on July 9, 2011
Don't stay on XP, this would be a huge mistake, security-wise. W7 is a _required_ evolutionary step forward. Not a great leap, in 10 yrs, except when contrasted with Vista. Compared to XP, it has a number of frustrating issues which really lead me to question how Microsoft spends its time.
I've been working and using on Windows for 20 yrs now, as a developer and a power user. I've largely switched to Mac OS aka OSX at home (w. a Win7 Pro bootcamp on it), use Win 7 at work and sometimes use Linux (Ubuntu).
The emphasis here is largely that of a home user / home office. So why Windows Pro? Simply put, if you need to bring your laptop onto a company network for some reason, like consulting, you will find that Microsoft puts limitations on Home versions of Windows joining company network domains. Can you get it to work? Maybe, network admin is not my strong point. But easier, if you care, to just get a Pro, it'll run your games just as well. Mind you, you can always get Home and use the upgrade-from-Windows feature to bump up to Pro. At least, I assume you can.
To me, the best Windows was XP. It was a big, stable, step forward from previous consumer Windows and it could run games, unlike W2K. It was reasonably fast, didn't get in the way and Linux and Mac OS were not as polished or not even available.
But it's been 10 yrs, we have new technologies and new threats. Forgetting Vista or Win 8, which I never used, what does 7 bring to the table? How does it compare to other personal computer operating systems?
- General UI is adequate but not super innovative either. Aero is cute, but... so what? Full-window previews on ALT-TAB are actually distracting. Its saving grace? Gnome on Linux is so-so, I hate KDE 4.x and Ubuntu's Unity is unproven. So Linux GUIs are still lagging. The Mac's GUI is well done, but not without its own quirks either.
- Pinning programs on the task bar - like Mac OS. Jump lists and multiple windows - way better than Mac OS and infinitely better than Gnome.
- Security. The annoying do-you-want-to-allow-this prompts, aka UAC, aren't super well implemented, but they are a necessary security enhancement for Windows. Mac OS and Linux both seem to remember your elevated privileges better and don't bug you to just open admin programs. For example, I get prompted every time I run my antivirus at work. Is this really necessary - pointless prompts teach users to always click OK. Still, a welcome change.
Turning off UAC, as some reviewers irresponsibly recommend, is not terribly clever if you care about security.
- Admin vs. user mode. Windows 7 has mostly gotten programs to work correctly when run by unprivileged users, unlike XP where many required you to be an admin. Why would you want to be a low privilege user on your own machine? Security, less risk of malware sneaking itself in using your user privileges. A big plus.
- Version upgrading within Windows. Say you bought a laptop with XP Home on it. You had to jump through hoops or buy a new box to upgrade to XP Pro. This has been fixed in Windows 7. A huge thank you.
- MS Security Essentials. Nice addition as I dislike Norton & McAfee, which tend to slow machines down more than most viruses. I continue to use AVP or Avast instead, but it's nice to have the option.
- Support for Blu Ray hi-def movies. If you care about that - Apple does not support it. Linux & Blu Ray are not exactly a match made in heaven either. So Win7 wins because the others didn't show.
- Games. Games under Linux are a bad joke and have been for years. Games under Mac OS are few, mostly belated ports from Windows, difficult to find at retail and are more expensive. Again, Win7 wins by default.
- Tons of programs available. Quality is what it is but most well-written programs make things easy for the user and don't require effort to install and start using.
- Hardware. Most hardware families work fine on Win/OSX/Linux. But not all - for example, scanner support on OSX/Linux is highly dependent on brand. I never did get my Canoscan LIDE to work on either and finally got a Epson instead (and a Fujitsu later on). And sometimes the vendor only really optimizes Windows drivers. That said, more and more hardware is multi-system nowadays and vendors have long been taking Linux and OSX more seriously.
- Significant re-design of the interface, without a real need for it. For example, we lose the classic menu, we get more ribbons a la Office 2007, the configuration panel is changed. Is it better than before? Not really. Is it different enough to be annoying? Definitely.
