Will Windows 7 Be Any Better Than Vista?

10 28 08w7desktop 300x225Microsoft announced details about its new beta release of Windows 7, their followup to Windows Vista.  The question is “Is this release better than Vista?” Does it fix it’s problems and well, does it have any cool new features? Earth Times has the press release.

I’ll start with some of Vista’s problems and then move on to new features.

The first problem I wanted to talk about was those annoying prompts that Vista pops up every time you try to change a setting. These were added to combat XP’s notorious security problems. One of the main reasons for Windows XP’s security problems was that by default all users run as administrator, and if they didn’t a lot of badly written programs (and there are a lot of badly written programs out there) won’t run properly or at all. To fix this Microsoft changed two things in Vista. First, when running as a regular user, if the program you’re running needs to change something you don’t have access to, you’ll be prompted to enter an admin’s username and password so the change can be made. Second, it also prompts you about the change if you’re an administrator. Of course, this will alert you if a malicious program is about to make a change, so you can stop it. The problem is that Vista prompts you so often that it becomes so incredibly annoying that you either end up saying yes to everything or you turn it off completely. Microsoft did notice the problem and instead of just on and off, they’ve added settings between so hopefully you’ll be prompted at the appropriate times. We’ll see if they’ve actually fixed it so that security threats will be caught and you’ll be left alone beyond that.

Microsoft has also gotten rid of the those annoying little bubbles that pop up in the lower right of the screen. Well, they haven’t really gotten rid of them, what they’ve done is given you the option to disable the notifications and icons all together. Hopefully Microsoft’s made the right choice here, I’m sure there’ll be millions upset people who can’t find the Windows 7 tour, or who actually want to be reminded that there are wireless networks available every 2 minutes. That last sentence was sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell.

Some of the biggest complaints about Vista have been driver and program incompatibilities. There’s both good and bad news here. Originally, Windows 7 was supposed to be a major update under the hood. This would have caused major backward compatibility issues, but it also would have made for a leaner, faster OS going forward. In my opinion this would have been the right move. Instead, they decided to update the interface but leave system underneath mostly unchanged. This means that Windows 7 is mostly Windows Vista under the hood (other than the above changes and I’m sure a few others). So, any driver and program incompatibilities with Vista will still be present in 7, but hopefully those hardware and software companies have updated their software to work with the new system by the time of this release.

Next I’ll look at the new interface.

First up is the new Taskbar:

windows taskbar previews

According to the Technologizer:

It’s received a major makeover-actually, the biggest one it’s ever gotten since it debuted in Windows 95. Gone are the bars with the names of apps and tiny icons. In are much larger, labeless icons. The stacks of thumbnails you got when you hovered on an app with multiple windows in the Taskbar have been replaced by a more efficient ribbon of thumbnails. Devices connected to the computer (like a digital camera, say) show up in the Taskbar along with apps. Overall, it’s quite slick, and you won’t encounter any new W7 feature more often.

jumplist 227x300A few other changes were made down on the taskbar, first are the changes to the notification area which I talked about above, window previews (previews of the open windows for each applications that pop up when you mouse over the icon), and Jump Lists. According to ars technica:

“Jump lists provide quick access to application features. Applications that use the system API for their Most Recently Used list (the list of recently-used filenames that many apps have in their File menus) will automatically acquire a Jump List containing their most recently used files. There’s also an API to allow applications to add custom entries; Media Player, for example, includes special options to control playback.”

Next up is the side bar and peeking:

The sidebar is now gone, but that doesn’t mean that your gadgets are gone, they’ve just been moved to the desktop. In order to allow you to have quick access to your gadgets peek through your open windows to catch a quick glimpse at the desktop (or another window hidden below). Check it out:

peek

Another change is Window resizing, of course the current methods are still in place. To maximize a window drag to the top of the screen, to bring it back to size drag it off the top. Drag it to the left side and it will take up the left 50%, and the same for the right. This makes working on two documents (or anything else) at the same time much more convenient.

There’s also plenty more new to this release such as Libraries (virtual folders for grouping similar files), upgraded paint and media player, and more.

I have to say that Windows 7 looks like a big step up from Vista. A lot of the features actually look similar to features currently available in Mac OS X, which I think is a very good thing for Microsoft. It also means that working on the windows PCs at work will be much more pleasurable in the future, but I’ll be sticking with my Macbook for the time being.

Check out this in depth review for more on Windows 7.