Saturday 7 February 2009

Windows 7 diary: first impressions

So to tie up the loose ends from my cliff-hanger ending:

Yes, the laptop woke up from hibernation – the process seemed a bit quicker than before, but I could be imagining that bit.

Yes, I’m creating this post from my Windows 7 machine, so if you’re reading it then I reckon it’s working well enough to be productive.

And what do I think now I’ve had a chance to begin to get to know Windows 7… well so far I’m kind of ambivalent, but let me explain why…

First, let me say I read an article few weeks ago about the cool new features to look forward to in Windows 7.  And like most information I don’t use immediately, I promptly forgot just about everything in it.  So I’m pootling about discovering bits and pieces for myself, and to be honest I’m probably missing the WOW-factor features.  I plan to go back and re-read about what I should be looking out for later, for now I’m content just to go with the immediate impact of a new OS on the things I already do.

So, the thing I’ve been most impressed with was the upgrade from Vista.  That went smoother than I ever could have imagined, and not having to reinstall most of my software is a wonderful thing.

When I woke my machine up from hibernation today I had a notification alert that my CA Antivirus wasn’t enabled.  Letting Windows try to fix it for me didn’t seem to do very much after the UAC prompts, so I tried opening up the Antivirus console.  From there I took the option to enable real-time protection and that was it – I had to reboot Windows, but even that seemed quicker than before.  And I now have virus protection.

I thought this would be a long shot but, incredibly, BBC iPlayer downloader worked first time!  That was a surprise because it used to be finicky on XP and Vista.  I guess iPlayer has come a long way since those days, but I was still expecting trouble.  I downloaded a programme and set the options to play in my default media player (Windows Media Player in my case).  First time I tried to play I got an error message from a WMP addin that wanted updating, and even after installing the latest version from the vendor, the error didn’t go away.  Having said that, I hadn’t even tried loading Media Player on its own at any point to give it a chance to initialise itself, so I wasn’t being entirely fair.  Sure enough, just starting Windows Media Player and letting it settle down fixed the problem and now my iPlayer works just fine. I haven’t done anything else in the new Windows Media Player yet, so I’ll have to save my opinion on the improvements for another time.

My Windows Home Server connector couldn’t find my server on the first attempt, so it had to do a re-discovery but that sorted itself out quickly and wasn’t any real trouble.

So next was Internet Explorer 8.  This was my first experience with IE8 and unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be using it as my primary browser.  The reason for this is an annoying bug with Vaio laptops that causes the keyboard to skip characters when typing in Internet Explorer.  It’s definitely not Windows 7’s fault (I had the same problem with Vista and XP) and I’m not blaming it on IE because I haven’t seen it on any other machines… but FireFox doesn’t give me any trouble so I’ll be using that for most of my browsing.

I did briefly check out the new Accelerators in IE which look pretty useful.  The only one I can really see myself using for now is mapping with Google Maps, although as more become available it will be nice to replace bookmarklets (e.g. for Delicious) and toolbars (e.g. for StumbleUpon) with something I can use from a right-click.

Web Slices sound like a very cool feature (allowing you to tag content on a web page and have IE notify you of any updates) but I couldn’t find a site with them enabled.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong – I’ll need to investigate that one some more another time.

As for the new UI… well I never liked the sidebar so it’s definitely good being able to drag desktop gadgets about the place, but this is an ultra-portable laptop with 1024x768 screen resolution, so I don’t generally see much of the desktop.  The one use I can think of for the moveable gadgets though is that I have a 7” digital photo frame will work as a small extra monitor when connected by USB.  Assuming I can get that working in Windows 7 then I might find myself putting gadgets over there.

I’m undecided on the new taskbar.  Again, on such a small screen I’m slightly begrudging of the extra real estate required for the taller icons.  Aesthetically I think it looks kind of clunky, although I understand that the ergonomic reasoning is sound.  (See this post about how Fitts’ law influenced the ribbon design in Office 2007.)  I was never one for hiding the taskbar in previous incarnations of Windows, so not having it visible feels a bit weird, but I’m giving that a go as a compromise.  I found the option to use small icons – so basically have it look more like Vista – but I don’t think there’s much point in testing a new OS and making it look like the old one without at least giving the new UI a try first.  (Plenty of other features have grown on me in the past that I haven’t warmed to straight away, so I’m being open-minded about this one.)

So… I’m hardly leaping for joy, but then Windows 7 seems stable enough, the upgrade was surprisingly smooth, and my apps pretty much just work.  So maybe I was expecting too much after the real WOW that was seeing the Vista UI for the first time.

Next post I’ll do some poking around in the dark corners to see what I can find that’s less obvious, and at some stage I’ll re-do my research and find out what features I’m supposed to be loving and whether they live up to the hype.

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