Anyway, a big Windows drawback is it configuration by dialog box. Everything is in a dialog box, somewhere. Finding it is not fun, especially when it is buried 3 or 4 dialogs deep.
Case in point: "Add or Remove Programs" on the Control Panel gets renamed to "Programs and Features". First of all, the original name is much more indicative of what it does (and shows near the top of the list). Second, MS online documentation, for older programs, has not been updated, so still refers to Add&Remove.
Who the heck authorizes a fundamental name change like this and to what purpose? I could understand it, somewhat, if the update really improved clarity for users, but changes like these always come at a cost to users and a clever company does not do it gratuitously (good thing I am not reviewing Win 8.x)
- Freezes, gray outs and "not responding" programs. Something Windows 7 never quite seems to realize is that its job, except in rare cases where the user requests a high-priority, long-duration, computation, is to... respond to the user. It is supposed to do my bidding. Period.
Windows 7 repeatedly pauses itself, or other programs and goes gray. During that time it accepts no input. And that while no urgent tasks are taking place. This is much worse in W7 than in XP. Neither Mac OS nor Linux have these types of issue. BIG FAIL.
- Encryption (Bitlocker). Available in higher-cost versions of Win7 only. Save money, use TrueCrypt instead, which has many advantages over BitLocker or Apple's FileVault.
- The DOS command shell. Yes, we have Powershell, but I fail to see what it does that BASH cannot do more easily. DOS itself is an embarrassment. Get a grip.
- Explorer. Same old, same old, except for the searches which are slow. No smart folder a la Mac OS.
- IE. Thankfully I use Firefox, but IE 9 also spends about 5-6 seconds on my machine thinking before it accepts any input. See my point about user responsiveness. What about having a NoScript equivalent for IE?
- Do we need 6 or 7 versions of Windows? Home, Pro, Ultimate. Shiny, Not Shiny. Not to mention that each has subflavors: Retail, OEM, Upgrade. Really? Greedy Microsoft.
- Expensive$$$, unless you buy it baked in with a new system which I rarely do.
- Boot time & especially boot time profiling. My Win 7 at work takes 2-3 minutes from the login to actually accepting user input. Probably due to some non-responsive login script is my guess. In XP there was a nice boot profiler and you could see which programs were taking their time. No such thing in W7, except through an entirely inadequate Event Viewer entry. You can profile W7 boot times, but you need to download the profiling parts of the .Net _developer_ framework, multiple GB, which can be trimmed down to 242 MB, if you work at it. Then you need to jump through additional hoops to actually profile. BIG FAIL.
- Event Viewer. Slow as heck, twice as complicated as the XP Event Viewer, limited if any increase in capabilities compared to XP to show for it.
- Sleep/Hibernate/PowerOff/Resume. Win 7 under Bootcamp on my MacBookPro behaves fine. It is a dog on my 2-3 yr old laptop at work. Half the time I need to shut it down by holding down the power button. And I've had that work laptop repeatedly wake up and power on in my backpack, which causes huge heat ups in the enclosed bag. Big Fail. Bigger fail yet: start a shutdown - which takes forever. Close the laptop, which puts it in hibernation. When you power it back up, it resumes where it started, which is to shutdown. Like it couldn't finish its shutdown instead of hibernating. You can't make this up!
- Some programs (Explorer, IE), now have menus turned off by default, replaced with an entirely inadequate ribbon with 5-6 icons that give you very few of the functions you need.
- Windows Update & its reboots. News to you, Microsoft, I don't want a potential reboot every time I install a patch. Apple and Linux mostly get this. You don't. Have some respect for my time and at least indicate it in advance rather than leaving me guessing, it's your OS after all.
- various. Try to shutdown a program from the taskbar and it will often ignore you. Sometimes when you get an error, you are presented with a "Windows is looking for a solution" wait dialog. Never seen any solutions come out of that 20-30 seconds wait, waste of time.
