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Windows 7: As approved by a Mac guy

Microsoft recently unveiled its latest operating system, Windows 7. What’s it like? Is it any good? Should your school upgrade? Marc Clarke investigates – and likes what he sees.

If you’d asked me earlier this year whether I’d be writing an article about Windows 7 I would have laughed at you. “I’m a Mac guy,” I’d have said. “Get lost!”

But here I am …

I switched to Mac in the last few years, lured by the thought of no viruses, no malware and more interface bling. What I didn’t expect, however, was a largely closed system where things are best done a certain way – the Mac way.

I tried Windows 7 out of frustration at Mac and Windows apps still (in late 2009) not playing nicely together despite being advertised as being compatible. And despite what passionate Mac users claim, it’s still a Windows dominated world out there.

Installation (via DVD) gave me no problems on a newish PC. I did try to install a trial version of Windows 7 on an old PIII, 1GHz with 512 MB RAM. Let’s just say that after 25 minutes where installation hung and claimed file copy was 21 per cent complete I rebooted and abandoned the installation.

So, I’m writing this on a Macbook using Windows 7 Enterprise running in a virtual machine (via VirtualBox 3). The virtual machine is using 512 MB RAM (out of 1GB total). Officially, Windows 7 requires 1GB RAM to run. Unofficially, it will run with 512 MB RAM, although you will probably want to adjust the computer settings to eliminate the interface bling.

First impressions

The user interface is quite snappy and once the desktop appears after boot you can actually begin working. This is a novel experience for Windows XP and Vista users. Also new to the interface is the revised Windows taskbar (dock) that allows you to pin and unpin frequently used applications. Jump lists (lists of recently used files or open windows in the application) are also new. Desktop search is fast (cf Spotlight on Mac) and you can also save searches as folders, which can quickly help reorganise a documents folder with thousands of files.

The new Libraries feature allows you to link commonly used folders such as Documents, Music and Videos in one easily accessible (virtual) location, which is a boon for backup. And speaking of backup, also included is an improved Backup and Restore application. All versions of Windows 7 allow a full system or more finely grained backup to a connected disk but Windows 7 professional, ultimate and enterprise also allow backup to a network drive. Very handy if you’re connected to a network.

Some people claim UAC (User Access Control) is a negative in Windows 7 but I believe it’s a positive. Just ask Mac and Linux administrators whether they should have to type an admin password to give an application permission to change some aspect of the system. I believe the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’. Why shouldn’t this apply to Windows systems?

New networking feature

There are many other new features that Windows 7 boasts (although I haven’t tried out the touch-screen capabilities) but I want to focus on just one more – Homegroups. This is a new Windows 7 networking feature that to quote Microsoft: “Takes the headache out of sharing files and printers on a home network.” I have to agree. I found that setting up a homegroup was fairly easy on my new Windows 7 PC at home and I was impressed that my Macbook instantly saw the homegroup. In addition, the ability to share a library was also very convenient as it allowed me to share one folder rather than have to set up multiple shared folders. However, the catch with homegroups is that they are only supported on Windows 7.

To conclude, I’ve been using Windows 7 for about a month now and I’ve found that it does what a good operating system should do. It gets out of your way and lets you work. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than Vista? Of course.

Traditionally, many Microsoft schools have waited until SP1 to roll out a new OS. If you believe the naysayers that Windows 7 is really just a Vista service pack then there is no reason for schools to delay the upgrade. I believe school administrators that are happily running Windows XP need to carefully read the Windows XP splashscreen … © 2001. That is really old technology now!

Both Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6 have their strengths and weaknesses. But to the loyal Windows XP users out there: It’s time to say farewell to an old friend and hello to a new one.

Marc Clarke is HOD Business Studies at Glenfield College.

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Categories: Article, Issue 21

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