Archive for December, 2009

Finally switched to Windows 7

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

I know I’m late to the party, but I’m not a Windows fan boy and usually wait for some of the early bugs to get worked out and some real reviews to be written. Most everything I’ve read indicates that Windows 7 is much better than Vista and almost as good as XP. XP was without a doubt Micro$ofts best OS. Vista sucks wind and should never have been released  – I guess you still have to feed the shareholders something on a regular basis.

My target system is a Sager NP9850 “notebook”. I call it a notebook with some hesitation since it is a 12 pound transportable computer with an 18″ screen, 3 hard drives, and a battery lifetime of about an hour. I needed a fast windows computer for my image processing tasks and this was it. I ordered Vista 64-bit home premium with a Windows 7 upgrade coupon when I ordered the Sager. I installed Vista on the terabyte RAID and managed to get just about everything working. I had to work with a few vendors to get 64-bit versions of some of my astronomy software before I could retire my old Dell m500 laptop. My impression of Vista is that it was a slower, more poorly supported version of XP with a heaping handful of annoyances added just to prove to the windows users that Micro$oft has them all by the neck with nothing they can do about it. Certainly anything would be better than Vista.

So, I decided to wait until my year end vacation time to switch to 7. I really do hate to upgrade something that basically just works. I’ve found that upgrading almost always triggers an upgrade cycle somewhere else and the total end cost cannot be predicted in advance. It is not just MS products that do this. My switch to Snow Leopard ultimately cost me a scanner and a printer. The Windows 7 install went well, not very fast, but without a lot of baby sitting. It warned me that a few things might not work until their drivers were upgraded or software patched. One of those was my Intel wireless card which I use as my primary network connection. It turns out that everything worked anyway. After the install I did the obligatory first Windows Update followed by an update to the update. I went to the Sager site and downloaded all of the new drivers and installed them as well. All but one worked. I did notice one funny thing. I had FireFox on my Vista system. The windows 7 upgrade process, somehow failed to notice that FireFox was installed and it did not show up anywhere convenient. It was not found under the “All Programs” on the Start Menu. Hmm, what an odd oversight (certainly an intentional act on the part of MS).

Let’s talk about that Start Button. It is different, very different from what you have ever seen on a MS OS. Continuing the trend that MS started with Vista, you cannot change much of the way the Start menu works or how it looks. You can unpin what is there and pin programs and folders, but the folders you add are simple links – not expandable folders. There is no way to switch to a “Classic” Start Menu – although there are third party programs that add a second start button/menu as well as allow you to delete the original one. Naturally MS reorganized just about everything on the start menu. It took me a while to find the tools I was looking for. Along the way I did notice a few things that MS did indeed improve upon. Most of these fall in the category of system tools/administration/configuration. They made it very easy to control what things start at boot. While very nice, the price paid by all of the other senseless changes to the start menu is simply too high. I ended up constructing my own start menu tree for programs I use organized the way I want them to be and put it in the My Documents folder. At least there it is readily accessed and is a fully spring loaded hierarchical expanding tree – just like it is supposed to be.

I upgraded from a Vista install where I had switched everything I could over to a Classic appearance. That caused some other interesting problems. After installing 7 I had this Library folder on my desktop. I like a clean desktop and this folder was essentially a useless redundant way to access my Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. The problem was that I could not delete it. Oh joy! Fortunately Google really is your friend and a couple of deleted registry keys later it was gone. It seems to be a result of a sloppy installer script that was not thoroughly tested on real world system configurations. Apparently MS thinks we all love their GUI decisions and never deviate from the path they have chosen.

Windows 7 is the first version I’ve used that seems to play nice with other systems when it comes to networking – at least to a point. I easily joined my existing home network of Apple systems running Snow Leopard. It even found my time capsule I use for backups. Wow, impressive! MS finally realizes the value of diversity in the world. One of my first tasks was to move 100GB of AVIs from the Sager to the 2TB external drive on my primary Mac. I popped open two explorers and dragged a folder over (move not copy). It happily told me that the 33GB I had selected would take 20 hours to move! After the first 2.4GB AVI was copied it updated that estimate to 4 hours – OK that is better. It then informed me that there was a problem in copying the next large AVI. I hit try again several times to no avail and had to skip. It copied the next one just fine, but had the same problem on the one that followed. Moving files around on the network is one of the most fundamental processes you can think of. Why can’t MS make even this simple task robust? After several tries with the same result, I am now moving things over via USB thumb drives. Fortunately I have a 16GB stick.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on the other things I’ve found during my brief exposure to Windows 7. The trend of giving the user less and less control over their system continues. Change for change sake abounds with little practical gain in the end user experience. Windows 7 is certainly a step up from Vista – but anything would be. If I had drivers for all of the new hardware in the Sager, I’d switch to XP immediately.