- Security. Despite getting more serious about security, Windows still gets most of the malware. Part of it is its design, part of it is just that it is more popular, so more worthwhile to write malware for. Macs and Linux can get caught out, but a virus that is seen on a few thousand machine is usually really big news, whereas Windows zombie networks can rack up 100K+ machines. Still, look up MacDefender for laughs.
Depending on your needs, skills and budget, Ubuntu Linux or Mac OS are nice alternatives.
For someone with a technophobic grandmother for example, installing Ubuntu on a PC and setting it up for email & browsing only is quickly done. The system will be at least as stable as W7, will self-patch very well, Linux will not cost you a penny and it will run quite well on low end hardware. Your grandmother will be in the browser and the email anyway so she won't notice the difference with Windows.
For a real power-user who likes to tinker with the system, Linux wins hands down. Also good for a computer savvy person on a budget or someone with an older computer.
In between the stereotypical granny and the super savvy admin, there is a uncomfortable gap with Linux. Once you step off the beaten path, Linux often needs quite a bit of tinkering and research before you get things working. If you are always installing cutting edge stuff, you may find yourself reading quite a bit of manuals and semi-helpful forum entries. Not the place you want to be at if you just want to get on with things and not spend much time tweaking your system. On the other hand, many free stable programs are available from online repositories and require LESS effort to install than under Windows and Mac OS.
MS Office is not available under Linux. I don't like Open Office/Libre Office much myself, though many think it's adequate.
Apple kit is pricey and often a status symbol first of all. But the hardware is now first class (that was not always the case before), new releases of Mac OS are dirt-cheap ($30). Macs just work. Most of all, to programmers, you have the raw Unix power available under the fancy exterior. Quite a few Linux programs run just fine under Mac OS and open source availability is more than adequate. You can get MS Office if you want. A lot of open source web technology geeks I know use Macs precisely because they just work. And with Bootcamp you can install a licensed version of Windows.
Update Sept 2013:
Old laptop died, starting to work with new laptop on Win 7. Guess what... painful experience. At core, my network status/wifi connect does not show up in the Notification Center. So I have to go through Control Panel, where you can't easily see what your network _devices_ are up to (you need to go to some System-Computer/Devices tree, elsewhere to see if the wired & wireless are enabled). Yes, I can do ipconfig /all and it showed me my wireless was disabled, but Dell had hidden the button under the clamshell (and not bothered to put on an label on the hardware).
After fixing that, still no network in Notifications area, _except_ when I try to connect through the Control Panel when it briefly shows me the now available wifis. Connection does not work, but of course it cant leave the wifi channels in Notifications, oh no. Nor does it show any error message as to why my wifi handshake did not work, not even that it did not.
In Linux, I'd have some really cryptic command line arcana to go through, but someone would have documented the whole troubleshooting chain AND the command lines would spew out all kinds of diagnostics & debug info. MS has the never-useful "Troubleshoot XYZ" placebo buttons and links in the GUI. Apple usually works, certainly does its best to keep all items together and I suspect you might even be able to fall back on its command line to configure networks "old school".
MS's insistence on GUI widgets, which move from place to place & change labels between versions, is really not a help. As I said, configuration mess via unconnected, badly grouped, system widgets. It manages to have neither the elegance of an Apple (where all this stuff is under System/Network Settings), nor the brutal but efficient functionality of Linux command line administration. I believe I'd be happier with the Windows Server 2012 command line admin functionality but that's not an option.
The worse of both worlds, in short. System complexity and error logs hidden behind unhelpful "user friendly" fluff. Note: if you admin Windows systems for a living, of course you realize I don't know what I am doing. I am sure it is highly easy to configure, ONCE you know exactly what to do. That's just my point - basic admin is not optimized to do for someone who only rarely does it. Even knowing which release of Windows 7 (SP), 32 or 64 and what the CPU is becomes a quest. Oh, and MS online help requiring Silverlight to view it is really not a clever idea.
End of story? Error turned out to be an incorrectly typed password, which I found out by viewing the password, NOT by getting ANY error message about it. Automated troubleshooting? - password mismatches are beneath it, of course.