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imageI, like many others, download Windows 7 Beta build 7000 on the day it hit MSDN after reading about its availability from It came as an ISO so was easy to build into a virtual machine however on my home laptop I've partitioned my HDD and had XP in one partition and Vista in the other. Vista rarely gets to see the light of day simple because it is always doing something with the hard-disk! Checking! Scanning! Indexing! All driving me nuts as it slows down the performance of my machine. So I thought, I'm not in love with my Vista partition lets see if Windows 7 is any good? then and hit the upgrade button.

The first thing I noticed about the upgrade was the lack of many questions, for the most part it just chugged along and announced it had finished 3 hours later.

The second thing I noticed was the changes to the Taskbar. At first I didn't understand the loss of one of my most treasured parts of the Taskbar, the Quick-Launch and actually felt annoyed until I got around to reading 'Learn about Windows 7' from the 'Getting Started' menu on the Start button menu. This is when it dawn on me that the Taskbar and Quick-Launch had merged into one! Very clever, a good piece of evolution. Also with a simple and subtle graphical clue to tell at a glance when more than one instance of a program is running.


Gliding the mouse-pointer over the icons in the Taskbar is a very satisfying, miniature versions of the Windows appear, like in Vista, but the movement from one icon to the next brings a smooth fading transition animation calculated on the fly, where the content of the previous miniature window is replaced by the new one.  It is a small thing but even more satisfying because I haven't managed to make it break or glitch up. The really clever thing is that there is less icons on the Taskbar now which means I can have them at a much bigger size so no hitting the wrong icon by mistake because it is so small.

The third thing I noticed way the System Tray has been uncluttered!


Five undistracting icons and the time/date and that's it! The Show Hidden Icon has turned into a discreet triangle that hides the cacophony of icons to prevent the eye-jarring colour overload. Yes this feature was available in both XP and Vista but in away this small change adequately demonstrates what Windows 7 is all about and that is evolution not revolution.

Why is Windows 7's Performance so much better?

The key change, for me, isn't a feature, it's the reverse of my biggest problem with Vista. Performance. Windows 7 certainly gives the appearance that it is a faster operating system in many respects to Vista. The reality is that Microsoft have been a lot smarter with the way the Service Controller and background processing work.

At any given point, Windows is executing a lot of code. Some of this code runs in the background as services. In older versions of Windows some services were set to auto run even though the configuration of the system (installed apps, hardware, etc) did not warrant them running.

This has a four-fold effects,
1) Windows might start up slower as the service fire up
2) Sluggish performance as the service takes up processing and memory resources
3) Windows might take a long time to shut down as the service shuts down, unwinding itself and cleaning up it's resources
4) ... and most worryingly the surface area for code-level security breaches is larger.

The Windows kernel Development team spent a great deal of time thinking about and rectifying these problems by re-architecting the Windows 7 Service Controller. They also identified services that didn't need to auto run (like a TabletPC Pen service that need not ever run on a desktop machine by default). But they went much further than simply figuring out which services can be set to manual start-up state in Windows 7. They added a new feature for service developers based on the trigger pattern: services can be started and shut down via triggers - this means developers are able to specify programmatically when a service needs to start or stop. This allows Windows to control services in a much more dynamic way so less code has to run in any given user session. The Service Controller monitors and reacts to trigger events as opposed to just running services marked as auto when the system starts. Less code running in the background on Windows means more resources available for foreground processing, faster start up of sessions and faster shut down.

If you want to know more there is White paper here on Designing Efficient Background Processes.

Will I buy Windows 7 ?

The acid test is will I put my hands in my pocket and buy Windows 7 ? The answer is Yes ... but the BIG caveat is, only if the price is right. I will be disappointed if the price is significantly more than the price of an Xbox game and that will make me stay with XP going out of support or not.

I was lucky with my laptop that I received ann upgrade voucher for Vista but when it came to my home desktop I didn't buy it because the price was to high. I couldn't see enough benefit to justify the expense.

This year there will be far less disposable cash around to spend on operating systems upgrades not just me I fear. With all the new goodness in '7 still isn't going to be enough to make people take the jump.

The wider concern is I'm still stuck for that killer reason for the business case and expense justification. Faster than Vista -yes but faster than -XP? - yes but is that a good enough reason? -No! Just saying, because XP is going out of support, is just going to piss people off.

Just because something is faster doesn't mean you are going to go out and buy it. Take cars for example, speed is a factor but a lot of other stuff comes into play such as fuel economy, comfort, ease of use, practicality to name but a few things that race through your head on the Car Show-room fore-court.

Is the Operating System Days Number ?

There is a school of thought that certainly shows that there is a trends by a large portion of the market to move towards commodity devices, such as a Games-Console for games a Netbook for couch-surfing, Facebook and the odd Twitt.

At work, people are getting Thin-Client devices with barely enough operating system on them to run a Browser where their applications are delivered to them via web technologies such as HTML or AJAX or remotely via Vmware's View (formerly VDI), Citrix XenApp and now App-V from Microsoft delivering their stalwarts of Office and alike and this is even before we start talking about Cloud Computing.

All this add up to less people at home and business needing much of an operating system to get at what they want. In the old days people realised that Windows, Linux and OSX were the almighty prerequisite. Now people have suddenly gotten used to not caring because they use what comes with the machine. 

Some could argue that having Windows pre-installed on PC's was the one thing that brought Windows to prominence but as soon as manufacturers realised that they actually had choices was the start of the decline. What I will concede is that there is far less need to buy Windows these days, it's not the only game in town.

Is Window's going down like the Titanic ?

I firmly believe that the demise of Windows is over-stated but just like Manchester United, Windows is going to have to share the top of the Premiership with other teams, some years it wins others it doesn't. This however is not a bad thing as we know that Microsoft are uber-competitive and will keep trying to find ways to entice us back to pressing the Start-button in another new version.

Some how I do feel that change is in the air, some people will try and avoid it others will embrace it as the next big thing and people like me will try and work out business benefits for justification cases.

However I am a real believer in change. Much as I love '7 and happy to jump on the bandwagon and say it is the best Windows version yet, I find myself thinking in ten years have we really gone much further than this ?

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 11:44 PM | Back to top

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