I have been using Windows 7 on my brand-new Lenovo ThinkPad W500 for three weeks now, so thought I’d share some thoughts and experiences I have had with Microsoft’s newest operating system.
I was one of those people who skipped the much-maligned Windows Vista, having moved directly from Windows XP (although I do have experience using Vista). Windows XP had served me well, but there have been many innovations in software and hardware since Windows XP was launched in 2001. As I was in the market for a new computer, it made sense to get Windows 7 as well. I chose the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, which has the same features as the 32-bit version except for the ability to access additional RAM.
The Windows 7 desktop, with my own custom image.
What I have liked:
1. Versatile desktop: Windows 7 supports desktop widgets that Microsoft call “gadgets“. These are small applications that sit on the desktop. So far I have installed the Clock gadget, but other apps are available, such as RSS feed readers, currency converters and so forth.
2. Speedy operation: Unlike Vista, which seemed to be slow from the very beginning, Windows 7 operates efficiently. As one uses the installed programmes, Windows 7 offers suggestions for optimising performance. The Windows Experience Index is particularly informative.
3. Sticky notes: I am keen on using sticky notes in real life. Now I can have them on my desktop which sounds trivial, but is actually very useful. This feature will save a few trees!
The layout in Windows 7 is intuitive: Sticky Notes is a great innovation!
4. Sensible security measures: One of my biggest frustrations with Windows Vista was the constant security checks that kept popping up. Every time I wanted to install a programme, or make a system change, or perform another menial task, the blocker would come up asking my permission. Windows 7 addresses this frustration by “keeping it real”. It knows that if I want to edit my own HOSTS file, that is my intention. But should some other third-party application/virus try it, the operating system will intervene. This is inherently sensible, and makes for a smooth and pleasurable computing experience.
5. Versatile Task Bar: Gone are ‘quick launch’ icons and “Start” button. Replacing them is a Windows logo (performing the ‘Start’ function) and a toolbar that mixes applications in use with ‘quick launch’ icon functions. A white box indicates open programmes. This is actually a much more functional system because it makes switching between programmes easier.
The task bar: Open applications are boxed and a preview is available.
6. Interactive search and help: If someone is running a programme for XP or Vista on Windows 7, the operating system will identify any potential problems and update drivers, download patches or allow the programme to run in ‘XP mode’ if need-be. The search function in Windows 7 (be that for files, folders, help or anything) is absurdly easy: one simply has to type a phrase into a box, just like for a search engine on the internet.
7. Easy rescue: Three days into my Windows 7 experience, I installed some (legal, commercial, paid) software that unfortunately wreaked havoc on my computer. Windows 7 was able to ‘go back in time’ to isolate the problems. Unfortunately this particular programme decided to do more damage, which warranted a complete re-install. Thankfully, this was a breeze with Windows 7, and within 30 minutes I had a fresh install.
What I have not liked:
1. Incompatibility issues: Microsoft make a genuine effort to ensure their operating systems are backwards-compatible. And in most cases this hasn’t been an issue for me. However, my digital camera (Canon EOS 350D) doesn”t work with Windows 7 ×64. This is, of course, a problem of Canon’s making, not Microsoft’s. On 3 March 2010, “Theresa” at Canon informed me that “…software for Windows 7 is still being tested and has not yet been released… it is advised to check back to the Canon website again in a couple of weeks.” (This simple solution has been posted, but didn’t work for me). I do not have a sophisticated understanding of computing, but I assumed that Windows 7′s “Run in XP-mode” or “Run in Vista-mode” options might have worked, but alas, I was wrong.
2. Kernel power issues: For some reason, and despite the fact that I am running Windows 7 on a three-week-old computer, I have had occasional freeze issues, followed by The Black Screen of Death (Windows Event 41). This is easily resolved with a reset. It seems to happen when I leave the computer unattended for a long time and it tries to hibernate, or occasionally when using Firefox. Hopefully this very common problem will be fixed with the upcoming Service Pack 1. If not, I shall contact service support at Lenovo. Thankfully this has not resulted in data loss.
(Update: The Kernel Power matter was found to be caused by hibernation. By switching off the hibernation setting, the matter was resolved).
3. Uncooperative RSS Reader “gadget”: I mentioned gadgets before. There is an RSS reader gadget which I thought would be useful on my desktop, but it only works with Internet Explorer. Hence it doesn’t work with Firefox which is a tad annoying.
The range and functionality of “gadgets” could be better.
The Final Verdict:
Notwithstanding the three problems above, Windows 7 has been well worth the upgrade. My slide scanner (Epson Perfection V500), television stick (KaiserBass TVStick), modem (Belkin ADSL2+), mouse (Logitech MX1100) and all key non-Microsoft programmes (Adobe Photoshop Elements, Mozilla Firefox, Yahoo Messenger) have all worked like a charm.
Unlike Windows Vista, Windows 7 is intuitive and the help and support and updating mechanisms are a major step-up from Windows XP. Whilst some have complained, I actually like the Control Panel, which is logically laid-out and full of options.
Installing programmes is easy, and removing them equally so. An especially notable improvement can be seen when one wants to unplug a USB device: it’s now a three-click operation (instead of five).
I like the simplicity of Windows 7′s Control Panel
If you’re still running Windows XP on an old machine, and are considering an upgrade, I’d probably suggest that you wait until the machine is replaced. Not because the features aren’t worth it, but because there is no XP-to-7 update (you must do a re-install) and because a machine of that vintage might not support Windows 7 anyway. (You can test this theory by downloading Microsoft’s free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor).
If you’re running Windows Vista, and your machine will support an upgrade, do it! From my experience, Vista is slow and uncooperative a lot of the time and the upgrade will be worth it.
If you’re not sure whether to get the 32-bit or 64-bit version, you need to consider that a 64-bit operating system is much faster, in part because it can utilise more than 3GB of RAM unlike 32-bit systems. But before making the change, check that your hardware devices will run on a 64-bit system or that an upgrade is available.
Windows 7 has impressed me. It has the functionality and look of Vista, but the intuitiveness of XP. If you can afford an upgrade, I highly recommend it.
Technical: Lenovo ThinkPad W500; Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T9550 @ 2.66GHz 2.67 GHz; 4.0 GB RAM; 300 GB Hard Disk Drive; Windows Home Premium (64-bit)