Thursday, February 25, 2010

Windows 7 first impressions

I've only used Windows 7 for a short time, but it's time to share some first impressions.

GUI

The desktop has gotten a facelift from Windows Vista. Overall, it seems eerily similar to KDE 4 on Linux, except for the obvious stuff like the clock and the specific window decorations (the red "X", etc.) I think it's fair to call the Windows 7 GUI a clone of KDE 4, especially since KDE 4.0 was released 11 January 2008 (KDE 4.0 Alpha1 was released 11 May 2007) and Windows 7 launched on 22 October 2009.

Don't believe me? Let's compare:
I say this because if you are a hard-core Windows user, and you find yourself thinking "I could never try Linux, it's too different" - think again. Linux isn't that different from Windows.

Or maybe I should say, Windows isn't that different from Linux.

Library

Aside from the GUI, the Library concept is a bit confusing. It's a deviation from previous versions of Windows, where there were definite locations to save your data. Now with the "Library", that's changed. I'll have to re-train myself to use the "Library".

Shutdown

Something I noticed last night when I went to shut down the laptop - there doesn't appear to be a simple way to quickly shut down the system without installing a bunch of patches. I've discussed before that Windows wants to force users to install updates as they shut down. (In contrast to Linux, which lets you install updates any time you like, and you can keep using your system during and after installing patches.)

In theory, it's a good idea. You're shutting down your PC, probably going home (or to bed, if it's a home PC) and that means you won't need the computer for a while. So letting Windows Update install a bunch of patches would be a good idea, right?

Except we live in an age filled with laptops. And when I shut down my system to go home, I take the laptop with me - or risk having it stolen or lost. That means I need to be able to quickly shut down the system.

In Windows 7, if you click the "Windows" icon, there isn't an item in the menu to just shut down. Instead, the "shut down" link has a little "shield" icon on it, and if you hover over that you get the message "Installs updates and then shuts down your computer."

Last night, I left the office a bit late, around 6:30PM. I didn't want to wait for Windows to install a bunch of updates - I needed to leave immediately. In the end, I had to log out, then shut down the system from the login screen. Not exactly "easy".

16 comments:

  1. I haven't timed it (yet) but I'm pretty sure Windows 7 takes a little longer to boot than Windows Vista. Unofficial timings (with time taken from my phone):

    2:53 - system turned on, boots
    2:5x - login (didn't note time)
    2:58 - desktop screen appears, click on Firefox
    2:59 - Firefox up, displays Google as home page

    Granted, this was right after having installed updates earlier in the day. So that boot cycle may have also applied updates while the system was coming up, which would have slowed Windows down.

    I'll do a full comparison for you later.

    ReplyDelete
  2. While I'm no Windows expert, I think the problem with Windows having to install patches during the shutdown process is that it actually has to use patches. Contrast this to Linux, where everything is in discreet packages that, when updated, are entirely replaced instead of patched in-place. I suppose Windows just can't handle patching running software so it has to wait till the majority of the system has been shut off before it can patch.

    Anyway, the whole Windows 7 task bar thing... is that really all Microsoft can come up with to make their system easier to use? C'mon, a task bar is a task bar. I've used the Windows task bar from 95 up to 7, the Mac OS X Dock a few times, and on Linux, anything from the default GNOME Window List to Docky to minimizing windows to icons on the desktop to no task bar at all. The point is, they all have their ups and downs, and neither is any easier to use than the other. Microsoft has a lot better things it can be fixing than cloning the KDE4 panel and mixing in some ideas from the Mac OS X Dock and calling it the new super-easy task bar. I mean, really? That's it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love Linux, and I'm definitely NOT a Windows apologist, but I don't think it's accurate to say that Windows 7 copies KDE 4 when Windows 7 looks (cosmetically) basically like a slightly updated Windows Vista (which came out before the first betas of KDE 4).
    That said, I seriously don't see how the new taskbar is at all original or how it helps productivity/simplicity in any way.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Holy Crap - MS are now copying the spartan CDE desktop! Only 20 years late ...

