Today, this sounds like such a no-brainer, but Vista really got this one wrong. People were duly excited about upgrading their OS to something that was prettier, more flashy and more intuitive, but they weren't banking on buying an entirely new system in order to do so. The cost of Vista was tough enough to swallow; the cost of Vista plus the cost of a machine capable of running Vista was too much for some. Microsoft put off a lot of potential customers by demanding such high-end hardware to run its OS, and to compound the issue, many end-users felt that the upgrade wasn't even worth it once they'd splurged on a new PC.
1. Reasonable System Requirements
Windows 7's hardware requirements are the exact same as Vista's hardware requirements. The difference? Windows 7 is coming out in late 2009, whereas Windows Vista came out in early 2007. Windows 7 enables older machines (particularly those strong enough to handle Vista) to run beautifully on a new platform. Even netbooks and Windows XP-based machines are seeing smooth performance on Win7, though Vista is still sluggish. The bottom line? Windows 7 does more with what you give it, and it functions smoothly with older hardware that has less to offer it.
2. Streamlined Code/SpeedWe haven't read through each and every line of code that makes up Windows 7, but we can tell you this much just from using it: the developers spent an awful lot of time cleaning up background activity in Windows 7 compared to Vista. In Vista, it always felt like too much was going on underneath, as if wheels were turning unnecessarily. This led to the OS being far too resource intensive, as it couldn't do the things it needed to do in a highly efficient fashion.
Win7, on the other hand, is buttery smooth from bootup to shut down. Transitions are seamless, application launching is quick and everything just seems to fit together better. If Vista was a first or second draft, Windows 7 is the final copy after being edited four or five times over.
3. TrustOkay, so maybe trust is awkward--but is Ritalin any more politically correct? Windows Vista seemed to question your every move, and while we know its intentions were (it wouldn't want you venturing to some virus-installed website, for example), the incessant nagging grew tiresome very quickly. Vista wanted to check, double-check and sometimes triple-check every single move you made, and while Windows 7 still asks for your permission before doing an awful lot of tasks, it's not nearly as persistent.
4. Aero PeekVista was plenty advanced enough to include Aero Peek, but instead, the only thing Aero was good for in Vista was adding a bit of sheen to your desktop while consuming 500MB of RAM in the process. Aero Peek is a Windows 7 feature that allows users to hover over application/window groupings in the task bar in order to see what's currently going on. Let's say you've got three IE8 windows, two Windows Explorer windows and four Adobe Reader windows open on the desktop. If you roll over the IE8 icon in the task bar, your three IE8 windows pop-up above it; hover over the one you want to maximize, and that windows automatically takes center stage over everything else. What once was chaos is now calm and understandable.
5. Aero ShakeHere's yet another Windows 7 feature that sounds simple--almost too simple to matter--yet makes a huge difference in daily work. Let's re-insert yourself into that chaotic desktop situation mentioned above. What if you'd just like to have one single window on the desktop? In Vista, you had to either show the desktop and then click on the window you wanted to appear alone, or you had to manually minimize each and every window except your preferred one. What a pain. Aero Shake lets you grab a window, shake your mouse like a crazy person, and watch all of the other windows shrink down into the task bar. It's the Windows equivalent of a stress reliever ball, but it actually helps your productivity.
6. Aero SnapIn case you haven't noticed, Windows 7 puts Aero to good use. Rather than just making your windows, desktop and transitions look "cooler," Aero Snap is another great tool for instantly re-arranging your desktop into how you'd like it. Using this is simple; you just grab a window, ram it into the left or right side, and immediately that window resizes to fill precisely half of your desktop space (on whichever side you slammed it into). Do the same process to another window on the opposite side, and bam, you've just maximized your screen space while viewing two documents/web pages/etc. Oh, and if you want to get really crazy, you can slam a window into the top of your desktop space in order to maximize that document to full screen. Brilliant.
