Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Mac user's review of Windows 7

I've recently bought a MacBook Unibody and, after years of Mac-Mac-Mac, I'm seriously experimenting the "Windows experience" (courtesy of the Intel processor!).

I've installed Windows Vista under BootCamp (as I will explain in one of the next articles) and I couldn't resist testing the new beta of Windows 7 that got out last night; so I downloaded it legally from Microsoft's website and I installed it under VMware Fusion.

The installation steps are identical to Windows Vista and in (more or less) half an hour everything was ready.
So... what's my first opinion about this new version of Windows?

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There are many things that I appreciate in Windows 7.
The boot process and the overall reactivity of the operating system have improved a lot on Windows Vista; it still isn't as fast as XP (and, probably, it will never be!) but speed seems acceptable now.
Finally, Microsoft is spending some energy on improving the user interface: while many say that Vista almost caught up with Mac OS X, I sincerely found it a mass of random transparency here and there.
Windows 7 improves usability at least on Gadgets
(finally they are disabled by default!) and the new task bar: one of the problem I have with Vista is that it's nearly impossible to work with more than four windows open at once; Windows 7 introduces a new way to handle open windows that is nearly identical to Mac OS X's.
The task bar has now icons of preferred applications (the old Quick Launch with bigger icons) and more icons appear when non-preferred applications run: all the windows from a certain application get grouped under the same icon... yes, just like Mac OS X's Dock!

Microsoft has also slightly changed one of the most hated feature of Vista: UAC, User Access Control. While this feature is absolutely necessary to keep Windows secure, most users (like me!) found it tremendously annoying: Windows 7 reduces the amount of pop-up that ask "Bla bla bla ...Cancel or Allow?"... thank you!

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Even if over the past few years Windows has improved its user experience and its security features, I still can't get used to it: Mac OS X still offers a much more complete environment for any kind of user.
Let's take a small thing in Internet Explorer: when a user opens it for the first time the main window is covered by overlapping useless pop-ups... clearly no one at Microsoft ever tested this!
Let's now consider Mac OS X's Dock:
  • it's intuitive: everything is drag-and-droppable and it's rarely needed to use right clicks
  • it offers much more features: the task bar doesn't let you drop folders as well as applications (even though folders can be added to the contextual menu show when right clicking on the Windows Explorer icon)
  • it's clearer in showing which applications are running (see picture below)
  • it instantly shows the name associated to the icon over which the mouse is

One more thing about the user interface: where is Exposè? Microsoft can be shameless in copying other companies' products; then why isn't it copying Exposè? It's THE way to move between open windows!
Moreover I still don't like Microsoft's approach to security: from the very first screen I had to deal with the no-antivirus warning and Windows Defender scans; Microsoft is moving on the user all the "security burden": on one hand this means that Windows is much more secure but, on the other, Windows can become a pain to use everyday.

Microsoft is feeeling that something is changing in the market: Windows is still the leader but Macs are countinously gaining new customers; the only way to make customers buy PCs is to improve Windows (and this is definitely the case).
But in my opinion Apple still provides the best user experience out there thanks to simple yet powerful software.
Keep in mind that this is only a beta and it seems a bit immature since it has already crashed once (as you can see in this screencast I've just taken).

PS: something a little bit more technical... defragmentation is still scheduled once a week! Amazing!
PPS: there's no PDF viewer (another thing I love in the Mac... bundled apps) but there's an XPS viewer.
PPPS: I've added the link to the video that shows the freezes

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