Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Windows 7: One more stop while waiting for Godot

Windows 7: One more stop while waiting for Godot

One thing that the release of the Windows 7 beta proves is that the users of its predecessor are always waiting for the ultimate - though what feature-set would comprise that mythical system is not clear.

I'm really not sure what features one can keep adding to a computer operating system or to its applications in order to make it a compelling upgrade these days. What do people want - triangular windows? Or is just anything new - which this brilliant spoof from The Onion illustrates?

I was somewhat mystified by the rush to download the beta of Windows 7 and the somewhat unholy speed at which reviews of this new toy appeared on so-called tech news sites. Some of these "reviews" were written without the writer even having downloaded and installed the system. The experiences of others are quoted without a blush.

If this were something esoteric - like riding in a spacecraft - it is understandable, for not everybody can afford to have first-hand experience of such things before writing about them. But to experience all the goodness (?) that Windows 7 offers, one only needs an internet connection, a blank DVD and a PC on which to install said system.

Thanks to iTWire, I have a PC which I can abuse repeatedly by installing any operating system that needs to be examined. Windows 7 is now installed and running on that box.

A few observations follow - this is not a review. In my opinion, one cannot review anything without using it for at least 14 days - as I did for Vista, without its first service pack and with it .

First off, the certificate on the Microsoft download site was dodgy - I had to make an exception in my browser to access the page. Then, after providing all the details needed and receiving a few emails to prove the "genuineness" of my email address, I gained access to a page which had a very pretty download button.

But clicking on that button did not bring any joy - I had to view the source of the page, copy the link to the .iso image and paste it in a browser tab. Then only did my download begin.

The End User License (sic) Agreement that accompanies Windows 7 indicates to me that Microsoft considers all its users have come to the stage of complete desensitisation - like the frog in a beaker of water, the temperature has been gradually increased to the point until the poor frog cannot feel the heat anymore.

The amount of spying that the company does on its users appears to have increased - something called the Customer Experience Improvement Program (sic) sends anonymous information to Redmond about hardware and how you use the software.

There's more. Error reports, which are automatically sent to Microsoft, may "unintentionally" (how sweet!) contain personal information.

To quote from the EULA itself: "For example, a report that contains a snapshot of computer memory might include your name. Part of a document you were working on could be included as well. Microsoft does not use this information to identify you or contact you." No, baby, we're just trying to find out what the most popular names are. Can anyone with a modicum of intelligence suppress a cynical laugh when reading things like this?

Installation takes about half an hour on a dual-core AMD system with 2 GB of memory. I thought of using 4 GB but then Windows cannot use all of it so what's the point?

I'm not sure what the Siamese fighter is meant to represent - the fish is present on the default wallpaper that comes up after installation - but maybe Microsoft is indicating that it has the same character as this fish, which cannot live peacefully with others. Thanks for the message, most of us already know that.

Like many recent motherboards, the one in my test PC has a SPDIF connector. As no manufacturer ever bothers to supply the little metal bit that can be attached to the connected and then fixed on the exterior of the case so that one can plug devices into it, I've never bothered to get one. Few third-party vendors seem to have these SPDIF extension pieces, not those who inhabit my local swap meets anyway.

Windows 7, however, decided that SPDIF would be my default sound device. And the front panel on the case, which has both USB and sound connectors, wasn't set up, only those at the rear were operational after installation.

I had to get an extension cord and plug it into the rear of the board to use my earphones. Not a single operating system which I have installed on this PC - Vista, Ubuntu (two or three versions, lost count), OpenSUSE (two versions), Mandriva, DesktopBSD, OpenSolaris, Vista (with service pack 1), XP (to test whether it would recognise 4 GB of memory), Red Hat, Debian and Slackware - have ever prevented me from using the front panel. It's all wired up properly. But Windows 7 obviously knows something which all these operating systems do not. Score one for Microsoft.

Now I am aware that this is beta software. But silly things such as that described above are not expected even at the beta stage. Sorry.

Windows has always had very little application software in the base install; this has now been extended to an email program. There used to be something called Outlook on previous versions of Windows but on Windows 7 there is none. One has to sign in on the Windows Live site (what was it earlier? Windows Dead?) and then download a mail client.

But after going through this procedure, and also downloading a whole lot of other applications plus things like Silverlight, using which Microsoft hopes to kill Adobe's Flash, there was no joy.

I had to use my email address (one from Gmail) to log in to the Windows Live site; the mail program itself appears to be a bid to try and counter the dominance that Google is slowly gaining when it comes to web applications.

When one opens the mail program, one is advised to synchronise one's inbox with mail sitting on the web but when I tried to do so by supplying my username and password, I was told that my login had been rejected. It looks like you have to eat, drink and breathe Microsoft for things to work smoothly. I'm pretty sure that one would not have had this problem with a Hotmail account but that's the last thing for which I would sign up.

The amount of bling and meaningless junk has increased exponentially. The Windows Live site has messages like: "Your profile is all about you..." Geez, I wasn't aware of that, thought my profile was about Charles Manson.

While Windows mail is being installed, there are helpful messages like "Your software is being installed." Takes brains to think up things like that! Reminds me of the messages that are repeated when you call any business these days, lines like "Your call is important to us." After you have been on hold for 35 minutes, such things do begin to jar a bit.

There's a bit of confusion apparent on the Windows 7 taskbar - there is no way of finding out, visually, which of your applications are open and which are not. This may possibly be cleared up before the final release of Windows 7 - which is, when?

Windows 7 is better than Vista - which is saying nothing. It looks beautiful. Pity that the same viruses, worms and malware that wreak havoc on Windows users can attack this version with equal gusto. The nag screens are all there too and my monitor goes through something akin to convulsions every time I click on an executable, before bringing up the nag screen. It even does that for software downloaded from Microsoft's website!!

No verdict here, this is not a review as I stated earlier, just sundry observations on an operating system that, after nearly three years of work (Vista was released in 2006), has gone into beta.

I'd like to see a rebuilt Windows - something on the lines of OSX. In that respect, like all those Windows users, I guess I'm also waiting for Godot.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.