windows7I’ve never done a proper ‘Review’ of anything, although it’s always been something that I’ve mulled over in the back of my head.  To be honest, I’ve always secretly aspired to be a tech journalist, especially if that ‘tech’ means video games… but don’t tell anybody (I said it was a secret, damn it).  Let’s call this a ‘beta’ review in the sense that I don’t know what kind of format I’d like to use for future reviews-if there are any, that is.  However, with that being said, I’ve always enjoyed the Kotaku review format.  It provides simple, straight-forward opinion under the Loved/Hated categories and doesn’t judge the game on an arbitrary number scale.  The reason for this is simple, and laid out clearly in their Reviews FAQ:

Boiling down pages of analysis to a single grade or score or number of pumpkins doesn’t help readers, it hurts them, reducing the process of critiquing what is often a living document into black and white terms, when there is often a world of gray left untouched.

They go on to say that by providing the reader with the basic facts they allow an educated and informed choice to be made.  The reader is thus empowered to make their own decisions about whether the subject under review is worthy of their hard earned cash or not.

This review will very loosely follow this format (key word loosely); however being that this is a “beta” review of a somewhat beta product, you shouldn’t get too attached.  There’s plenty of opportunity for change in the future.  In fact, if you have any comments about this format or the subject matter please feel free to drop a line in the comments section.

Putting the Past Behind Us

Vista is one of those things that everybody wants to forget, especially Microsoft.  They failed to gain any momentum for their defunct OS with the Mojave experiment, and those snarky Mac ads have all but cemented the Windows brand name in a seething pile of sadness and regret.  As the saying goes, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” and Redmond certainly has not forgotten about what happened with the Vista launch.

From the confusion that they injected into consumers with the misleading Vista capable stickers to the numerous driver incompatibilities that early adopters discovered, the first year of the newborn OS was rocky at best.  The beautiful Aero interface that was quite literally the keystone of the Windows redesign caused so much slow down and hogged so many system resources that the majority of users simply disabled the feature.  This left most wondering why they even bothered to upgrade since all they were left with was Windows XP featuring a circular start button, reorganized menu systems and delightfully quirky User Account Control that popped up with every minor action verifying whether you really wanted to perform said action or not.  Trust me, it was annoying.

As of the time of this writing, Vista has been in consumers’ hands for a paltry two and a half years.  By October, Windows 7 will be unleashed on a public that has grown weary of Microsoft’s failures and inundated with “laptop hunter” ads, which always make it a point to mention how expensive and non-customizable Apple products are.  While there may be doubts as to how well this new OS will fare, there is one truth in which we can all be certain: Windows 7 kicks ass.  Actually, it doesn’t just kick ass, it back-hands Vista while wearing a diamond studded leather glove and then drop kicks it off a bridge into a fiery pit of hell to (hopefully) be forgotten forever.  Windows 7 is much more than just “Vista SP2” (that’s Service Pack 2), as many are calling it, it’s truly the next step in Microsoft’s Operating System legacy.

Back in January of this year, the Windows 7 beta build (feature complete) was released to the public via TechNet.  Microsoft has thankfully changed their ways when it comes to trial software and allowed the public to stretch their digital legs inside this beautiful new beast, most likely because they know that without being able to try before they buy, many consumers will assume another Vista catastrophe and avoid the purchase/upgrade.  The Release Candidate, which is the version that is a candidate for release to the public in finalized form, was released in early May.  Both of these builds have been tested on an old IBM Intellistation ZPro and ran flawlessly.  There were some minor issues with the beta mostly revolving around Windows Media Center; however those have since been ironed out in the RC.

Loved

New Taskbar and Jump Lists: This right here is Windows 7’s bread and butter.  The new taskbar is simply stunning.  It is reminiscent of the OS X dock in that you launch and access open programs from the same icon; however it is so much less intrusive to your user experience.  When you open a program that is not on the taskbar, its icon appears and a simple right-click -> ‘Pin this program to taskbar’ gives you the power to keep it there even when its not open for easy access.  Jump lists allow you to access frequently used subsets of your programs easily.  An example would be favorite sites in Internet Explorer or Firefox, frequently used folders for the Explorer interface, or recent documents in Paint, MS Word or Notepad.

