4 GB for the Windows swap file. 3. Gather up the rest of your primary drive, say 160 GB, call it 'D' drive and use it to store your application data. Create a separate directory (eg- 'd:\user\self') for each of the users. 4. Map each users' 'my documents' link to their own user directory (eg- 'd:\user\self\my documents'). 5. Install a utility like 'Sync Now' to backup application data files to an external drive.

isedc
isedc

I'd say a lot of the misses will be fixed or added in SP1, less the system and data on partition issue. That will probably have to wait until Windows 8.

shicks
shicks

and what about that old hardware issue... I'm remindedc of attempting to upgrade the OS to vista on a 2.5 yr old laptop and being told to just go buy new hardware,.... is that going to be the case again,... I am ok with the software upgrades, but if every time I upgrade my OS I have to buy a new system that is compatible I'll just stay with my XP till it dies.

maclovin
maclovin

Seeing how they treat evetyone when it comes to pricing, and previous purchasers of a shoddy OS, I have decided that I will be upgrading all my personal machines to Ubuntu soon. Unless I plan on playing a game on one machine, which will cause me to keep my current version of XP, nothing more. I don't condone the acts of MS in any way. Yes, they have done a good job of making 7 the Vista they really wanted, but now they're charging an arm and a leg for it. People bitch and moan about how Apple is more expensive....consider the $29 price tag of upgrading to Snow Leopard from Leopard, which was plagued with file sharing issues, mainly on the server side. Plus, they price of the Mac Server OS alone has been slashed by $500. Tell me, what Microsoft do you know that would EVER do such a thing??? None. I love Macs, but for any PC I already have, I'll be switching to Ubuntu, which has proven to be far more stable than anything MS has offered in the recent past. I remember starting back with the Warty release, when it was relatively unknown in the 'Nix world, and many Linux masters I know dismissed it, because even they hadn't heard of it. Now, it's one of the distros making the most noise in the OS world. Sounds like MS needs to "Think Different."

rsmcomputer
rsmcomputer

What I don't see in Windows 7, I also didn't see in Vista and it's a MAJOR problem with businesses and the steep learning curve to the new GUI "features". We don't have a "Legacy" or "Windows Classic" option. This is something that seems to be a no-brainer and very little development cost for MS. Please give us the option to reduce time to do things the way people are used to.

Derteufel
Derteufel

You can partition the drive during instalation and save data to the 2nd partition. Also the taskbar (many of us here agree) seems well thought out and we all like it better after getting familiar with it.

mightyt
mightyt

I completely disagree regarding the new Task Bar. First, it's time to let go of XP. Come on people, you can't have it both ways ... "I want something new and different" and " I hate it because it's not like XP"?? The task bar is sleek, compressed and easy to maneuver around and it "doesn't require 2 clicks", more like hover and click. No big deal to me, especially when you add the ability to hover over previews and easily switch between the full screen versions. How much better is that?! Plus, I love Jump Lists, they are great time/click savers! Also, highlighting open task bar icons that are running is great too. I hated having 10 shortcuts taking up space and then 5 more taking up even more space because they were open. Condensing the Notification Area was a good idea and they even finally added the date with the time. Through it the Aero Peek Minimize All button on the lower right and I would personally say they nailed moving the task bar to a modern look and feel with several ease of use features. Then again, to each his own ... Guess you can't make everyone happy, especially if you hang with the ?Who Moved My Cheese?? crowd. One other quick comment OS and Data ? Want to do a better job, instead of petitioning Microsoft and Apple, how about petitioning the hardware vendors first for an even better solution! ?Two Hard Drives? With cost being so low and huge drives out, I think a Raptor C: drive and fast 500gb to 1tb would be great. And just as cool would be two fast 1tb drives so you can cross back up or mirror. I like this better than partitioning, though what you suggest is a good idea, just not as good as those mentioned above.

ElijahKam
ElijahKam

I forgot to mention that I also agree 100% with Jason Hiner about the need for two partitions as the default so as to separate programs and data. I had a lot of trouble trying to set up a large enough data partition by using Vista's partitioner. Only after defragmenting with PerfectDisk was I able to actually create a reasonably large partition. In the old days of DOS, we were always given a chance to use FDISK during installation to set up our partitions. Why does Vista and Windows 7 lack such a facility?

Double-G
Double-G

agree with heres_johnny. Another change that could have been made: disallow files from being saved on the Desktop!! When a user tries to save to teh desktop, save it in their "Documents" folder (or subfolder within, as selected by the user) and then a link placed on the Desktop. This default location for saving everything, and also for saving downloads (who ever came up with this idea!!!!) creates serious issues even in corporate environments with roaming profiles, and leads to horrible visual clutter on the desktop - although that may be a user's choice. Another issue (which may need to be addressed at tome point, though I may not class it a s a miss here) is that of pop-up windows stealing focus. A pop-up window can come to the foreground, but should not steal focus. Unless you are a touch typist, most users look at the keyboard while typing. Pop-up windows which steal focus also steals the next keystrokes - which selects a choice that the user may not have intended to select, and can lead to undesirable effects. By popping up, but not stealing focus, the typing continues in the original application, but the foreground window demands deliberate and selected attention and action by the user.

dougogd
dougogd

Not only that it take twice as long to find anything when before i would just point and click 5 sec max now it take 20-30 to find what i am looking for. If i use the search it takes 5 min to find some of the apps. They don't install in the programs folder.