    Still no change of moving to W7 because:
    1) clients don't demand it
    2) it costs me money
    3) it still doesn't have virtual desktops. I haven't used any more than 1 of my 4..16 virtual desktops for the past few months, but they're very useful when I do need them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. CelloFellow:
    While I'm no Windows expert, I think the problem with Windows having to install patches during the shutdown process is that it actually has to use patches. Contrast this to Linux, where everything is in discreet packages that, when updated, are entirely replaced instead of patched in-place. I suppose Windows just can't handle patching running software so it has to wait till the majority of the system has been shut off before it can patch.

    Patches vs full packages doesn't really enter into it I would say (MS patches aren't diffs.), but your last sentence is closer to the mark.

    The problem is that Windows really, really likes to lock files while they are in use by software. If a program is running, you can't modify the EXE, any DLLs it has open, etc.

    On Unix, doing this sort of update is pretty easy: the process holds a file descriptor to the old version of the file, but that file is de-linked from the directory entry it was in. Then a revised version of the file can be slipped into place. The process keeps its handle to the original version, but anyone who opens /foo/blah in the future will get the new version.

    Because of this, Windows has to have some provisions for replacing files after they have been released from use -- and it does this by letting programs register files that will be replaced when the system restarts.

    The Unix way has the big benefit of being less obnoxious, because it doesn't need that extra bit of functionality and because you don't have to worry about whether a file is in use to modify it, and it works 99.9% of the time. The Windows method, though, avoids the drawback that the Unix method has where things can get inconsistent if processes go and open things later that they expect to be the old version but get the new one instead.

    I look at it like file locking in version control -- virtually all the time something like SVN or CVS's concurrent editing model is way better and much less hassle, but once in a blue moon the locking model would provide a small benefit.

    (Aside from program updates, I've also had one or two times when the freer, less-locking behavior in Unix has caused me a fair bit of confusion. Typically this occurs when I'm doing programming. I have my build scripts put the built stuff in a different directory, so what I'll do is 'cd' to the build directory from one shell. Then I'll be working in another shell, decide I want a rebuild, decide the best way to do this is no 'rm -rf' the build directory, do that, and get confused why the first shell doesn't reflect what I'm doing (because it's kept a handle to the old directory). I haven't done this in a long time as I now know about this problem, but the first time I stumbled across it I was very confused for a while.)

    @MadScientist:
    3) it still doesn't have virtual desktops. I haven't used any more than 1 of my 4..16 virtual desktops for the past few months, but they're very useful when I do need them.

    Yes! Please, MS! Do this! Native virtual desktop support! Pretty please with a cherry on top?

    I miss the tiling WM and 30ish virtual desktops I used when I had Linux on my work computer. Just about everything else I'm at least as comfortable with on Windows, and many things much more. But I miss being able to essentially switch and isolate programs with a simple keyboard shortcut. :-(

    ReplyDelete
  6. Okay, now for my Windows apologist persona. ;-)

    @PV
    That said, I seriously don't see how the new taskbar is at all original or how it helps productivity/simplicity in any way.

    I'm not totally sure that I'm the best person to speak to this -- I don't like the default, "always combine", icon-only setting of the Win7 taskbar.

    One way in which I think it does actually help productivity a little bit is make the grouping of multiple windows much more usable than it was in XP. I always turned it off in XP so it would never stack windows, but it actually works decently well in Win7, so I've set it to "combine when full". (Though I also use a two-row taskbar on my desktop, so it rarely groups. My laptop is where the benefit shines.)

    The main thing it does differently that make grouping windows better is the new thumbnail view and aero peek (where if your cursor is over one of the thumbnails it'll turn the other windows transparent). I'm not sure why I like this much better than the menu that opens up, but I do. One possibility is the following: say I've got several browser windows open (for the record I have 4 Opera and 3 Firefox windows open right now) and I'm looking for a particular tab. I don't know what window it is though -- so I have to progressively select each window. Without grouping, this is easy -- I just click one, if it's not it, move the mouse an inch right and click again. With Win7 grouping, it's also easy: I hover over the taskbar entry for half a second or so until the thumbnails pop up, then hover over each thumnail in sequence. Contrast to grouping under XP, where each window requires two clicks to raise, and extra up-down motion, which requires more aiming. More obnoxious, to the point (IMO) where I'd rather just have the taskbar so tightly packed that little more than the icon is visible.