7. A Smart Task barThe task bar in Windows Vista was simply a shiny version of the task bar in Windows XP. Sure, it worked, but it didn't innovate. And look, you're paying a lot of money for this new OS--surely some innovation should come standard, right? Windows 7's task bar enables users to pin app launchers and documents to the bar, and it even lets you pin web pages and specific shortcuts on each main icon. As we alluded to earlier, the new task bar also stacks up documents in a certain application (such as three Firefox windows or four Adobe Reader documents) in order to pop-up the available windows when moused over rather than crowding the screen with all of them. Simple, subtle and perfect.
8. A Windows Media Center That Likes MediaFor casual users of Windows Media Center, the one in Windows Vista is probably "good enough." But for those with multiple TV tuners, a Netflix subscription and a library of movies that runs a few hundred titles deep, there were loads of issues to deal with. We won't get into the nuts and bolts of it all, but suffice it to say, the Windows Media Center within Windows 7 runs a whole lot smoother, feels a lot less like a shoe-horned addition to the OS and is actually built to handle extenders such as the Xbox 360. If Microsoft ever wanted to be taken seriously in the HTPC arena, it had to nail its own media playing software; thankfully, it did. Win7's version boasts a slicker interface, faster transitions and integration with far more web content portals. Oh, and did we mention the extra long list of compatible HTPC hardware? Chances are, your TV tuner, sound card and optical drive will work without any extra drivers on Windows 7, and simplicity is always a good thing.
9. Search That WorksMicrosoft really, really fine tuned searching in Windows 7, and considering that an operating system is a big, scary world, it makes perfect sense. You'll probably find yourself search for one thing or another on a daily basis, so wouldn't it be nice if your OS was ready at all times to help you find it? Vista's search was universally a pain. It oftentimes wouldn't search in the places you needed it to, and many times it would look right over the file you were trying to find. Worst of all, it acted like it needed you to give it "a head start" by telling in where in the drive to search. Windows 7, on the other hand, allows you to simply hit the Windows key and start typing; your text automatically goes into a search field and the gears start turning as soon as you mash the first hey. Windows 7 is far better at indexing material to search, and we've yet to type in something that it couldn't locate.
10. Multi-touch SupportWe know multi-touch wasn't at the height of popularity in 2007, but it wasn't unheard of. Microsoft's own Surface paved the way for simpler, consumer-oriented multi-touch applications, so we're confident the boys and girls in Redmond know a thing or two about it. Vista simply wasn't built for touch, which is baffling given the amount of Tablet PCs on the market (particularly in enterprise) and the amount of touch-panel PCs that are shipping. Windows 7 rights that wrong, however, added a deep level of multi-touch support throughout the OS. We recently reviewed a multi-touch Lenovo notebook, and the interaction between Win7 and the touch-friendly panel was amazing. Take a look below.
All told, we think Windows 7 is an outstanding operating system, and it really improves on the areas that Vista was weak. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, Microsoft has done what Apple did with its most recent OS, 'Snow Leopard.' Windows 7 is what Vista should have been. It's Windows Vista done right. Thankfully for us, it's Windows Vista done right and more, as the ten features we listed are nowhere to be found within the prior system.
Windows 7 could still stand to be improved, sure. For starters, there shouldn't be so many OS options; having a half dozen difference Win7 retail boxes is only bound to confuse consumers, though we are thrilled to know that some netbooks will soon start shipping with the OS. If you've been looking for more from your OS while using Vista, Windows 7 is worth a look. If you've been holding tight to Windows XP after hearing horror stories of Vista, you can finally sleep easy knowing that this upgrade won't ruin your life. Of course, Microsoft doesn't make it super easy to migrate all of your files and settings from XP to Win7, but with a little extra effort (think Windows 7 Easy Transfer Wizard) it's not all that painful.
Will Windows 7 finally get people smiling when discussing Microsoft's operating systems again? Based on our testing, we'd say yes--but you have to wonder, is Microsoft benefiting here from Vista being so problematic? Either way, we're excited about the new features and streamlined nature of the new OS, and we're betting future service packs have even more of that "wow" in store that we've been waiting for since early '07.