Windows 7 on a Netbook: A Qualified “Yes” from TDR

Windows 7 desktop

Windows 7 desktop

It’s no secret Windows 7 runs perfectly fine on netbooks which I have now discovered for myself. I installed the release candidate Build 7100 yesterday morning on my Lenovo IdeaPad S10 Model 4231 with only a few minor hitches.

Windows 7 appears to be a better Windows. Vastly better? I don’t know yet, but will report my revelations as I pound on it. The big thing Microsoft seems to have done is lots of little things. My first impression is positive given Windows 7 has performed well with no application hitting the skids as they so often do in XP. Then again, third party programs usually are the ones that hang and since I have downloaded only Tweetdeck and Firefox, smooth operation should not be a surprise.

[Unfortunately, word is most netbooks will come pre-installed with a Windows 7 Starter edition which I presume to be something less than the Windows 7 “Ultimate” edition I am running. Reports surfaced Friday that Microsoft will abandon limiting Starter to running only three applications at once. My former Ziff Davis colleague Ed Bott has a good piece on it. Motivation for Starter editions on netbooks and small notebooks appears to be driven by economics given full Windows 7 can run on any Atom processor-based netbook with moderate capacities such a 1 GB RAM and a small hard drive. I’ll shine more light on the Windows 7 netbook strategy mid-next week after I interview some Windows 7 folks.]

The goal of my testing was to see how well or badly Windows 7 ran on a netbook and describe the `out of the box’ experience you might have as opposed to providing a comprehensive soup-to-nuts review. I try to walk in the shoes of Joe and Jane Sixpack netbook user. You can find out everything about Windows 7 at any number of tech sites and Microsoft offers a decent features overview in which it promises faster and more efficient performance, greater ease of use and expanded media capabilities, all based on user feedback.

Rather than burn an installation DVD from a downloaded ISO disk image which is what Microsoft recommends, I used an 8GB USB memory thumb stick to create what amounted to the installation disk. That worked fine after I unpacked the ISO setup file using a trial version on WinRAR (thanks for the suggestion, Chrystioff. Worked like charm). My apologies to those who expected a Windows 7 on a netbook review in the last PC Pitstop newsletter. My aging DVD drive didn’t work and I ran out of time before a long-planned vacation to Prague and Vienna…now you really feel bad for me, don’t you?

Setup was easy with Windows 7 immediately finding my Wifi network without any prompting so I was off running. A review of the beta said there were some problems with Wifi recognition, but none occurred for me. Upon booting up, I can choose between XP or Windows 7 so it appears that the version of XP that came on the netbook originally is preserved (Windows 7 also has a an XP Mode for running XP applications). This is important because the version of Windows 7 I am running expires next March 1.

In summary, Windows 7 is more graphical and automated than XP. With features like Jump Lists, Windows 7 tries to zero on your most recent activity and position it closer to you. For example, more graphically descriptive icons of, for instance, your browsers, libraries and jump lists to the task bar as opposed to a wholesale redesign of Windows. Run your mouse over them and up pops mini windows showing what you did last rather than a mere 2-3 word static description.

The Start button is still there as are cascading menus and as usual, Windows proficiency rises with more stuff you can find. Still, there’s an awful lot there to overwhelm newbie users. For netbooks, maybe all some of us need are a browser and couple of applets, but I digress….

My first test was the timing boot up and shutdown and I noticed little or no improvement over XP on a netbook. Three shutdowns averaged 29 seconds and as many boot ups 32 seconds to password entry. This is disappointing, but if Windows 7 will reliably shutdown without hanging on an “end program” as is almost always the case with XP, there will be a bit of a time savings. And it has one click shutdown which is new for me. I like the “show desktop” feature that makes the minimized application windows obscuring your desktop go opaque, but applications in full window mode like the browser still have to be minimized to get out of the way. Like I said, Windows 7 focuses on little things such as better organization.

The handiest applet I’ve discovered so far is the “Snipping Tool” which performs piecemeal of entire screen captures. Snipping Tool was introduced in Vista, but like me many users will come to Windows 7 from XP and will be seeing it for the first time. Flexible screen capture hasn’t always been easy for me. The Snipping Tool fixes that.

Two other applets are Magnifier and Narrator. Magnifier enlarges or shrinks the display contents and has been in previous versions of Windows, but in Windows 7 is now a magnifying glass. Click on it and up come the applet. This is an important tool for netbooks given their smaller displays. Narrator audibly describes the screen contents for the blind or persons with vision problems. If you don’t need it, don’t use it. It will drive you proportionately nuttier the faster you move the mouse across the display’s contents. And ever though I thought shut it off, it didn’t shut up (in fact, I am exiting it now for umpteenth time).

Also, try out the gadgets. The CPU and memory meter seems to indicate Windows 7 taxes system resources more heavily than in a more powerful machine, often running at 60-70% whatever that means exactly. Bottom line, though, Windows 7 performance on my netbook so far has been acceptable if not a bit better than XP on my desktop. Other new gadgets worth trying are the RSS reader and stock ticker.

