I just bought a new laptop. (It’s a Sony Vaio Z590 with a 128GB SSD, a “thin and light” weighing less than four pounds and having a CD/DVD drive. So far so good.) Although I haven’t had much trouble with Vista on my desktop computer, I was afraid it would be too slow on the laptop. So I shelled out an extra $50 to get the Windows XP downgrade.
Vista seems to be working fine so far, but I haven’t done too much the laptop yet so it’s too early to say. I’ve been wondering whether to downgrade it. But now, news is coming out about the upcoming Windows 7, and I’m thinking of waiting to see how that goes.
Here’s what I’ve read so far, just to save you the trouble of wading through all the text from which I extracted all of this. (Thank you, NetworkWorld and ArsTechnica.) Much of this applies to Windows 7 Beta 1 Build 7000. I omitted a lot of fancy enterprise features, which I personally don’t care about.
- Windows 7 has a smaller footprint, fast and simpler installation, and ability to run on computers with “minimal resources”. It’s said to be a lot faster. Vista’s being big and slow (due to paging, I’d think) is, to me, it’s biggest drawback. If they’ve fixed that, they’re really done something useful.
- Vista introduced architectural changes, the most important being in the way the driver model and display layer work. So new drivers were needed, and not all were available. And some apps that worked under XP did not work under Vista. This time, they haven’t made such changes. Anything that works on Vista ought to work on Windows 7. Most new features have to do with the user interface, which has been refined based on information Microsoft has collected about how people really use things like windows on the screen.
- If you have lots of applications installed, the Start menu now has a search box so you don’t have to scroll so much.
- The Windows Taskbar has been improved. It’s obviously based on the Mac’s Dock: there are big icons instead of words, and you can rearrange them. But wait, there’s more. Right clicking gets you a “jump list”, a menu with many useful commands, such as the most-used application commands, recent documents, etc. (This works both on the task bar and the Start menu items.) As you move over the task bar, the other applications are made transparent so you can “peek” at an app’s window(s). And you can “peek” at the desktop, so you can see “gadgets”, which are no longer wasting space on a sidebar. The icons only appear if “explicitly enabled” (I’m not sure how) so that the task bar doesn’t get too filled with stuff you don’t care about.
- Resizing windows on the screen is easier. Dragging a window off the left of right edge resizes it to use 50% of the screen, since user testing shows that people very often use two windows. (Editorial comment: See, Emacs was right all along!)
- Setting up WiFi connections is a lot easier, and Windows 7 remembers passwords and figures out which one to use, supposedly correctly.
- The new Action Center application centralizes/aggregates info about common problems (such as the need for upgraded drivers, the need to run a security scan, etc.), suggests how to remedy the problem, and provides commands to do so.
- Backup is a lot easier to use. (I bought an external hard drive when I bought my new Vista PC, for backups, but often I get an error message saying that the backup failed because it can’t find a few dozen megabytes of disk space that it needs, which is ridiculous. It works often enough to be useful, but those error messages bother me.)
- If you’re in an enterprise with Active Directory, security policies have been improved.
- It’s easier to stifle all those warnings that Vista pops up. (I actually like them.)
- The firewall is much more sophisticated, allowing finely-tuned rules (not intended for civilians).
- The new Libraries feature lets you combine files from disparate sources into an easily-accessible “Library”. They they’re indexed by the searcher, so they probably cannot live on non-indexable devices (such as remote “drives” other than those connected by NFS).
- There’s a new application to help track performance and system characteristics. But the user interface is awful. In particular, you can’t correlate information.
- There’s a new Credentials Manager to create and hold private keys and such. But when it prompts for your password, it doesn’t ask you to type it twice, so there’s a lot more chance that you’ll make a typo and not be able to access your own stuff.
- They made it smaller by taking out some standard applications. But now you have to download “Essential” applications from “Windows Live Essentials”. You may or may not like this change. The applications free, though maybe there’ll be ads and such.
- The new Powershell is useful for people who like to use command lines instead of GUI’s. There is something called “cmdlets” to improve administration. This feature is thought to be aimed at the desktop Linux community.
- There’s better support for touch screens, and speech and handwriting recognition, in case you don’t like using the keyboard and mouse.
- The Aero feature has been improved.
- It installs as a VHD (Virtual Hard Disk), “making it truly portable”. (I am clear on the concept here.) You now mount .vhd files using the normal “Disk Management” features of Windows 7.
- The BitLocker disk encryption now works for removable drives, not just internal drives.
- There’s a “Problem Steps Recorder”. If you want to report a problem, you turn it on and replication the problem. It makes an extensive log that you can send in your bug report.
- The beta has problems. IE crashes. Too few devices are supported. It’s too early to judge it on the basis of this kind of thing, I think.
That’s what I’ve read. If you’ve had experiences with the beta, please add comments. Thanks!