Jan Ole Peek

Windows 7 Beta Impressions

I have been running Windows 7 beta for a week now and wanted to put some of my thoughts down on paper (or on blog).

Upon first glance it looks a lot like Vista and it is. It does have a couple of very distinct differences compared to Windows Vista though. Note that this isn’t a complete list by any means, it’s merely my observations of what I like the most about Windows 7 so far.

  • The new taskbar. Whether they call it the Ultra-bar, Awesome-bar, Magic-bar, Wunder-bar, I don’t care, it’s still a taskbar but with a couple of cool features. Most notably is the stacking and pinning of applications. So instead of having groups of tabs for a program, it’ll stack them all and give you a nice preview of each window as you hover your mouse over it. This even works for tabs in Internet Explorer 8 (someone better do this for Firefox!).


    Stacked Apps in Taskbar

    Little subtleties like the background colour changing when you move your mouse over the icon is cool. It seems to change to a colour that matches the predominant colour of the icon, or at least as best as Windows can determine that. It’s quite accurate and a really neat touch.


    Demo of how the background colour matches the icon's predominant colour. (Firefox is the active application)
  • The system tray is much less space consuming. Now, I’m not 100% sure if this is a new feature in Windows 7 or if Windows Vista had this as well (never used Vista for long – more on that later), but it helps keep things tidy. Often we run apps or services that put an icon into the system tray even though we don’t need to see it, but we can’t turn it off either. In Windows 7 you get the choice to always hide icons from the system tray (but still get their notification bubbles) and access them via the small arrow. I hide everything but the volume control and the network connection icon, both of which I access frequently.

    System Tray Organization
  • Another sweet new feature is the ability to have a slideshow for your wallpaper. Windows 7 let’s you choose any number of images (from the same folder) and rotate through them on a set timer. Keeps your background fresh and is great for showing off those vacation photos.

    Choose multiple images for your wallpaper
  • Finally, there are many other new features, Aero Peek, docking windows to the edges of the screen, etc, etc. But the last thing that impressed me the most is this beta’s stability.
    I am running this on a Lenovo Thinkpad T500, which was designed for and shipped with Windows Vista. Vista ran horribly on it! Daily blue-screens, constant freeze-ups, no doubt hardware related, and all sorts of issues. In fact, it drove me back to Windows XP.
    Windows 7 on the other hand runs extremely smoothly on this machine. Just once I’ve had to do a hard reset and have had no other usability problems.
    Sure, signs of it being a beta are around, Intel’s video drivers for example, even though being heralded as some of the earliest WDDM1.1 drivers, are causing Aero to glitch and have made it unusable for the most part. But Aero is just the eye-candy. I am confident that there will be updated drivers shortly that will hopefully address that issue.

In closing, Windows 7 is solid as a rock and it truly is what Vista should have been. If you have stayed away from Vista, give Windows 7 a chance when it’s fully released. It’s a good excuse to upgrade your PC 🙂

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