Windows 7’s claim to fame: better than Vista

Blair Hanley Frank

Rating: 3.5 Ducks
Pros: Easy to install, easier to use, fixes a lot of problems, XP Mode is handy.
Cons: Preferences are still difficult to navigate, Windows Update is still annoying, versions still confusing. Upgrade process flawed, at best.

With the end of October comes the beginning of holiday shopping season. What better way to kick that off than to introduce a new version of Windows? Windows 7 is the hotly anticipated sequel to Windows Vista, which was a colossal flop in terms of performance and bugs. Thankfully, this latest revision has fixed a lot of problems that Vista had.

First and foremost, Windows 7 is much less demanding of your computer’s resources, which makes it usable on netbooks, those tiny, low-power laptops that have been gaining popularity in recent years. It also means you’ll have a smoother computing experience than with Vista. You also won’t have all of the driver compatibility problems that plagued Vista’s launch.

The new XP Mode emulates a Windows XP environment for the purposes of running older applications that you might be holding on to. This is particularly useful for businesses who rely on antiquated software, but also for the average consumer, because it means that if your application ran well under XP, it’ll do just fine with Windows 7.

Unfortunately, Windows 7 has a bunch of flaws to it. First and foremost in my mind are the different versions of the operating system. As a consumer, you need to choose the right flavor of the OS for you, and with such unhelpful names as Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate, it’s hard to tell what’s right for you. Students can get a special discount on Home Premium, but that doesn’t pack all of the features of the Professional or Ultimate versions. Of course, if you want to be able to do everything, you’ll need the Ultimate version, which retails for a whopping $220.

Demonstrating Microsoft’s usual gracelessness, they released an upgrade chart that demonstrates the sheer ridiculousness of the upgrade system. To summarize, if you’re using Windows XP or Windows Vista Starter, you have to erase all of your data and restore it after the Windows 7 install. The same goes if you’re switching between a 32- and 64-bit version of Windows, or from the various different flavors to one another. It’s very complicated. Far too complicated, in my opinion.

Then we come to the topics of the Control Panel, and Windows Update. Compared to Mac OS X’s System Preferences App, the Control Panel is a clunky substitute, at best. It’s very difficult to figure out where the preference you want to find is, and even harder to parse through the layers upon layers of menus to get to whatever it is that you need. All of this adds up to a confusing, bewildering, and generally annoying user experience, unless you have an extensive knowledge of exactly how to work the back-end of the OS.

The bottom line is: Windows 7 is a much-needed upgrade. If Vista is sucking up your hard disk space and processor time, make a move for 7. Just don’t expect it to be a cure-all for each and every one of Windows’ ills.