    One other amazingly useful thing is the ability to put a progress bar in the taskbar entry itself. It's a simple thing, but if I am copying some files to/from a flash drive, it's so nice to be able to just glance at the taskbar to see how it's progressing, no matter how covered over the window is. I almost forgot about that, and it may be my favorite feature of the taskbar in Win7.

    One of my friends really likes the next/prev track and play/pause controls that Media Player puts by the thumbnail, but I don't really use that.

    As for simplicity, you could say the fact that they combine the active-window part with something that works like the quick launch (pinned programs) is kind of nice, and makes a lot of sense. Apple did it first with the dock, but the dock is awful at window management, so IMO the default taskbar setting is a rare case where MS took a UI feature from Apple and improved it substantially, instead of the other way around. (To be fair, the dock doesn't need to be great at window management, because OS X has other features (read: exposé) to that end.)

    These changes aren't revolutionary, and it's not like they are going to save you an hour a day or anything like that. Still, Win7 is the first time that I've really seen any changes to the general way the taskbar works (across any OS) that I actually like since the first time I saw something like it in Windows 95, except for introduction of the quick launch bar.

    And AFAIK, the things I mentioned I really like -- aero peek and progress-bar-in-taskbar-entry -- as well as the WMPlayer controls, I don't think I've seen in other OSes, so I'm pretty sure MS gets points for originality on those counts. (Disclaimer: I've only used KDE 4 a while ago, and not a whole lot. Nevertheless, I definitely don't remember anything like them, and a quick Google search doesn't turn up anything.)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Though, I do have to say... I'm not quite sure what you want to pull out as resemblance between Vista and KDE 4. Default window decorations look entirely different; widgets look more or less like they always have; the similarities in the start menu I think were there in Vista (whichever direction you want to count "inspiration" flow there); the file browsers don't loop particularly look the same, and the similarities that are there were there before; and Vista already already dropped the "start" from the start menu, so there's nothing new there.

    Oh, and you can't convince me that KDE hasn't taken plenty of inspiration from Windows either. ;-)

    Now, all that being said, your overall point ("Linux isn't that different from Windows") remains valid. If there are actually people reading this blog who are just worried about how different things will be -- Linux is to the point where those fears are mostly unjustified. (Most of my comments on this blog are towards Windows, but this is because I'm naturally argumenative and the blog skews pro-Linux. :-))

    (And BTW, if you couldn't guess, yeah, the last post was me too.)

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Or maybe I should say, Windows isn't that different from Linux."

    I like.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'd post more, but I'm getting ready for work. I do want to address one point in evaned's long comment, however.

    With KDE 4, you can add a plasma widget to the panel that lets you control Amarok. It's likely fairly close to the controls you mention concerning WMP. Personally, I just use the global shortcut to control playback. The default is nearly identical to Winamp, actually (Meta + Z for previous track).

    I haven't really experimented with grouping with compositing on, which enables all kinds of nice things. I'll have to see if it includes a "peak" style option.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @youngmug:

    With KDE 4, you can add a plasma widget to the panel that lets you control Amarok. It's likely fairly close to the controls you mention concerning WMP.

    I suspect this is a bit different, and close to what has been supported for a long time (on both systems). Lots of media programs on Windows have provided system tray icons to control playback, and I'm pretty sure I've seen one that shows up as a different "toolbar" on the Windows taskbar (if you unlock the taskbar so you can see the handles you'll see what I mean).

    The key difference with what I'm talking about in Win 7 is that the controls are only visible while the thumbnail is visible, i.e. while the user is hovering over the taskbar icon. (See a screenshot.) This means it's not taking up any space while it's not being used.

    All that said, I don't really use it either. Partially this is out of lack of habit; partially it's because you have to hover over the icon for half a second or something, and I I can just click the damn mouse and be faster about the whole thing; and partly it's because I use media keys to do things like play/pause.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The main thing it does differently that make grouping windows better is the new thumbnail view and aero peek (where if your cursor is over one of the thumbnails it'll turn the other windows transparent). I'm not sure why I like this much better than the menu that opens up, but I do

    I thought that was an interesting comment, since I don't see this behavior on Windows 7. I just checked my system (right click on taskbar, Properties.) The "Preview desktop with Aero Peek" checkbox is greyed out. I guess Aero doesn't support my video card?

