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 SnippingTool 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.