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How Windows 7 features compare with Vista

So what’s up with Windows 7 — does it have many new features? How does it compare with Vista?

I put up the latest version — Build 7000 — in a VM on Hyper-V. I wrote about my first impressions of how Windows 7 affects the decision to migrate from Windows XP to Vista or wait. But what about Windows 7 on its own merits?

I’m actually writing this now on it. It didn’t blow up, it did work right away, and it seems highly functional with one processor core and 1GB of RAM . This is with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Chess Titans, Performance Monitor, calculator and IE open — I’m using about 75% of my allocated memory. Aside from the occasional spike, CPU is hovering in the single digits. So we’ll have to wait and see what people who run the various benchmarks come up with, but there’s some reason to believe Windows 7 may also be more like XP than Vista on the performance front. Of course, by the time you have this in your shop, the average desktop will be about as powerful as your entire data center was in 1990, but that’s another story. …

Reading the Microsoft site, there’s some eye candy features that I can’t seem to get working. But that may well be because my VM doesn’t have the video chops for that — it’s on a server with a very average video card. The “biggest” thing I can’t get to work is a new feature that allows you to put your mouse in the right corner of the taskbar that then turns your windows clear so you can see your desktop. I’m not actually sure why you’d want to do that, but since I can’t, I can’t figure out how silly it really is.

On the other hand, I can get the automatic half-window resizing feature to work: You drag any window to the right or left margin, hold it there, and it will resize to occupy half the screen. Useful for working in two windows at once, but hardly the stuff of mandatory upgrades.

In general, they’ve tried to keep the silliness quotient lower than Vista. Rather than Vista 2, this is more like Vista 0.5 — as far as the UI goes, closer to XP. The sidebar seems to be gone, although gadgets are still possible (now you can put them anywhere on the desktop). The taskbar has actually been improved to accommodate today’s multi-multitasking workforce — doing email while writing a report while IM’ing friends while answering Facebook messages while shopping online while updating a spreadsheet while buying movie tickets for a date tonight while downloading iTunes while watching YouTube while updating a spreadsheet. You can make the icons bigger if you want, and hovering over each one gives a little thumbnail and text description (“Windows 7-Microsoft Word”).

Of course, as always, Microsoft has added a widget or two that is supposed to be helpful but could just as easily be confusing, like the little file older icon on the taskbar that’s NOT a running app, but there to trigger a window of your “library”– seemingly another name for My Documents, except that the folders are actually virtual ones that aggregate like content (.docs in Documents, .mp3s in Music and so on) from anywhere on your hard drive. And you can enable a little widget called “Desktop” on the taskbar that has a fly-away menu with some of the more important stuff you might go to the left-hand Start menu for. But it’s not really complete, so which one do you go to? Hmm….

The hated User Account Control (UAC) is now controllable, not just on or off. By default, it no longer queries you every time you make a change to the machine. It just does it when a program does, and it doesn’t black out the screen, it just makes a transparent black window. You can turn both user-generated and externally generated triggers either on or off. OK, so maybe some users won’t freak out because their screen blacks out, but still – this is one of those features that no one knows what to do with. I’ve been running Vista since it was a beta and I’ve never said “No” to a UAC prompt. When would I? I guess if some hacker was dumb enough to give me a prompt that said “Hacker trying to wreck your machine.”

There are some things I need to investigate more: Is Remote Assistance just a new name for Remote Desktop Connection? Are there any hidden self-healing or managing features that weren’t apparent at first blush?

I’ve already gotten feedback from my first post that performance will be a concern for some of you, and I’m going to start researching that.

How many of you have kicked Windows 7 tires or assigned someone in IT to do that? What are your first impressions?

UPDATE I: I haven’t commented on development aspects of Windows 7, but Yuval Shavit has already started considering the Windows programmer’s perspective on Windows 7 at .NET Development.