    That's curious, because I don't have any problems at all with running my Linux desktop with 3D effects turned on.

    Sure, my laptop has an Intel video card, so it's not a graphics powerhouse like an nVidia. But it seems Linux can do more with this than Windows can.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I guess Aero doesn't support my video card?

    I don't think that's the reason; my laptop has an Intel Mobile 965 chipset and it works fine on there.

    If you want to actually try to figure out what's going on, there's an "aero troubleshooter" in the control panel; it's possible that'll help.

    (BTW, if you want to see what I mean by this feature, this YouTube video illustrates. Also, the checkbox that you mention controls a slightly different part of aero peek, where if you hover over the bottom right of the taskbar, it'll hide *all* your windows, leaving the desktop to show through. I'm positive the problems are related so the fact that the checkbox is greyed out is why you don't see the thumbnail behavior, but that particular feature is much less useful and I don't really care about.)

    ReplyDelete
  13. While I'm no Windows expert, I think the problem with Windows having to install patches during the shutdown process is that it actually has to use patches. Contrast this to Linux, where everything is in discreet packages that, when updated, are entirely replaced instead of patched in-place. I suppose Windows just can't handle patching running software so it has to wait till the majority of the system has been shut off before it can patch.

    That's so true ... unfortunately. Yesterday, I saw the info balloon for "click here to install Windows updates", claiming that I could still use my computer while Windows installed them. It was for a few MS Office patches. I figured, "that should be easy for Windows to install, as long as I don't use Office."

    Not true.

    Windows reported it was unable to install those patches, claiming I would need to install them when I shut down my systemm.

    I mean, shouldn't there be a flag or something in a patch file to say "you need to install this as you shut down" so I don't get this false hope that Windows can install updates while I'm working?

    ReplyDelete
  14. With the warning that I'm not a Windows professional, just an IT worker: That last problem is probably one with Office. Ever since MS combined Office Update with Windows Update, there's been trouble. Most of it stems from the fact that Office leaves bits resident so that, for instance, Word fires up quicker the second time.

    Windows update refuses to close programs, because it would be too difficult to work out dependencies for third party things like drivers. Office update used to, AFAIK, kill all resident items before updating, thus neatly sidestepping file-locking annoyances. Unfortunately, I'll assume, you had used something from Office before the update came in, and Windows Update encountered a locked file.

    If you hadn't used anything from Office, there's a program that, more often than not, runs on startup known as OSA.exe. This is where most of the resident crap gets left, AFAIK. It may have locked and loaded files for you ahead of time.

    Unfortunately, this all adds up to "the flag you want is impossible to code for, unless the entirety of Windows Update is changed so that it will deal with dependencies." Sucks, huh?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Jimbo: you are right, there must have been something resident that the patch update program was unwilling/unable to kill. I tried it again this morning before running any Office programs and was able to install the Office updates without rebooting. Took a very long time, though.

    Unfortunately, with so many MS Office docs floating around our office, it's impossible for me to go a day without running Word or Excel. Which means it will be pretty much impossible for me to install these updates without shutting down - unless I'm willing to do without MS Office until my patches are finished. That's not going to happen.

    Advantage still goes to Linux, I think. I can install updates on Linux no matter what I'm doing, and still get my work done.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I just ran into a situation today where Windows's file locking protocols caused a somewhat substantial inconvenience.

    I'm working on this one program, and needed to test it. So I kicked off a long-running (hours) test.

    Later I fixed a couple bugs and wanted to recompile -- but I also didn't want to kill my long test. But of course the test was keeping the EXE open, so the build process couldn't overwrite it. I actually had to go and change the directory the build script built to so that I would get a different executable.

    (And then the build script had spurious differences that caused Git to think I should commit it, and almost caused a merge problem related to that, etc.... pretty annoying.)

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Followers