a shiny new suit for the magic elf box.

So I upgraded two out of the four desktops in the house to Windows 7.  As I mentioned yesterday, they were all still running XP.  Bold action was needed, but we were not willing to torrent the haxxored warez or spring for three or four individual $120 upgrades.  Enter the Windows 7 Family Pack Upgrade, which lets you upgrade three machines in your household.  (We got ours for $130 from Amazon, which was a no-brainer decision, considering that it’s only a few bucks more than the single upgrade package.)

Wonders abound! Yesterday, I did custom installs for Robin’s PC and my Mac mini (via Boot Camp), and both upgrades went without a glitch.  When you upgrade from XP, you have to reinstall all your apps, but you can copy all your old data back into place from the Windows.old folder after the installation is complete.

The rig on Robin’s desk originally came with Vista, which worked OK, but was subsequently downgraded to XP after certain…issues.  (Endless UAC nagging, for one, and performance and compatibility problems.)  Windows 7 seems to be a lot better.  I have to say that it’s actually quite nice.

What I like so far:

  • The performance.  On the same hardware, it doesn’t seem to be any slower than XP.  The frame rate in games (World of Warcraft and my catalog of Steam games) has remained the same.  (Those are the only reason why I have Windows on my Mac mini, since WoW has twice the frame rate under Windows of any stripe than in Mac OS X.)
  • The look.  It’s shiny.  Oh so very shiny.  Translucent window frames, Aero desktop effects, previews of task bar items, and so on.  It looks much more modern and polished than XP, and more consistent than Vista.
  • The ease of networking.  Homegroup file and media sharing is about as easy and transparent as it gets.  Driver-less network printer installation was also a welcome feature.  Overall, this is the first version of Windows that’s as easy to network with other machines as Mac OS X.
  • Windows Live Writer.  That’s the only application I actually miss when I switch back into Mac OS X.  For offline blogging, it’s the berries.  There are some apps on the Mac that approximate its function, but they’re all payware, and nowhere near as slick and seamless.  Windows Live Writer 2011 only runs on Vista or Windows 7—before the upgrade, I used the older version of WLV on XP—and it’s hands-down the best desktop blogging client out there.
  • The built-in security and backup features.  Now, I’m spoiled by OS X, which is reasonably secure as operating systems go, so I was constantly annoyed by the need to tack anti-malware and –virus solutions onto Robin’s XP install to keep it free of Internet crud.  It was also time for MS to integrate a viable backup solution akin to Time Machine on OS X.  With decent backup and security software built into the OS, it’s less of a maintenance hassle.
  • The new taskbar.  Swiped from Apple, with its dock-like properties, but you know what? They stole it because it works.  Program pinning, live window previews, wise use of screen real estate—all very nice.  It also amuses me that the progress of a download or file copy can be observed even when the window is minimized or in the background, because there’s a colored progress indicator moving across the taskbar button.  Nice touch, and one of the details that are an improvement over Apple’s implementation.

Anyway, I don’t want to sound like a breathless fanboy here, but Windows 7 is actually kind of nice.  The upgrade package with three licenses is also a great deal—it’s not free like Ubuntu, or $29 like Snow Leopard,  but for Microsoft, it’s a downright bargain.

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6 thoughts on “a shiny new suit for the magic elf box.

  1. Phil says:

    If you really want to have some networking fun, look into a Windows Home Server. Automated backups, central media file storage and streaming, and even compatible with Time Machine on the Mac.

    The integration with the Win 7 libraries are really neat.

  2. Peter says:

    I freaking LOVE Win7, and it seems to truly make use of my quad core processor–I upgraded to the 64 bit version. I regularly get 100-120 FPS in WoW.

  3. James says:

    Ignoring for a second the requirements of ease of use, and ease of playing WoW – which are required when your computer is a tool to make your life easier and not the focus of your work/play – how do you feel about ‘free as in freedom’ when it comes to software?

  4. Dan says:

    I was sold on Windows 7 the second I saw the download-progress-while-minimized doohicky with the little popup preview windows.

  5. Will says:

    I was working on getting my new elf box with W-7 running, when a roommate gave me a hand with a glitch. He commented that in his opinion, XP was a better system than W7. He’s a software engineer for Cisco. Unfortunately, that was his last day here, so I didn’t get any specifics on the subject. Timing can be everything…

  6. ILTim says:

    I plunged into windows 7 about a year ago when it first came to market. I’ve only used vista for a few dozen hours, inconsequential really, so I have nothing to say about it. I’m glad to have windows 7 in my life and desperately want XP to die a quick and painless death now and disappear from this earth.

    There are a lot of little things that are nice about windows 7, and they really add up to something good. I feel handicapped, crippled, and claustrophobic when I use XP now because of all those little things that make the 7 experience better. I wont bother to point out any specifics because they are generally too minor in isolation to make anyone take notice.

    That said, after some time I do realize its still a Microsoft product and still subject to many of their corporate ideology flaws that have persisted for decades.

    I switched to Ubuntu Linux on my personal laptop due to Firefox performance issues and some other frustrations (security, updates, homegroup problems, etc). I have no prior Linux experience and have no understanding of its file system or command line, but its been a joy to use for the past few weeks. Unfortunately I have to report that the lack of certain applications makes dual-boot necessary because the work arounds can become engineers territory when Linux doesn’t have what you need (iTunes, I’m looking at you).

    Anyway, I’ve been adamantly recommending windows 7 AND Ubuntu to everyone I know as a replacement for XP and Vista. Which you choose depends on how slow your computer is (Linux is faster), price, and technical ability which surprisingly tends to initially favor linux, and only swing back to windows when hitting specific limitations. Either one is monumentally more approachable than XP was.

    Operating systems are rather subtle things by nature, but so is that dripping faucet that keeps you up at night. A good OS can be more of a relief than expected.

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