Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Congratulations to Microsoft on the launch of Windows 7, Vista's successor

Congratulations are in order today to one of our region's biggest employers.

Microsoft (which, like NPI, calls Redmond home) today released the next version of its Windows operating system, which dominates the desktop market worldwide. Its simple name, Windows 7, is symbolic of all the work Microsoft invested into fixing the previous version's flaws and bugs.

7 is really a polished version of Vista; in fact, upgrading from Vista is supposed to be fairly seamless. Many reviewers have called Windows 7 the operating system that Vista should have been. Some new features include:
  • HomeGroup, which simplifies home networking by finally making setup user-friendly. (The catch is, all the networked PCs have to be using Windows 7 for HomeGroup to work).
  • Performance upgades. 7 is faster, smoother, and more reliable than Vista. It doesn't get bogged down as easily. And it runs on the same hardware that Vista runs on. (At least, it's supposed to.)
  • Less intrusive User Account Control. Vista users have grown to resent constant nagging dialogue boxes asking for permission when some application needs to modify the operating system. User Account Control is an important security feature, but in Windows 7, it gets in the way less.
  • Revamped Taskbar. The new Windows 7 taskbar is somewhat similiar to the Mac's Dock, showing just icons for applications.
  • New versions of Paint and Calculator. These two basic applications haven't been improved in many years, but they get a makeover in Windows 7. Paint includes a ribbon like Microsoft Office, and Calculator has been beefed up to make solving common equations easier.
  • New tools in the Control Panel. Adjusting Windows for user comfort is much easier in 7 with controls like the ClearType Text Tuner built in, Display Color Calibration Wizard, and Location and Other Sensors.
Still, of course, Windows remains proprietary, and that is its biggest drawback. Unlike upgrading a GNU/Linux distribution, which is not as complicated, upgrading to a new version of Windows requires purchasing a license.

(The End User License Agreement that comes with Windows basically stipulates that users are renting the software from Microsoft, and do not enjoy the freedom to take apart the operating system and tinker with it.)

And Windows 7 does not solve the compatability problems that have been created by hardware vendors' refusal to update drivers for perfectly good peripherals.

Case in point: My HP OfficeJet, a nifty little printer that is now five years old, simply won't work properly with Windows anymore (even XP!) because HP has not bothered to update its proprietary drivers. But it will print and scan with no trouble when hooked up to a system running Ubuntu.

The beauty of GNU/Linux is that it doesn't force every piece of hardware in an office to need replacing after a few years.

Peripherals just work, whether they be keyboards, pointing devices, webcams, digital cameras, printers, or audio players. No installers or wizards needed. And users don't have to wait for a "Installing Device Drivers" message to go away.

Still, as far as proprietary software goes, Windows 7 is a definite improvement over Vista, and Microsoft deserves credit for listening to users who had a bad experience with Vista. If you want to rent Windows 7 from Microsoft, you should be aware that it comes in several "flavors". I strongly advise the "Ultimate" edition because it contains the most features. If you already rent Windows, you can save nearly a hundred bucks when upgrading.


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