Product Reviews

Windows 7: Deja Vista

Windows 7 adds a few cool features, but look, feel and performance are not much different from its predecessor.

A new Microsoft Windows operating system is always big news. The last really stable OS to find widespread acceptance was Windows XP. Windows Vista added a lot of user-friendly options but was more or less branded as a consumer product and not really suitable for businesses.

And now we have Windows 7, which attempts to keep most of the niceties of Vista while maintaining the businesslike status that XP enjoyed.

We loaded the install DVD for Windows 7 and were surprised that it could run from the drive like a normal program and not need to be booted.

Once it scanned our test computer, it asked if we wanted to upgrade our existing OS or install a clean version of Windows 7. Because we were upgrading from Vista, we chose the upgrade option, which did keep all of our existing programs in place.

At this point, the program warned us that the install could take hours and that our system would reboot several times. On these points, it was correct. The time from when we clicked OK to the time Windows 7 was ready to go was 1 hour, 40 minutes on our test system, which had a 1.6GHz dual-core processor. We didn't notice a reboot until the end of the install. There's a nice progress bar at the bottom of the install screen that shows how far along you are. It's a guess at best, but at least it gives some indication as to what's going on.

Familiar Look and Feel
After Windows 7 booted up, we gazed at the new desktop and saw ... Vista. What? Here's the dirty little secret that Microsoft is definitely not telling anyone: If you hated Vista because of the interface, then you're going to hate Windows 7, too. Vista totally changed the look and feel of Windows from XP, but Windows 7 only marginally changes the look and feel from Vista. In fact, 90 percent or more of the interface is exactly the same -- as in, identical. Going on just the look and general behavior, Windows 7 is little more than what Microsoft could have delivered in a free service pack to the Vista operating system.

On the bad side, most of Vista's annoyances have remained intact. You're still bombarded with constant "Are you sure you want this program to run?" questions, even if Windows 7 is running an internal process. Luckily, you can go into the control panel and turn those notices off.

Performance is also unchanged overall on a system running Vista compared with Windows 7. We benchmarked several systems running Vista and then benchmarked them again once they converted to Windows 7. They were unchanged. Going from XP to Windows 7 resulted in a slight performance decrease, much like when going from XP to Vista. When we tested a beta version of Windows 7 early this year, we found its performance to be faster than Vista's. But with all the special functions added to the final release there's no difference, at least with the Ultimate Edition we tested.

Of course, not everything is the same. Several of the improvements are quite good. For one, users don't get fooled when trying to shut down the PC. Under Vista, clicking the button with the international symbol for power throws it into hibernate mode. In Windows 7, the power button actually says Shut Down and turns the system off.

Other improvements can be lumped into one of two categories. The first is visual appeal, or window dressing, if you will. These things are nice but not essential. The second covers performance improvements.

Window Dressing
The jump lists feature spans the area between visual appeal and performance improvement. Each program that runs on Windows 7 will spawn a jump list (see Figure 1). The list contains frequently used documents and features of that program, and it will change to match a user's patterns. Users can add features to a jump list or even pin a favorite feature or document to the task bar. So, if you have a spreadsheet you work on every day, you can jump right to it without any intermittent steps.

[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. Each program running under Windows 7 will have a jump list so you can jump to important documents or features.

Snap is another interesting feature that could improve productivity. Basically, it has preconfigured setups for screen windows that most users need. The most popular is putting two windows side by side, such as when you're comparing prices on various Web sites. All you need to do is drag a window into the area, and it will snap into place. You can also place important documents into the task bar if you like. If you don't enjoy those features, you can always disable them, though we think they make the interface better.

A fun but less useful feature is Shake. Grab any window with your mouse, and give it a little shake. Like magic, all the other windows disappear. It's perfect for users who are easily distracted. Oh, and a second shake brings it all back.

Aero Peek is similar to Shake, but it lets you make any window disappear by hovering your mouse over a little square in the lower right side of the Windows 7 task bar. Moving away restores the desktop. Clicking on that square keeps hidden windows away until you click again.

The Search function of Windows 7 is vastly improved over Vista and XP. When you begin typing in the search window, the computer is already looking for matches. You'll likely have what you're looking for in the time it takes you to type your query. If you think you've found the file you need, you can preview it by clicking in the search results window without opening it.

Better Performance
We've already determined Windows 7 won't make your computer run any faster. And if you're upgrading from XP, it might run slightly slower, just as with Vista. But there are several things Windows 7 does better than any other Microsoft OS, and they do increase performance.