JumpList

Aero Peek: When you have multiple instances of a program open (this will work for tabbed programs too, like firefox once the developers take advantage of it), you can hover over the program’s icon in the taskbar.  This pops up tiny previews of each window (or tab) so that you can quickly select the one that you’re looking for.  Additionally, if you hover over any one of those thumbnail previews, every program on your screen goes “invisible”, showing only a black border of its window placement, and the only remaining visible window is the one whose preview you’re hovering over.

AeroPeek

Plethora of Backgrounds: The backgrounds included in the RC are numerous, and beautiful.  Some of them look like artwork straight out of the Beatles Yellow Submarine concept album, and the others look like something you’d see in a National Geographic piece about great photography.  Not only are they numerous, but they also each contain their own theme, which changes the color of the taskbar ever so slightly to match the background.  Using the extremely easy to navigate desktop personalization screen, you can even set up an automatically changing background (slideshow), which will change background picture and theme at any specified interval.  Take a gander at some of the trippier backgrounds included below (please, please, please let these be in the final release).

BGTurtle BGPurplePeople BGHappyLand
BGFurries BGAcidDrop

WMC Baked in: Finally, you don’t have to buy a “Media Center” PC to get Windows Media Center.  This great program allows you to stream all your media effortlessly to any networked device, including an Xbox 360.  The setup is quick and painless, and one you’re up and running it only takes a few minutes to load your library into the device’s memory.  A library of over 5500 songs took a little more than four minutes to open on an Xbox 360, which then enjoyed seamless playback as well as beautiful album art displays.  If your PC has a TV tuner, you can use this remote Media Center interface to act as a DVR of sorts, automatically recording and storing your selected shows on your Windows 7 PC.

Less Bloat: The footprint of 7 is notable smaller than Vista’s, as they cut out some unnecessary crud.  Things like Windows Movie Maker and Picture Gallery are gone.  Most people don’t need these programs, but if you really want them, you can still get them for free it’s just that they’re not taking up the disk space unless you really want them to.

Faster, Stronger: Not only does this OS take up less disk space, but it’s way less demanding on your system resources.  It requires half the memory that vista required, and the Aero features no longer require special graphics capabilities to handle them.  In fact, Windows 7 is streamlined so much that it can be successfully used on a netbook computer.  This actually brings up the point that Windows 7 has multitouch baked in, and some pretty cool multitouch utilities like the handwriting recognition tablet.  Unfortunately, these multitouch features went untested in these trials. :(

Hated

IE8: I can’t stress this enough.  Internet Explorer is the devil.  It does not embrace HTML 5 and it has terrible Javascript rendering capabilities.  Please do yourself a favor and visit this page: Acid Test 3.  If you’re using Internet Explorer you’ll see a funny looking, broken animation and a score of 20/100.  Now do the same test using Firefox or Google’s Chrome browser and you’ll get much better results.  This is a current web standards test, and is the easiest way to demonstrate how broken IE is.  The sad part is, that 20/100 score is on IE8, which is much better than the score IE7 used to get *shudder*.

UAC: While the UAC is much better than Vista (and actually can be turned off in the Control Panel), it is still there by default.  Granted, it is much less intrusive than Vista and much less frequent.  They’ve really toned it down and the default setting is (thankfully) to only notify the user when a program is trying to change something, and not the user themselves.

Start Menu: The start menu is still exactly like the Vista menu, which I wasn’t too fond of.  Thankfully, with the addition of the new task bar, jump lists and smarter shortcuts, you rarely need to access this menu anyway.  The scorn and suffering all stem from the “All Programs” listing, which is more of an exercise in futility than anything else.

StartMenu

The real question here is this: Will consumers once scorned by the vile wretchedness that is Vista be trusting enough of Microsoft to go for the upgrade to 7?  Only time will tell, but until then you can grab yourself the Release Candidate direct from Microsoft’s servers here (but be quick about it, you only have until August 15).  This version will allow you to install Windows 7 on your machine and play around with it until next August.  One major caveat however: beginning in March, the OS will begin to shut down every two hours and remind you that you’re not running a genuine version of Windows and to upgrade to the full release.  Yes, this is overly dramatic but five months of obnoxious bi-hourly shutdowns aside, most people will go out and willingly purchase Windows 7 after playing around with the RC.  At least, that’s what Microsoft is banking on.  And that’s Science.

Afraid to try Windows 7 out yourself?  Ask any questions you may have in the comments below and they shall be answered!  Don’t be afraid to leave comments on this review format either.

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