Windows 7: Small step for Vista or giant leap?

Reviews mixed, mostly good

Is the new Windows 7 operating system truly a new operating system, or is it more of a service pack-level upgrade of Windows Vista?

John Breeden, director of GCN Labs, thought the latter description was more apt. In a review first published on GCN.com and then on FCW.com and other 1105 Government Information Group sites, Breeden explained his reasoning: Most of the annoyances that Windows Vista users contend with are still there in Windows 7, such as a confirmation screen asking whether you really want to run a program you just clicked on. Meanwhile, there are some new features and improvements, but nothing significant enough to justify giving it a new product name.

“We just don’t see enough of a change to warrant the purchase of an entirely new operating system. Windows XP Service Pack 2 changed that operating system a lot more than moving from Vista to W7 will,” Breeden wrote. “So if your computers are running XP and everything works fine, there is no need to jump to W7 right away. And if you’ve already moved to Vista, you pretty much have W7 already, albeit without a couple of nice additional features.”

Other reviewers stopped short of saying the same but came close. The Associated Press review praised the new operating system, especially as an improvement over XP, but was less enthusiastic about its advances over Vista.

“If your computer runs Windows Vista, I think it's hard to justify spending $120 for an upgrade,” the unbylined reviewer wrote. “The new features are nice but hardly must-haves. For daily e-mail and Web surfing, they won't make much of a difference. Vista was much maligned when it arrived in early 2007 for being slow, buggy and annoying. Now, it really isn't that bad, because updates have fixed a lot of the problems.”

At the New York Times, on the other hand, tech guru David Pogue had little but praise for the new product.

"Windows 7 comes out Thursday," Pogue wrote in a review published Oct. 22. "And if the programmers at Microsoft have any strength left at all, they are high-fiving. Their three-year Windows Vista nightmare is over. That operating system’s wretched reputation may have been overblown; at the outset, it was slow, intrusive and incompatible with a lot of gadgets, but it’s been quietly improved over the years. ... Windows 7 is a different story. It keeps what’s good about Windows Vista, like security, stability and generous eye candy, and addresses much of what people disliked.”

In Britain, the TimesOnline found that Windows 7 not only built on Vista but also on Apple’s OS X operating system.

“There is more than a tang of Apple about the new Windows 7 desktop as well,” wrote TimesOnline technology editor Nigel Kendall. “Like the Dock in Apple’s OS X, the bottom bar on the Windows screen now displays open applications and favourite programs together, in a line running across the screen. You can pin new programmes here, re-order them in order of preference, or remove them from the bar without removing them from your system. Other Apple-like features include instant search for files and folders on your PC.”

Kendall found some caveats as well, largely in the number of versions of Windows 7. 

“The base Starter pack, designed for netbooks, comes without many of the Web-based features you bought a netbook for in the first place,” he notes. “To get these, you will need Home Premium or Ultimate, at extra cost. Owners of Vista Premium should be aware that they need to buy Windows 7 Premium for all their features to transfer.”

And is Windows 7 a full new operating system, or just an incremental step up from Vista? Like most reviewers, Kendall doesn’t say. But he does consider it an improvement.

“So the Windows 7 experience is, so far, largely positive, certainly compared with the cluttered Vista,” he writes. “It looks clean, works quickly, and gets out of the way, as a good operating system should.”

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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