I have been playing around with the Release Client 1 of Windows 7 for a while and I think Microsoft has done a pretty good job. Almost everything about it seems very well polished and usable. I believe that 7:Vista::XP:ME. While everything thought ME was the biggest piece of crap ever, when XP came out people quickly jumped on the bandwagon. I believe the same will happen with 7.
Some of the things I will highlight are also in Vista, but I'm going to show some of the things I think Microsoft has done right.
- The "Start" menu.
This is very much like KDE's menu. I don't need to spend time finding where stuff is. I simply type in the name of the application I want to use and it pulls it up in the menu for me. If I want to play my new game, "Call of Duty: World at War", I simply type in any of those words and it shows up in the menu. I no longer have to click Start->Programs->Call of Duty->Game, or whatever. I just type War and I have it. The layout of the item on the right is very helpful as well.
I was never a fan of XP's default menu with the Control Panel, My Computer and all the other items in there because it just made for a lot of clutter. Visually, the default Start Menu in XP was very confusing. The new menu is well organized and easy on the eyes for locating what I want.
As I hover over the items on the right, the picture of me changes to a relevant picture of the item I am hovering over. It has a nice fade effect that works out very well.
If you notice to the right of Sticky Notes there is an arrow. If I click on that arrow I get a list of recently opened documents with that application. So if I had Word installed, it would show Word, and I could click on that arrow to get a list of recently opened Word documents. If I click on the word document then it opens it up.
Unfortunately, if you delete a file, it still shows it as a recently opened file, which I think will be a spot of user confusion.
- The Control Panel.
- Boot time and time to go from login to desktop. I haven't timed it yet, but to go from BIOS to login takes about thirty seconds. To go from login to usable desktop is about five seconds. I know once computer manufacturers start loading up all their crap on people's machines before they buy them, this time will go up considerably, but Windows has done their job at making a very clean bootup.
- Taskbar pins.
- Default user. For a default install of Windows XP, the user setup at install time is the administrator. When the computer boots up the default behavior is that anyone can log in as that administrator without a password. This is horrible security, and I think it is what causes so many people to get infected so very easily. That was Microsoft trying to be user-friendly at the cost of security, which caused more user experience issues than it solved. Now the default account has a password setup at install time, and nobody can log in as that user without the password. I hope this results in more people setting up multiple users on the machine.
I have always like how OSX is so easy to configure. Everything is laid out in a very logical fashion that makes finding the setting you want to modify easy to find. Windows and Ubuntu have always made simple tasks very confusing to find. I think that this new Control Panel simplifies everything. I have found that anything I want to change was easy to do by drilling down through each logical item in the control panel. Again, Microsoft has hit the nail on the head with this one.
There are two improvement here. In the location bar at the top, you can simply go back down the folder tree by clicking on any of the previous folders listed. Ubuntu has this, but I always turn it off. But Windows is doing domething different here. If I click in the location bar I can still type a location manually. This probably doesn't help the majority of people out there. However, I am constantly typing full locations in the location bar, because for me I can do that faster than I can click on a bunch of folders. In Ubuntu your option is the click view or the type view. I like the trade-off between the two views that are present in 7.
The next improvement is the search functionality. In the top-right I can start typing a search, and it will give me the results for the folder, and subfolders that I am currently in. This makes finding the exact file I am looking for very easy.
By default IE, Explorer and Media Player are pinned down in the bottom-left, though they can be removed and other programs added. If I have multiple folders opened, I can click on the pin and it gives me a preview of each open folder. If I hover over one of those previews, the desktop goes black and the full image of the folder is shown to me. If I hover over another folder then that folder is shown to me. If I click on one, then it becomes the active window. This makes finding the right folder very easy. The same is true with IE and having multiple web-pages open.
When creating a new user it defaults to setting those users as "user" and not "administrator" which should help things.
I know this was added in Vista, but I'm still thrilled about it. Updating Windows is no longer tied to Internet Explorer. Updates are done through the control panel. I still have problems with how updates are handled beyond that, which I list below.
- UAC. UAC is still dumb. It is bad security practice. All it will do is teach people to click Yes or Accept more because they will be so tired of trying to read every dialog box. This is Microsoft again refusing to adept sane security because they don't want to compromise usability, even though it is going to get users infected and cause more problems than it solves. One example of how stupid this is, I was trying to install a program and it kept giving me errors all over the place during the install. Once I cancelled I got a box that reading something to the effect of, "It appears you tried to install a program that needs Administrative right. Would you like to rerun this program with Administrative right?" Getting errors all over the place, and then given the option to do it right is not good. Windows should have recognized the need for administrative rights the first time it tried to access a restricted area and prompted me then. And it should have asked for an admin password to ensure that the user had legitimate rights to do that.
- FTP. FTP access from within Explorer is still broken. I have been using 7 while working on some class projects and I couldn't get to me FTP site in Explorer. I could from the command line version of FTP, which is what I ended up doing.
The inability to SSH across computers is another security issue. SSH is kind of like FTP (but certainly not exactly) but it is encrypted, so security is maintained. In the Unix world (which includes OSX) SSH is very powerful, and makes many tasks over the network very easy and secure.
- Updates. Updates still make you reboot constantly. It has taken me as many as four reboots to get all of the updates I needed installed. Why can't it install all the updates the first time, and only make me reboot for very low-level system updates like kernel updates? When I update Ubuntu I do it one time, and I very rarely need to reboot. In fact, I almost never need to reboot.
If you don't reboot in Windows after an update then it will keep nagging you. I griped about there here. I don't understand why Microsoft has such a hard time getting it right. People have been complaining about this since Windows 95, and back then Apple had already made this a non-issue for their OS.
Microsoft should also find a way that users can point to 3rd party update sites, so that users can keep their other software up-to-date using the built-in updating system. So if I have product A, I can point the OS to their updating site and I can get updates to product A with my regular Windows updates.
So there you have it. I still find Ubuntu to be a vastly superior operating system in so many aspects. There are still many questions about Windows 7, such as how well it will run on MIDs, Netbooks, and other lower-end hardware, which we will see pan out after it releases this October.