joemessman
joemessman

I have been using it that way for several months now.

jazzitt3
jazzitt3

My clients have asked about Win7 and upgrading. First wait until first service pak then upgrade only from a Vista machine. Don't bother doing it with XP machine. Any desktop PC order with two hard drives no partitioning. With C drive is OS and all data other installed programs (office etc) on D. On laptops is harder but Dell XPS can have two hard drives. I then kill UAC when preparing client machines. After I finish I then turn it back on before giving their machine back. On all of mine I leave UAC off. As for Win7 it is Vista in a different wrapper. Win7 uses the Vista kernel/shell/OS engine which is why the headaches to try a OS upgrade over XP. I am advising my clients unless they need to they don't need this and if they need a new PC/Laptop they can still get XP OS from Dell.

reggy
reggy

yes... If you want to use Ultimate Edition on 3 different pc's, you need 3 separate licenses. I might be mistaken, but there will be a Home Premium Family Pack that comes with 3 licenses. Price of this pack hasn't been releaved yet. The 3 pc's must be in the same household, of course...

reggy
reggy

Win 7 Ultimate is running on my old laptop that's 5 or even more years old and it's running smooth! I tried to install Vista on this same machine, and it just didn't work. A lot of hardware was incompatible with Vista, but no problems there running WIN 7..

dwdino
dwdino

How much did you pay for XP SP2 or SP3. So you saved $29 huh?

kmdennis
kmdennis

If you go to properties on the taskbar|Start menu, you will be able to select the Windows 2000 look, but not XP look. And those features you get withthe Aero...remember we were advised to disable Aero so it would not suck up so much system resource!

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The Windows Taskbar worked pretty well, especially with the Quick Launch bar enabled.

dwdino
dwdino

I can't be responsible for non conformity.

sjaani
sjaani

Well they've just lost me as a customer if that's the case! What a ripoff!

dougogd
dougogd

You can change the way windows looks all you want but it will not affect the way windows start menu works. When someone mentions ui that means the user interface not the display.

verd
verd

Windows 7 DOES have a quick launch bar if you know how to turn it on. Maybe before you write something you should run it a bit longer

sjaani
sjaani

Thanks! My local shop knows nothing, had never even heard there was a Family Pack (Home version) available! lol

Slvrknght
Slvrknght

You can get a volume license key. It's only with the Ultimate version that you need a separate key for each install.

reggy
reggy

When I calculate 400 AUS$ to Euro's, the WIN 7 Pro edt costs the same here in Europe. And yes, everything that's brand new is expensive just after the release. It will probably go down, but that could take a wile. Unfortunately, when you need the Pro edition, you'll have to get 3 licenses.... I personally think it's still worth the bucks...

sjaani
sjaani

Firstly I'd want the Proffesional Versions to make use of Remote Desktop and Back up to Network facilities which are not available in Home Family pack (as far as I know) Secondly, I'd want the full version so I can do clean installls. Thirdly we're being asked to pay around AU$400 so considering I'd need three full versions I'm being asked to pay $1,200. Is Windows 7 worth that much?

reggy
reggy

Why do you consider this a ripoff...? Otherwise you would be able to setup an entire business network with just a few licenses... Would be great, but this was already the case with XP, Vista, so why consider this a ripoff when the Home Premium comes in a family-3-pack, for just a few bucks more than a single license, just as Office Home and Student Edition. I think MS is doing right this time with these family-3-packs...

reggy
reggy

Why do you consider this a ripoff...? Otherwise you would be able to setup an entire business network with just a few licenses... Would be great, but this wasn't already the case with XP, Vista, so why consider this a ripoff when the Home Premium comes in a family-3-pack, for just a few bucks more than a single license, just as Office Home and Student Edition. I think MS is doing right this time with these family-3-packs...

Slvrknght
Slvrknght

It's never really come up where I work since we don't have a highly mobile work force and for those that do work at home, HIPAA requirements, and new Massachusetts laws, forbid patient/confidential data stored locally on laptops (or they require that the hard disks be encrypted with power on passwords). And we have others who use laptops as desktops for no other reason than they had the ear of those in power and were able to get laptops. *facepalm*

mightyt
mightyt

Point taken ... All of the options we are discussing are valid an appropriate in certain circumstances. My comment was more around, why blame Microsoft and Apple for not partitioning by default when it is one option and we might gain more with multiple physical drives.

mightyt
mightyt

Agreed ... Consumer vs. Corporate can have different requirements. My reply was more specific to the point made around partitioning in general. Before doing that I think the dual drive solution provides more bang for the buck. But, to your point, corporations may leverage any of the options mentioned.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

On laptops you don't always have access to corporate file servers. There's also the issue of performance over the LAN/WAN in many cases. For those reasons, the best solution is often partitioning the data and then replicating it to a network share on the LAN on a regular basis.

Slvrknght
Slvrknght

He did mention that it was possible to tweak the task bar to be the way he wanted it. He was referring to it "out-of-the-box." As for the Hard Drive partitioning, there are times where it's just not needed. Many companies (mine included) are small enough to put personal data on a file server (the "Cloud," internal though it may be). By storing all of the important data on servers, making all the important applications run on terminal servers, and having the computers running more in the roll of dumb terminals, hard drive partitioning isn't that important. This is, at least from my training, rather straightforward. This means that the only time it would need partitioning is in a home environment, at which point, I would say that it would be much easier to get companies like Dell to offer it as an option when building the computer for the end users. Just my $.02.