One of the features I like best is the Libraries organizer, which for first time appears to really organize my documents, photos, videos and music in one place. I downloaded about 300 photos from our trip with ease. They preview more easily and faster than in XP for renaming purposes. For users with mounting masses of this type of content, organization is crucial, but netbooks in many cases will not be main repository for photo albums and music. Or maybe they will.

I’ve barely scratched of Windows 7 given it comes with Internet Explorer8 and Windows Media Player 11, large applications in their own right. Windows has always been PACKED with STUFF. Netbooks OSes like Ubuntu and Android take a more minimalist approach with far less demanding system requirements. Still, they have yet to prove themselves so it will be interesting to see if they can take root in the fast- growing netbook world. Do I like Windows 7? My answer is qualified yes until I use it more.

Windows 7 taskbar icons

Windows 7 taskbar icons

Windows 7 Libraries

Windows 7 Libraries

5 Comments

  1. Tom Wylde says:

    Wow. This is the first ‘article’ I’ve read on Pitstop and I can’t believe it was allowed to be not only written and described as ‘Windows 7 Review’ when ‘Windows 7 on my Netbook Review’ is what would more closely fit the bill, but it contains errors which, if taken as a serious article, would possibly mislead readers. For instance, the Desktop view on Windows 7 shines through everything. NOT just ‘applets’ (?) In fact, your actual ‘applets’ (desktop Gadgets) are left visually alone! ‘Major’ apps, like IE 8 are instantly shown opaque. Outlook, Photoshop, etc. are made see-through.

    There is nothing at all mentioned about whether or not the Aero interface was used. If not, why? When you show the taskbar icons like that, it would lead one to believe that the background (taskbar) can’t be made as see-through as you’d like it to be. I mean, in a paragraph you discuss the “graphical” improvement or quality, yet nothing about Aero and it’s use on or off a netbook.

    Magnifier and Narrator have been in every version of Windows since before XP. Both are older programs Microsoft has provided in it’s ‘Accessibility’ folder for years. These are not new ‘applets’. They are both older ‘programs’ for those with disabilities.

    “Run your mouse over them and up pops mini windows showing what you did last rather than a mere 2-3 word static description.” You forgot to mention, (or perhaps haven’t yet discovered), that CLICKING ON these ‘mini-windows’ will bring up the window itself-the mini-window style has been there since Vista. Clicking on the mini to bring up the window is all new to Windows 7 all day!

    I could go on and on. As I said, for such a quality website to have such a poorly researched and written review of such a major product as Windows 7 is, well, a surprise, at the very least. A ‘shock’ is a better desription, but I don’t want to be mean….

    I’m honestly not trying to be an ass in this review of the review, Dodge, so please take it constuctively. I don’t mean it as a personal affront.

    Thank you for allowing me to say my piece. I appreciate that fact above all else; it reminds me of what an enormously great country we live in!

    Stay tuned!
    Tom Wylde

  2. John says:

    Some of your comments are off base. You have a point or two at best. I stand by the review and its conclusions. Here’s my responses to your points.
    — I mentioned that Snipping Tool and Magnifier were in previous versions of Windows and qualified that I had skipped Vista and was
    coming from XP. I used the word “new” once in the review in referring to the RSS and stock feed gadgets (yes, Gadgets were introduced in Vista…not sure which ones came
    with it even though many gadgets are free free downloads from third parties.)
    — I could have mentioned the Aero interface, but chose to focus on my user experience rather than the label chosen by Microsoft. I’ll give you a toss up.
    — The opaque “show desktop” feature does not run with apps in full screen windows. I am staring at Google in IE8 full screen and it is not going opaque which is what
    you suggest it should do. Your point about applets not going opaque is well-taken and I have changed my wording to say minimized application windows.
    — Agree on your point making it clear what I wrote was a Windows 7 on a netbook review. My headline is “Windows 7 on a Netbook: A Qualified “Yes” from TDR”
    — As for the mini windows, my point was accurate. To ding me for not saying click on the mini window and up comes the full window is over the top.
    Thanks for your comments.

  3. I’m afraid I have to agree with John on almost every point. With John having skipped Vista he would not have been able to mention Aero or do a comprehensive review. Also the fact that Narration and Magnifier were in under the Accesories.Accesibilty tab is being rather nitpicking in my opinion.

    John I thought did an excellent review overall and I particularily liked that he wrote it for the average person who might use a netbook. It was not defined as a comprehensive review, but clearly stated it was his impression going from XP to Win 7 on a netbook.

    It is easy to criticize, using the euphemism of “constructive criticism” but while it is valid to point out errors or omissions, you could certainly have praised him for all the points he got right, but didn’t. The more fair approach, in my opinion, would have been to ask him valid questions or request further clarification. My impression is that you are a power user and tried way to hard to read too many things into the article, when it was intended for a different audience all together. I believe your intentions were good and not mean-spirited, but unfortunately they still came across that way.

  4. John says:

    Thank you, Mr. Sellers. I am way up on the curve now w Windows 7 (thanks in a small way to Tom’s informative but jerky note). I consider Windows 7 a rolling review and he jumped on my first impression which I suspect will be very similar to the experiences of many new netbook users. Therein lies the value.

  5. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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