The PC World challenge: 72 hours of Windows 7!

The challenge: switch from Windows Vista to Windows 7 completely.

Using Windows 7

One of the core problems with Windows 7, which Microsoft will invariably not fix, stems from its utter similarity to Windows Vista. Sure, the taskbar is a little different, Windows Explorer has a newer feel to it, and the desktop looks like it requires a GPU of its own for all the fun little transparent gimmicks and what-have-you. But at its core, this is Windows Vista. Windows Vista (remix), perhaps, but still Windows Vista. I found it difficult to figure out the actual changes to the OS save for the obvious differences in appearance. Sure, browsing through the help file pointed out some, but it was also extremely unexciting to do. The final release of Windows 7 needs some kind of snappy, orchestrated pop-up that tells you when a feature you're accessing has new elements "nearby." For example, you pull up Windows Explorer for the first time. A one-time popup tells you something like, "Hey, did you know that Libraries are totally awesome? Here's how they work." Or you're surfing the control panel and hovering over the various icons when poof!, up pops a tiny, 15-second animation to let you know about the wonders of PC Safeguard.

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(Poof! Libraries are a useful way to organize the contents of your computer without having to worry about maintaining a traditional folder architecture)

Would this get annoying, Clippy-style? For the power user, yes. But if there was a way to establish that you were either a new Windows 7 user or a transfer Vista user upon installing the OS for the first time, surely Windows could then give you a bit more of a walk-through than what this beta delivers: A bright blue background of a fish and a pat on the bum for good luck.

The Problem Children

I rip all the applications and games I own to their own mountable .ISO files. I hate scratched discs, but more than that, I hate having to look for that one, mission-critical disc (like, say, Gigabyte motherboard drivers) that's somewhere about the stack of junk in my room. Not only can I install the actual programs faster this way, but I can sleep easy knowing that I'll always be able to access my Planescape: Torment CDs no matter where the physical media might be (Ohio, last I checked). Windows 7 did not like this plan. Specifically, it did not like the various applications I use to mount CDs, like Daemon Tools.

Basically, any application that uses a SPTD layer to access virtual optical devices utterly fails in this Windows 7 beta. I hope this is fixed by either Microsoft or the various application developers for the final launch, as it took me forever to find a suitable replacement for disc mounting. Which brings up an interesting point of its own: What happens when Windows 7 launches? Will developers have to support XP, Vista, and Windows 7 versions of their applications?

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(I found no difficulties whatsoever in using a common barrage of applications and games on Windows 7, including Microsoft Office, Steam games, Adobe CS4, Hamachi, UltraVNC, Revo Uninstaller, et cetera)

I venture so, at least for the Windows 7 part of the equation. While I'm still coming to terms with the new icon-based toolbar, it's obvious that some legacy Vista programs just don't cross over very well. Take Steam, for example. When I'm running Valve's games platform, a little icon appears in the taskbar to let me know the program's running. Normally, I'd right-click on this icon to access the context menu for pulling up your friends window, games window, community window, et cetera. Only, that's not how it works. The actual icon for this is now hidden somewhere in the right-hand part of the taskbar near the clock, buried in an arrowed context menu. In a perfect world, one icon would handle all. But here I have two. And I don't like clutter.

Similarly, I look forward to the day when I can make use of the new context-menu-bearing icons in the start menu. For Microsoft apps like Paint and Word, there's a little arrow icon to the right of the icon and name combination you'd normally use to launch the program in the start menu. This gives you added context for the action you want to undertake, be it opening said program's recent items to new documents, et cetera. I long for the day I can launch my Steam games directly out of one of these menus.

I'm not a betting man--at least, not one to make too stupid of bets. This is exactly why I would not have placed money on Apple's iTunes working with Windows 7. But I never expected the installer mechanism to outright die. I began installing iTunes somewhere toward the top of this article. As of this sentence's writing, it's still hung at three-fourths completion. If Apple can release a version of iTunes that's fully-functional, installs perfectly, and doesn't muck up CD burning for both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7 installations... well, I might just buy a hat and eat it.

"Teh Awesome"

I'm running out of time on my self-imposed limit, so I'll make this quick. There are indeed some unique elements of Windows 7 that make it appear rather dashing when compared to Windows Vista. Gone is the hideous network lag that makes me wait 30 seconds every time I try to connect to my NAS. Windows 7 pulls it up as if it was just another folder: A++, I say to that. I'm a geek for good looks in an operating system, and I really dig the fun new features of Windows 7 in that regard. I love the slide-show background option, even though some of its choices for scenery are downright laughable:

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(Yep.)

Seriously. A buffalo? Anyway, I also enjoy the fact that you can now drag maximized windows around to your leisure. They're no longer locked to all four corners of your screen, and re-maximizing them is as easy as dragging them to the very top of your monitor. I'm not sure why you'd ever use it, but you can now invert the picture to your display completely upside-down. I can now hang my 30-inch display from the ceiling with joyful confidence, I suppose.

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Everyone's talking about it, so here's my five seconds: UAC is back. You can turn it to different levels of annoyance with a slider, and that's that. Windows Firewall has received a substantial upgrade in its capabilities, so much so that I actually considered--for the briefest of moments--fiddling around with its extensive new inbound and outbound limits before promptly switching it off. But still, I considered. This will be a fantastic upgrade for those of you who don't surf the Internet via hardware firewalls.

I don't have friends who use my desktop, but the new ability to completely wipe out a user's changes via PC Safeguard is a must-have for anyone who wants their computer to remain crap-free when significant others, younger siblings, or drunk friends are around.

Other than that, there are plenty more articles that go over the extensive, feature-by-feature differences found in Windows 7. Those are just a few of the major ones I noticed offhand and felt the need to comment on. Remember, I'm flying blind into Windows 7 (no press previews, no articles read, nothing. Just a plain ol' user), and didn't really have a way to find a ton of new features throughout the course of my normal weekend's worth of work.

(Next: Hammering Out The Big Verdict!)

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David Murphy

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