Microsoft Windows 7 RC1

Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) is a polished piece of work, ready for prime time

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Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 RC1
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Pros

  • Early beta tests suggest that the OS will be quicker than Vista

Cons

  • Too soon to make a proper assessment of the operating system

Bottom Line

It's way too early to make a proper assessment of Windows 7, but Microsoft has made its intentions clear: Windows 7 is intended to right the wrongs Vista wrought, but retain that operating system's good points. And at this point, we can't argue with that. Our early beta tests suggest that the OS will be quicker than Vista, which can only be a good thing. We'll be updating this review as we get more information on and time with Windows 7, so be sure to bookmark this page.

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Windows 7: Performance

The biggest question on everyone's mind is whether Windows 7 introduces much-needed performance improvements over Vista. We can't answer that yet, but we can say that it seems a little faster.

Throughout the OS, windows open faster, apps seem to launch more quickly, and the interface seems a little snappier than it was with my Vista installation on the same machine a few hours ago.

Startup is a bit quicker, too, getting us from power-on to fully booted in about 74 seconds, versus 87 seconds prior to the upgrade. This comparison is totally unscientific, mind you, and we'll do more extensive testing in the Test Centre soon. But our first impression was that Windows 7 generally outperformed Vista on the hardware we used.

We checked out an early beta of Windows 7, and though at this point many features are either missing or works in progress, the improvements to everything from user interface to memory management look highly promising.

Along with several dozen other reviewers and analysts, we got our first real look at the OS, preinstalled on loaner notebooks, over the weekend at a workshop on the eve of the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference.

Of course, some of the promised features are things that Microsoft has pledged — and failed to deliver — before. Wasn't Vista supposed to be faster than its predecessor? We won't be able to test performance (and other under-the-hood features) for some time, obviously, but we can share with you what Microsoft is saying to back its claims.

On some details, Microsoft has said very little. As of Monday, the company had offered no new word on when Windows 7 will ship — the official target date continues to be early 2010, but some insiders say that the actual date may move forward by a few months. Likewise Microsoft hasn't said anything about editions (and pricing) other than to indicate that they probably won't mirror the Vista lineup.

Microsoft has said all along that Windows 7 would refine (but not rewrite) the Vista kernel. However, some of the anticipated changes depend on support that Microsoft may not be able to control.

For example, a number of cool network features will work only if your employer installs Windows Server 2008 R2. Other new features require cooperation by hardware vendors, though this time their contribution won't extend to rewriting drivers. Still other changes involve slimming down the code by offloading applications (such as email and photo management) that were once bundled with the code. With Windows 7 you'll get them either as downloadable apps or as web services.

But the OS that remains tries very hard to please users by addressing some of the biggest gripes people had about Vista, and by generally making everyday tasks accessible and easy to perform. To the extent that these efforts are visible in our early beta, they look pretty good.

Windows Vista's interface makeover emphasised style over substance: among its most-hyped new features were the Aero user interface's translucent window frames (woo-hoo!) and the Flip 3D window switcher (flashy, but not particularly useful). It didn't do much to repair Windows' reputation for being annoying; in fact, the in-your-face tactics of the new User Account Control security feature made Vista more aggravating. And much of what was new in Vista, such as its desktop search, amounted to Microsoft playing catch-up with Apple's OS X.

Windows 7 takes a strikingly different approach. Its interface contains plenty of tweaks, but they're relatively subdued and they emphasize everyday efficiency rather than sizzle. Several of the changes aim specifically to get the OS out of your way so you can work without distractions. And virtually none of what's new feels like warmed-over OS X.

The changes start with the Windows Taskbar, a core component of the Windows experience that has changed very little since it debuted in Windows 95. With Windows 7, it undergoes its biggest remodeling job ever: the familiar bars containing the name of a running application and a tiny icon are gone, and in their place are unlabeled, jumbo icons that represent running applications.

The icons look like gargantuan versions of the tiny icons in the old Taskbar's Quick Launch toolbar — as well they should, since they supplant Quick Launch in W7. (The new Taskbar also looks a bit like OS X's Dock, though it doesn't behave like the Dock.)

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