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I'm running Win7 on a Dell XT tablet (which is not the fastest box around with only a Core 2 Duo ULV running at 1.33GHz). The multi-touch, pen, and handwriting capabilities worked great right out of the box. I have installed Office 2007 and Adobe CS4 and not had any issues yet. Performance is much better than Vista, especially with startup and shutdown times. I've been impressed so far.
This is with regards to your comments on UAC. I commend Microsoft on making it possible for a user to know that something may be borrowing his administrative rights to make changes that require high level rights without being sure that the user actually wants to make changes of that sort to his PC. Microsoft is trying to protect people from un-intentional changes to their computing experience while requiring relatively little knowledge. Unfortunately, more knowledge of PC operations is required than many users seem to have. You may not have been practicing risky behavior (click on everything, download everything, run executables from email regardless of sender, etc.) and so UAC was unnecessary but that's not true of all PC users world-wide all the time. As a 'computer doctor' for over 20 years, I can tell you that most computer users do not know enough to stay safe and lots of them will run anything. They wouldn't eat something they found in the toilet, but they will run or install things on their computer without a thought. There is a lot of Free Stuff on the Internet and a lot of Good Stuff on the Internet. Good Stuff and Free Stuff are NOT the same. The truth is that the intersection of Good and Free is relatively small. Back in the days of Windows NT, Microsoft recommended that people create a separate Administrator level account for installing programs, device drivers or otherwise making 'administrative' changes to the computer. The day-to-day account was supposed to be a standard user level account. When a person wanted to add programs to their computer or make administrative changes to the computer, they were advised to logout of the user account, shut down the PC, reboot and login to the Administrator account. From that login, they were advised to only install programs from trusted sources and to never click on a URL, but to instead type the intended URL carefully and verify that you had it right before continuing. If the site was wrong, close the browser and begin with a new browser session. Once the purposeful installation or administrative change had been completed, then the user was advised to logout of the administrator account and then login to the user account to do use his computer. If people had been willing to follow that advice and if programmers had been willing to write software supporting those rules, then life for malicious programs would have been very tough and users would have far less exposure to malicious or uninvited programs. But people largely did not want to be bothered with segregating tasks or being expected to know anything about how a computer works so those guidelines were ignored by users and programmers alike. So Microsoft offered an additional capability in Windows 2000, the secondary login service. With that, you only needed a user level account for yourself and you could use the elevated Administrative account by using 'Run As.' But again, most users found this to be too cumbersome--it required 'too much' knowledge of computer operations. Convenience for users translates into convenience for opportunist programs. We require people to get an education regarding the rules of the road and a driver's license before allowing them to drive a vehicle....but no one wants to suggest that computer users should likewise get educated. So here we are. Make everything intuitive for all people with no education required. Make it self-healing. Make it able to tell the difference between something I want and something that I don't want....even if I think I want it. Give me the right to override the computer because it is my computer. What do you mean I'm not allowed to install "nukemypcnow.exe?" People want full access all the time to their computer but they don't want anything bad to install itself...while not actually being required to know anything about how the computer works. They even prefer that anything being installed does so behind the scenes and requires no input from them. Anyone who really doesn't understand when to say 'no' to a UAC prompt should do a little research. Perhaps you are trying to be entertaining...hopefully you really do have a pretty good idea about when to let UAC help you. Either way, you are being irresponsible saying that you have no idea when you would say 'no' to a UAC prompt. When you publish comments of that sort about it under the auspices of being a computer journalist and expert, you are failing your readers and those who look to you for guidance. Many readers may see your comment and say 'right on.' Those who really feel that way are really saying UAC requires too much knowledge for their tastes and they want Microsoft to find another way to protect them. Try saying it that way. If you really are being serious in saying you don't know how to respond to a UAC prompt, then I can help you. If you're installing a program or an update, then you may expect high-level changes to take place and you can inform UAC that changes are expected. If you don't know that you are installing a program or an update, then you should tell UAC to not let the change happen. You can try again if you find that you are installing something that you need or want. If you're browsing the Internet and UAC warnings appear, then you are not expecting changes and you should tell UAC that you were not expecting this. Similarly, if you connect a USB drive, insert a piece of media in an optical (or floppy) drive or otherwise connect to a resource and UAC warnings appear, tell UAC to help you out and deny the least until you determine that you do want changes to the computer. Remember the first rule of Safe Computing. Always try something new for the first time on someone else's computer. And remember the corollary, be yourself...not someone else.
I have installed Windows 7 64 on an AMD 5200 dual core with 1 GB RAM. So far I dont have any problem. Definitely It is faster than Vista in almost all aspects (I am a basic user). The startup and shutdown times are impressing.
@Gene: As you surmised, I do indeed understand how UAC works. And I agree with you that user ignorance is half the problem. But only half. My overall point is that the ONLY time I have ever seen UAC warnings is immediately following an action I initiated -- usually launching setup.exe for a new app. I was reminded that there are other, possibly more intelligent approaches, both by your reminder about the "run as admin" option in XP and by installing Ubuntu. I'm experimenting with Hyper-V and wanted to see how it handles Linux VMs. Linux, and of course, UNIX, require you to enter the admin password before installing software. This makes sense to me. It probably would be confusing to many endusers. I hate to pick on older people, but many people who came to computing in their 60s have enough trouble telling the difference between logging into their computer and logging into a website, much less have two different logins on their own computer. Let me state for the record that there are many computer literate old people and most of computing was actually invented by people in their 60s and beyond (some beyond the grave by now), and I haven't been mistaken for a kid in many years. But the stereotype has some basis, let's be honest. Back to security, my overall point was that security mechanisms that don't actually help users understand what to do and what not to do, and therefore lead either to blanket acceptance or rejection, are not helpful. On balance, I think your point about "run as admin" or the Linux way of doing things are both more helpful -- they force you to take an action before you initiate change, not after, and therefore seem part of the process of change, not an annoying interruption. None of these techniques seem to be able to defeat malware that turns computers into zombies, from what I can gather. Since that seems to be currently the big problem, I would welcome more attention paid to that. Like, for example, algorithms that detect activity that seems unconnected with user input or system maintenance. I'm probably venturing into waters over my head here, but I find it odd that computers can be recruited as zombies and no one's the wiser.
Gene: I remember attempting, briefly, tying to follow the "updates made by Admin user only rule". The problem was the non admin couldn't run way too many of the applications installed this way when in normal user only mode. It wasn't that going to Admin to make changes was too much trouble, it was that it wasn't worthwhile because you had to have Admin rights to run the software after it was installed. Perhaps training in setting up a normal user to run applications installed by the Admimn uses was necessary, but I don't think so. I would like to know if ANYONE has ever successfully implemented a Windows environment where users did not require customized Admin rights beyond what the "normal" user would have out of the box or, tougher yet, that is not a standard set applicable to most users (you have to adjust rights for different user’s needs).