Hard News by Russell Brown


Windows 7: Actually Not Bad

We installed Windows 7 yesterday, having reached the end of the line with Vista. Leo's attempt to install Vista Service Pack 2 on the kids' gaming PC wound up, as so many attempts to upgrade Vista have for us, in a big mess of fail.

"Your copy of Windows is not genuine," said the message on the Vista screen. This did not mean that the operating system was insincere, but that we had fallen victim to a known bug with Windows Genuine Advantage (the lover of language in me loathes that name) and until it was fixed we were stuck in limited functionality mode. I need hardly tell you that the fix didn't work either. We didn't even get as far as begging to have our product re-enabled over the phone.

What bugs me is that this should not have been my problem, yet Microsoft had made it so. Its interest in making its software difficult to use illicitly clearly trumped any value my own time might have to me.

So Leo declared he'd like to clean-install the copy of Windows 7 that arrived in the mail the day before, but he needed a USB drive to back up to. So we ducked out to Extreme PC and got a 1TB Seagate drive which would be my new Time Machine volume, so he could use the old one. (After going years without proper back-up, I found the couple of hours it took to write a Time Machine back-up to the newdrive oddly nerve-wracking.)

He tried to get Vista to back itself up, but it bluescreened. Disloyal to the bitter end. He was pretty sure he could manually copy over all the files he needed and reinstall applications as required (as a Mac user, that all seems like a complete mess to me – I'm used to a home directory and an application layer that's quite separate from the operating system).

Then I had to go and make a TV show By the time I got back, the PC was running Windows 7. I walked into the kids' room, looked over Leo's shoulder and could immediately tell things were better. Yes, Windows 7 seemed to work better just from looking at it.

"It does," Leo agreed. "It's like it's got this aura around it. Of just working."

Maybe it's just that it's not Vista, but Windows 7 does seem to have arrived in good shape. Its long public beta period has presumably helped there.

Indeed, I'd go so far as to say the Windows 7 has arrived in better shape than Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, which I think is another point release or two away from doing justice to the changes Apple has made under the hood.

Ironically, the performance of Microsoft Office 2009 under Snow Leopard is one of my problems. But that has eased since I fixed the big one: Flash. The scourge of the web is particularly scourgey under Snow Leopard – WebKitPlugInHost, the process that brokers communication between 64-bit Safari and 32-bit plugins, would suddenly be using 99% of my CPU. I routinely browse with dozens of tabs open, occasionally more than 100, and some of those pages have multiple Flash movies on them -- it was a serious issue. All praise be, then, to the Webkit plug-in ClickToFlash, which has given me back my computer.

So that's all good.

The remaining question is what we should do with that old copy of Windows Vista. Leo says we should lock it in a box where it will stay for 700 years before being used to disable SkyNet with its unmatched ability for FAIL. That sounds like a cunning plan.

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