Windows 7 Escapes

Microsoft releases its latest operating system.

Last week, Microsoft published Windows 7, the successor to Vista, to some fanfare.  The reviews have been fairly positive, perhaps because Vista softened the audience, but it seems that the sales tag line should be “Windows 7: what Vista should have been.

We tested the new operating system, in a couple of virtual machines, by running Sun VirtualBox virtualization software.  My first impression was that this was a great productVirtualBox, I mean.  Although I have not yet delved into the advanced features, it did exactly what we needed with a minimum of fuss and bother.  We were able to test both Windows 7 x86 (32-bit) and Windows 7 x64 (64-bit) on the same 32-bit Vista host system without serious problems.  In fact, the only problem we experienced was an inability to find a 64-bit sound driver through Windows Update (so our x64 VM did not have sound).

Back to the operating system, we found it to be perfectly adequate.  It performed as expected and was easy to use (for somebody already used to Vista, anyway).  There is nothing particularly revolutionary, but (as with the update from Windows 98 to Windows 98se) everything seems to be more polished, with a few minor features added.  The big change, really, is that the 64-bit version is becoming mainstream (whereas the 64-bit support for the previous versions was not quite ready for prime time).  It is for this reason that I am likely to upgrade my development system to Windows 7 x64 in the near future.

Some of the changes include the ability to “pin” an icon to the task bar (replacing the Quick Launch toolbar), and a new management feature for task bar (a.k.a., tray) icons, allowing the user to control when these icons are displayed or hidden.  In order to encourage users to make use of this feature, Microsoft kindly made their own icons here very ugly, so the first customization item is to get rid of them.  (This will also facilitate ignoring the loads of useless preinstalled junk that comes on some new computers.)

As far as developers are concerned, nothing much has changed.  As long as your software is Vista-compliant, it will probably run unmodified under Windows 7. All of our recent product releases worked just fine; the only items noted were the (now) missing Quick Launch toolbar and the task bar icon disappearing (i.e., being hidden) after its first appearance.  The only significant caveat, though, is that 16-bit applications (those built for Windows 3.1) will not run (directly) in Windows 7 x64.

Of course, I do have a couple of recommendations for Microsoft to consider in the future.  First, they should probably do a better job of considering the symbolism they (perhaps, inadvertently) put forward.  The default wallpaper for the beta and release candidate versions of Windows 7 was a male Siamese Fighting Fish, also known as a betta.  (“Get it?”)  The latter name may be punny, but the fact that these fish (at least at the pet store) have to have separate enclosures because they are nasty and do not play nicely with the other fish suggests that Win7 is intended to be likewise.

Also, perhaps underlining the above weakness in Microsoft’s overhyped marketing capabilities, I will point out that they had great successes with Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1 (standard version numbering), as well as Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows 2000 (release year numbering), moderate successes with Windows 286/386 (hardware support), Windows NT, and Windows XP (opaque version lettering), but commercial failures with Windows Me, Windows Vista, and even Windows (1.0, initial release) itself.  I suggest that Microsoft stop trying to “evoke” some greater vision and stick to practical version identification.

Finally, I note that the “Starting Windows” screen of Windows 7 is the best feature of the product, nearly perfect for its purpose.  It is too bad that the same design was not carried through to the system icons, which really are a step backwards in aesthetic terms.