Windows 7

I’m travelling this weekend and didn’t have time to do another Philippines entry, sorry for the tech post.

Before moving out to Manila I bought myself a shiny new laptop since it was easier to ship out than my ageing desktop. It came pre-installed with Vista but, at the urging of a friend, I installed the Windows 7 beta. Since then I upgraded to the release candidate and, last month, finally did a full clean install of the retail version. After nine months using the various versions I can honestly say I love it. It’s without a doubt the best version of Windows I’ve used. It’s like Microsoft really took notice of some of the problems with the previous versions.

Which is not to say it’s perfect, the full install took an entire evening to do. This is mostly because I had to do it twice, the first time it helpfully decidedly detected the previous Vista install in the partition and automatically preserved all the files. I can see why that’s sensible but I wanted a clean install, I could have gone in and deleted everything but I figured it’d be easier just start again. Easy, I thought, boot to the other (Windows 7 RC) partition, clean the drive and redo. Here I came up against one of Windows 7 safety features, where it refused to delete the system files out of the other partition and it wouldn’t format the drive either. Safe, sure, but I’d rather be able to delete files when I want to regardless of how stupid it may be. There’s probably a way round it, but I remembered there’s minimal partition manager on the installation DVD that would let me format the drive.

The second install took a couple of hours, and while it’s pretty painless it still missed a bunch of drivers that I would have thought it should auto-detect. Having to reinstall the video and audio drivers isn’t exactly newbie friendly. I had a fair amount of hassle with the bluetooth and fingerprint-reader drivers, but I think that might have been my fault. I think Windows had already detected them properly but just wasn’t that clear about it. I probably just made extra work for myself with the reinstall.

It was once it was running that I realised how much more thought had gone into this version, setting up networking, downloading from my camera and tweaking settings is just so much easier than it was before. The user interface is more intuitive, things just work and once you get to know it you find it’s full of short-cuts and tweaks to make life easier.

Whenever I’ve installed XP before I’ve normally followed up installing a whole bunch of utilities and extensions, but here it’s all there for you. Stupid things like automatically changing backgrounds are now built in, nothing special but it saves having to install yet another little program.

Part of the reason I installed so little is that I do so much in ‘the cloud’ (as the techies say) nowadays. For the record here’s what I’ve had to install and why:

Microsoft Security Essentials: Microsoft’s new virus/spyware checker, I can only guess why this isn’t bundled or offered as a automatic download (probably anti-trust reasons). But it seems secure, non-intrusive and it’s free. I previously used AVG but I got really annoyed by it’s continued version upgrades and associated nagging.

Google Chrome: Sorry, nothing will convince me to use IE expect for those few specific sites that only work on it (mostly work-related where they only develop for the officially supported IE). Plus Chrome is just so much better set up for smaller screens, you can tweak other browsers to behave the same but Chrome does it out the gate and still gives you all the same info.

Paint.NET: For photo-editing, it’s free and it does everything I need. Although I discovered that I couldn’t access my old Paint Shop Pro files, eventually I had to use my mum’s computer with it’s old install of PSP to covert the files (and I still had to save out the separate layers in things like the banner images into their own files so I could recombine them). I used to use PSP for screen capture too and I can’t find that function in Paint.NET but that’s OK because Windows 7 has a decent built in screen capture tool.

WinAmp, ml_iPod, and gPodder: In my continuing quest to avoid iTunes I’m trying this combination of programs which is allowing me to manage my music and podcasts. ml_iPod is a WinAmp extension that improves the iPod support and gPodder is a stand-alone podcast manager. It’s taken a fair amount of tweaking to make them work together and, to be honest, it’s not working perfectly. I may have to cave and install iTunes but I’m prepared to keep fiddling for another few weeks to see what I can manage.

Growl and GMail Growl: To get pop-up notifications of my incoming mail.

Skype: For video chat and cheap calls back to the UK

And that’s all I _needed_ to install, everything I want to do could be done with that lot or on the web. Arguably I didn’t even need the last two.

For completeness here’s the less essential things I installed: Flickr Uploader (it’s much easier than using the online form to upload multiple files), Google Earth (because it’s pretty), SumatraPDF (Google Docs will render PDFs but this is easier and fairly lightweight), ECTool (to track e-mail chess) and Microsoft Office 2007 (because I’ve paid for it and because Google Docs doesn’t format text documents nicely for printing).

All in all, aside from Windows and Office, this computer is using only free software and for the first time in a while I’ve actually paid for the Microsoft components. I imagine this machine will get cluttered with other programs over time, but I’ve been surprised about the lack of stuff I’ve needed to install and just how easy it is to use. Plus there’s a ton more features that I’ve not had a chance to play with yet.

So, if you’ve not tried Windows 7 and your hardware supports it, give it a go.

Comments are closed.