Computers that go to sleep now do so extremely quickly. Even our most modest test systems were able to snooze in seconds. More impressively, they came back out of sleep mode in just a few seconds too, even going so far as to automatically reconnect with our wireless network.

USB devices have become extensions of PC use these days, be it in the form of portable hard drives, USB mice, digital cameras or even music players. With Windows 7, these devices are almost instantly ready to use. The first time you plug in a portable hard drive to a system running Windows 7, it will be ready to go in just a few seconds -- and any other time, there's almost no delay at all.

Installation 20%
Features 20%
Ease of use 20%
Administration 20%
Documentation 20%
Overall Rating:

Key: 1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent  5: Average, performs adequately   10: Exceptional

Final Analysis
Windows 7 is a good OS with a lot going for it, and it's stable. But it's not really anything new. We hate to be the reviewers who say that the emperor has no clothes, but there's so much hype surrounding Windows 7 that most people are probably expecting an entirely new OS. What they'll find is an improved version of Vista, with the same warts and flaws and a few improvements. That's really it.

It's hard to justify paying $319 for the Ultimate Edition to get snap windows, the ability to shake your mouse and slightly improved performance with USB drives. Most government agencies will likely purchase Windows 7 Enterprise Edition, which, with typical government discounts, will sell for much less.

If Microsoft had come out with a free service pack for Vista and called it "Windows 7," it would be one thing. But we just don't see enough of a change to warrant the purchase of an entirely new OS. Windows XP Service Pack 2 changed that OS a lot more than moving from Vista to Windows 7 will.

So if your computers are running XP and everything works fine, there's no need to jump to Windows 7 right away. And if you've already moved to Vista, you pretty much have Windows 7 already, albeit without a couple nice additional features.

Windows 7

Price: $319 for full Ultimate Edition
Microsoft Corp.

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Reader Comments:

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Wed, Jan 6, 2010

I agree completely with each and every comment here. I was completely shocked and surprised by the content in this review. I have just recently upgraded my business workstation, home desktop machine, as well as my netbook I can say that Windows 7 worked flawlessly on all of them. I did have a bit of an issue with the WWAN driver on my netbook, but once I started looking into the matter, even that was a simple solution. In regards to Vista, I also moved to Vista early on with my workstation and desktop and can say that Marc Wagner hit the nail on the head with the fact that the press jumped the bandwagon and did much more harm to Vista than it deserved. Having used it for an extended period of time, I can honestly say it was not a bad operating system, especially after SP1 was released.

Tue, Dec 15, 2009

Wow...hard to believe this article was highlighted in a recent Redmond In-Depth monthly newletter. Something tells me the editors are really regretting that decision. I guess you can only hope that this review gets only a minimal number of additional visitors before you find a way to sweep it under the rug. Absolute garbage.

Mon, Dec 14, 2009 JC Warren Seattle, WA

This article is satire, right? I can't believe anyone with any real experience in IT would actually write something this absurd. Why would anyone think an upgrade from Vista would result in a performance improvement? In my experience, Vista will pollute everything it touches forever. Gotta do a clean install if you want the full benefits. On the UAC point, I accepted the Win7 defaults (Recommended) and have experienced few challenges other than the expected ones and have yet to need to imput my credentials which Vista incessantly did. Mr. Breeden runs the Government Computing News testing lab, huh? Is this an example of my tax dollars being squandered as usual? Geez, what a waste of time.

Fri, Dec 11, 2009 Robert Cohen San Francisco

Mr. Il, Stopped reading this very poor review after the assertion that XP was a stable OS. Nothing could be further from the truth based on my several years of supporting it in the field. Windows 7 is a breath of fresh air that just works - and it's about time MS delivered such a solution. Rob

Fri, Dec 11, 2009 JT New Jersey

I stopped reading about a third of the way through. This review is terrible. How does something this bad get published?

Fri, Dec 11, 2009 Mr. Joe NY, NY

Wow.. Can't beleive that you actually printed this dribble.. My what turd..

Fri, Dec 11, 2009 Craig

Reading Redmond Report I came to this article and like everyone else here, I disagree with your findings. I have found Windows 7 to be stable, secure, faster and more efficent than Vista and way better than XP. I expect better reporting from RedmondMag.

Wed, Dec 9, 2009 Tom Jackson Virginia

You HAVE to do a fresh install to see the performance improvement. Otherwise it's just Vista+.

