Last week I built a new machine for my wife and installed Windows 7 Home Premium on it. My experience so far is limited to installing the system, drivers and some favorite shareware, and tweaking the knobs a bit. I've never used Vista, so this has been my first exposure to Aero, UAC and the redesigned Start Menu / taskbar controls.
Installation went flawlessly. The first hitch was when Windows would not find drivers for the TP-Link wi-fi adapter, and would not accept the *.inf file downloaded from the vendor site. (On the other hand, all I had to do for wired access was plug in the cable.) Turns out the on-disk version of Windows 7 must be a bit flaky in the driver department, since after Windows Update ran its course twice, the system decided it liked the vendor's wi-fi drivers after all. All other drivers (printer, scanner etc) were downloaded and installed automatically as soon as I connected the devices. Nice.
What's truly impressive is how snappy the system is. My wife's machine is mid-range, with a Core 2 Duo just like mine and a less amped up, though newer, motherboard - but everything starts and runs much, much faster than on my 2 years' old XP machine (which was pretty highly specced at the time). Granted, the new system hasn't yet amassed all the crud my XP machine has, but I'm still surprised, impressed and envious. Firefox starts up just like that, snap your fingers, no waiting. Word 2007 likewise. Is it the 8 MB of CPU cache instead of my 4? Is a new WD Caviar Black so much faster than my WD Raptor (I doubt that)? Are new DDR2 Patriot memory chips snappier than same from 2 years ago? Or has Windows really become more efficient on its own?
Now, for the newbie shock and some gripes.
Whoever still says UAC is a good idea... I just cannot see what you see. Roughly half the shareware apps I use raise the UAC warning on launch - a huge annoyance. But that's nothing. You can't even rename a desktop icon without an "As administrator" confirmation, even though the logged-in user *is* an administrator. Jeez! I *will* absolutely turn UAC off. It has no value. It pops up so often, after a short while you instinctively click Yes. That's worse than having no protection at all and having to actually think of what you're doing.
The Start menu - I understand MS tried to avoid the sub-sub-subfolder navigation ugliness, but after installing a number of apps, the menu becomes a steaming pile of cr*p anyway. But arranging the menu manually, say by trimming the number of folders, grouping related apps together, becomes a UAC nightmare. Why can't an admin user rename or move a Start menu item without those stupid prompts? *Deleting* a whole non-empty Start menu subfolder doesn't cause a warning, though. Figure that!
And for all the UAC paranoia, the Explorer option to hide extensions of known files still defaults to enabled! What's possibly the single most harmful setting in Windows, which gave rise to trojans masquerading as documents or images, is still there, unchanged. How can that be excused?
And while I'm at it, what happened to the system tray? Everything is hidden by default there. It may look nicer that way, but is less useful, because tray icons often indicate program state, and it's also harmful, because it makes it easier for vendors to cram your system with autostart applications that run in the tray, and now most users won't even see them, ever. All the stupid, ugly, useless, non-standard applications that install with hardware drivers, all the "start Java faster", "Adobe cr*p updater" little pieces of trash you want to disable as soon as you can, will now run unobstructed on most computers.
(The built in command-line in the Start menu is nice to have, though hardly impressive to this FARR aficionado. And I immediately turned taskbar captions back on; icons are often not distinctive enough.)
In general, it's getting harder to find things. Ive managed to open the Device Manager a couple of times, but I still can't remember where it is. And am I the only one enraged by the Control Panel design? By default, it shows the most common tasks, but a lot of important stuff isn't there, like user accounts. It took me a while to figure I had to change the view from categories to big or small icons, to display all the goodies. Now, a "view" is supposed to be a different presentation of the same data, right? It is not logical and it is not intuitive to show only a few items in the default view, and name the other views in a way that does not suggest you will see more when you choose them. Why not a "More" button, or an "Advanced" option? UI Hall of Shame, meet the Control Panel. I mean it!
In "Default programs", all the file associations grabbed by Windows Media Player are grayed out and can't be changed (to the VLC player, say). The workaround seems to be to manually change association for each individual file extension, which is somewhat arduous. I hope this is a bug.
I like the clickable breadcrumbs in Explorer windows (it took MS how many years to "invent" those?), but where is the "Up" button? No "Up" button, so now the most common navigational operation requires at least two careful clicks, instead of just one - unless there's some other way I haven't noticed.
Oh, I like the gadgets. This is the first sidebar I've seen that sticks to the desktop and does not force maximized windows to be resized to a smaller area. Programs just cover the gadgets, and that's good. That's a sidebar I can use.
All that said, my subjective perception of how fast and snappy 7 is has just about convinced me to switch my own machine too... eventually. Right now, it's too expensive to buy another copy on a whim.