Windows 7: Seven points of imperfection

Since its highly ballyhooed rollout near the end of October, Windows 7 has been applauded by many as Microsoft’s best operating system yet. But no OS is perfect, and that goes for Windows 7.

Windows 7 is earning high marks from many users. People “will appreciate significant improvements in areas such as boot time, resume from sleep/hibernation and faster connections to networks,” wrote one early user, Andre da Costa, on a Microsoft forum.

Also on the positive side, users are citing advantages such as much better disk performance, a more streamlined design, longer battery life, and out-of-the-box support for 3G wireless, for instance. The list goes on.

In fact, in a survey conducted by Technologizer’s Harry McCracken, a PC World contributor, a sizable majority of more than 550 Windows 7 early adopters said they’re “extremely satisfied” with the new OS.

So what’s not to like about Windows 7? Although the widely publicized Windows “black screen of death” issue has turned out to be largely a bunch of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), Windows 7 does have its flaws.

Here’s my personal list of seven points of imperfection in and around the new OS. Some of these – such as your need to learn a new user interface (UI), Windows 7’s omission of Movie Maker, or its lack of support for older printers — might or might not matter to you personally. But issues related to Windows 7 pricing, installation and customer support are more universal in scope.

#1. Windows 7 doesn’t include certain earlier Windows components.

In the interests of reducing bloatware and improving performance, Windows 7 strips out components such as Windows Messenger, Movie Maker, and Live Mail, a program rolled out in 2007 to replace XP’s Outlook Express and Vista’s Windows Mail.

If you never use these components, you’re not really going to care. You can always go ahead and add this software later, anyway. But if you’re a long-time user of Windows Messenger, for example, and you don’t know ahead of time that it’s not supposed to be there, you might be a bit mystified as to where to find it.

#2. Windows 7 lacks support for older printers and other external devices.

With Microsoft now imposing a more stringent approval process for compatibility of external devices, drivers for a lot of devices aren’t yet available for Windows 7 — even six weeks after the release of the new OS. If you’re among the many people who are stepping to a 64-bit version of Windows for the first time ever with Windows 7, you could face even worse problems around peripheral support.

Assuming that your PC hardware supports it, 64-bit Windows accommodates a lot more RAM. But like 64-bit Vista before it, 64-bit Win 7 requires drivers to be digitally signed for security reasons. So if you have a six-year-old laser printer or an aging Webcam you really want to hang on to, you might be out of luck.

#3. Windows 7 forces you to learn a new UI.

In creating Windows 7, Microsoft made a lot of tweaks to its previous UI, adding new features such as Jump Lists, One-Click WiFi, HomeGroup, and Device Stage, along with smaller UI enhancements like Aero Snap and Aero Shake.

I find some of these to be quite useful. HomeGroup, for example, makes it a lot easier to set up a home network. Device Stage helps you to manage external devices such as printers and phones. With Aero Snap, you can quickly resize windows on your desktop. But as with any software changes, there’s some degree of a learning curve involved in getting used to the new tweaks. So if you’re especially short on time right now, you might want to hold off on Windows 7 until you have more time to dabble.

#4. Windows 7 isn’t impervious to viruses.

Well, no OS is impervious to viruses, actually. But in examining Windows 7 just after its release on October 22, the security firm Sophos found that, when configured to follow the system defaults for User Account Control (UAC), Microsoft’s latest OS was vulnerable to eight out of ten viruses tested.

More recently, the security firm Prevx spurred an uproar by claiming in a blog post that “Black Screen woes could affect millions on Windows 7, Vista and XP” and charging that the issue was caused by a patch issued by Microsoft. Yet as noted by Tony Bradley, a fellow PC World blogger, it turns out that while there does seem to be a real black screen of death issue, it’s affecting much smaller numbers of PCs, more like thousands or even hundreds. Further, a Trojan virus could be the actual culprit.

But as with previous editions of Windows, Microsoft doesn’t include any anti-virus software in Windows 7. So here’s another place where Microsoft hasn’t learned from experience.

#5. Installation of Windows 7 can be a real bear, especially in upgrades from XP.

While many users have installed Windows 7 quite seamlessly, others have run into major problems around moving to the new OS, including endless reboot cycles and product keys that don’t work, for example. Upgrades from Windows XP can be especially cantankerous. Yet Microsoft doesn’t even give official support to upgrades to Win 7 from XP.

“It was my understanding that Win7 was supposed to answer the problems people faced with Vista. So you would think all the people who had to go back to XP would be able to jump right to Win7. Very disappointing,” complained one frustrated user, 68Vistacruiser, in a support forum.

“Upgrading from XP to 7 is a mission for the A-Team. When upgrading from pre-XP to XP, you just put the CD/DVD in and click next, enter a s/n and press next. With 7 you have to back up all your current data and system files into a folder using a tool on the 7 DVD and then install 7 next to XP, then manually delete XP without [losing] your current data,” chimed in a user named UK-Penguins.

#6. Windows 7 pricing is both too high and too complex.

With family and business budgets pinched right now, why is Microsoft charging anywhere from about $100 to $300 for an upgrade disk for Windows 7, depending on the version? C’mon, Microsoft. Windows 7 beta testers got their upgrade disks for only $50. The latest edition of the Mac OS cost $29, and distributions of the Linux OS can be downloaded free of charge.

Some discounts on Windows 7 are now available from Microsoft and retailers. You can also get a bit of a price break by buying an OEM or “system builder” version online. But Microsoft isn’t doing a lot to make deals like this widely known. And why does Microsoft need to have multiple versions of the same OS — with names like Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate – all with different features and price points? Isn’t Windows 7 installation complicated enough, anyway?

#7. Customer support for Windows 7 is too scanty.

Many people say they’ve turned to user forums only after calls to Microsoft’s customer support lines prove unsuccessful. Often, it’s a matter of an inability to get through the busy phone lines to an actual person.

Even after Win 7’s commercial release, support in Microsoft’s TechNet forum tended to be erratic. Microsoft reps handily answered some questions from users. Yet other questions went unanswered, and in some casers, users got conflicting advice from different reps – or, at least, that’s how they interpret the situation. “This page says you can only upgrade Vista to Win7 for the same edition. The main MS page says you can upgrade from any edition. Which is correct?” asked one confused user, B-C-S, in the TechNet forum.

In early sales, Windows 7 has been beating Vista by a wide margin. But does the company have enough customer support in place to handle the load?

To its credit, Microsoft is now providing some new support alternatives with Windows 7, including automated troubleshooters built into the OS, new “Fix Its” to supplement Microsoft Knowledge Base articles, support through Twitter, and a new Win 7 forum on Ask Microsoft. In the Ask Microsoft forum, Microsoft reps often answer questions within a matter of a few hours. Still, when a user is facing a critical system error, just about nothing in the customer support realm beats the immediacy of a phone call.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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