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 ChrisW

You came to these types of conclusions by upgrading a single box from Vista to 7? Did you do a fresh install of Windows 7? The speed improvements from Vista to 7 are noticeable. I'm sorry you didn't bother comparing a fresh install to an upgrade, as anyone tasked to review an OS would typically do. What is sad is that you wrote your conclusions as if this was some sort of exhaustive evaluation. I think of Redmond Mag as a business-centric publication, and you didn't even bother writing about the myriad of improvements around security. Our organization will be migrating to Windows 7 the first half of 2010 based on the vastly improved functionality and security. Vista users should migrate ASAP (migrate, NOT upgrade).

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 BWJ Texas

Wow! What can I say that hasn't already been said? Proably a good bit, but I do agree with Marc Wagner from IN who posted first and with susbsequent posters. This is a terrible review. Not because of what it says, but how the review was done.

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 Marty H

This is a horrible uninformed shallow review. There are many more comprehensive reviews on the internet. Use your favorite search engine to find several. Here is one.

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 Tony Bertolini

I have to say that this reviewer hasn't spent the time to do a real comparison. While the Win 7 UI may feel a lot like Vista, I think you've missed the boat on performance improvements. The fact that Win 7 runs on meager netbooks with 1 GB of RAM is a huge performance improvement. Not to mention many Vista features that never worked have been corrected in Win 7. Frankly, I am a power user and use Linux, XP, Vista, Win 7 and Apple Snow Leopard and when it comes time to get work done Win 7 is my choice OS. The only emperor I see with no clothes is John Breeden II.

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 Freddy H. CCS, Venezuela

As a MCSE, MCSD and MCDBA I don't do a simple interface view of an OS. Turning off UAC is like don't locking your house because you don't like to carry the keys. Vista was slow not because internal process was slow, in fact, it has the same kernel as Windows Server 2008 and you don't find complaint about its performance. Doing a benchmark in Vista show it to be slower than XP, but not to a degree you feel using interface was. So Windows 7 improve the interface with almost the same speed in kernel and everybody feel it to be faster. I use Win7 and Mandriva at home. Mandriva is faster, but if I need to do real work, I use Win7. An OS is more than performance.

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 Dan Sheehan Silver Spring, MD

I stopped reading at "Windows Vista added a lot of user-friendly options but was more or less branded as a consumer product and not really suitable for businesses." Clearly you have no idea what you are talking about as the majority of security enhancements (such as bitlocker) were designed for the business needs. Really, can we find better reviewers than this?

Thu, Dec 3, 2009

When you upgrade Vista to Windows 7 you did not get Pure Windows 7 you got a hybrid of windows 7 and Vista the only way to see a true windows 7 is with a clean install of windows 7.

Thu, Dec 3, 2009 Marc Wagner Bloomington, IN

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am with this review. It was clear before I even read your BIO that you've never known a Microsoft OS other than Windows XP. Nor do you know the history of the Windows "NT" kernel. Formally known as Windows NT 6.x "Vista" and "7" were indeed buit on the same codebase - but with better kernel performance with Windows 7. Similarly, Windows XP and Windows 2000 were built on the same Windows NT 5.x codebase. Like Vista, Windows 2000 was also not widely adopted. But neither was "branded" as a consumer-only product. Instead, both Windows 2000 and Vista were passed over because they were transitional products and during their first few months of use there were a handful of compatibility issues consumers never had to face but businesses did. By the time those problems were resolved, the "popular press" had done its damage. Few who stuck it out with Vista "hated it". You give UAC a bad rap but, unlike XP, which would permit web applications to install without warning - and made it nearly impossible for the power user to function without administrative privileges, both Vista and Windows 7 will run any well-behaved program with standard user privileges. The XP user unfamiliar with Vista or Windows 7 will face a bit of a learning curve but so what? Change is good and the NT 6.x kernal found in Vista/7 is far more secure and stable than the XP kernel. To suggest that users turn off UAC because they "don't like it" is just plain wreckless. And to suggest that Windows 7 is no better than Vista is to show how little you have worked with either. This is reinforced by the fact that you chose to UPGRADE a Vista 7 box instead of installinf Windows 7 on a clearn system. (It takes about 40 minutes.) The press loves to push the UPGRADE option but no IT professional would actually recommend an upgrade - which is always problematic - no matter what the OS happens to be. My first experience with Windows was version 1.0 and my first foray into Windows NT was verson 4.x and I have never looked back! I can tell you that Vista/7 is light-years ahead of XP and you do your readers a disservice by suggesting otherwise. I do have to agree with you on one point. If you are running XP on old hardware, don't bother to upgrade. Same thing if you are running Vista on new hardware. But, if you are running XP on a 2GHz, dual-core system with 2GB+ of RAM (built since 2007), you are severely under-utilizing your system and you should upgrade to Windows 7 at your earliest opportunity.

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