by Shane O'Neill

Windows 7 Reviews: Radically Different Early Opinions Surface

Nov 13, 20084 mins
Data Center

The first reviews of the Windows 7 pre-beta are worlds apart in their assessment of Microsoft’s upcoming replacement to the Vista operating system.

In fact, I haven’t seen this much disagreement since the last Obama-McCain debate.

Take, for instance, the reviews this week by our sister sites, Computerworld and InfoWorld. On one side of the street (Computerworld’s Preston Gralla), you have a generally sunny review stating that Windows 7 (which Microsoft expects to ship in early 2010) shows great promise and is a step up from Windows Vista on nearly every level. But it’s chilly on the other side of the street, where Randall C. Kennedy of Infoworld expresses disappointment in Windows 7, saying that Microsoft has merely “slapped an upgraded UI onto an already discredited OS platform and fools nobody.”

Kennedy’s review is deeply technical and more geared toward enterprises than Gralla’s. He goes way under the hood to compare system and process metrics of both versions of Windows. He concludes that Windows 7 and Vista consume similar amounts of RAM and are “virtual twins” when it comes to performance. He also forecasts compatibility problems with Windows 7, as he found driver compatibility problems and “an endless loop of failed installations and mandatory reboots” in his testing.

Though Microsoft has said publicly that Windows 7 uses the same kernel as Vista and will not be a major overhaul, Kennedy still gives the Windows 7 pre-beta no points for innovation. Time and again, Kennedy writes that Windows 7 is just too darn similar to Vista and that any changes from Vista are superficial interface adjustments.

Some consumers might be pleased with a cleaned up UI, Kennedy says, but for enterprise IT shops it’s not enough.

“There’s little in Windows 7 that IT shops will find compelling. Most of the new features are targeted squarely at consumers, which is the same formula that got Microsoft into trouble with Vista,” Kennedy notes.

In closing, Kennedy predicts that Windows 7 will “deliver zero measurable performance benefits while introducing new and potentially crippling compatibility issues.”

Ouch. How do you really feel?

Gralla of Computerworld comes at his Windows 7 review from a different direction. Sure, Windows 7 may mimic Windows Vista, but that’s OK, he says. He declares upfront that massive changes are not needed and “there are enough changes to make [Windows 7] far more than a juiced-up service pack.”

Gralla did not take a shovel to the kernel and count execution threads like Kennedy, but he does do a thorough analysis of key Windows 7 interface changes and new features such as the revamped UAC (User Account Control), Libraries for organizing files and folders, expanded search, and improved home and wireless networking.

The most talked-about interface tweak, the new Taskbar, was not built into Gralla’s pre-beta. Neither were touch-screen capabilities.

Microsoft says that Windows 7 will support all hardware that Vista does. Gralla found this to be true in the pre-beta. It recognized all the hardware on his laptop, including the wireless card, a laser printer and a DVD burner. He also touted improved multimedia in Windows 7 that doesn’t rely only on Windows Media Player, and said that Windows Backup, a widespread failure in Vista, is now quite useful.

Gralla found that, “Windows 7 is a more functional, more efficiently designed operating system than Windows Vista, with far more attention paid to the user experience.”

Kennedy, on the other hand, only sees ugliness behind a pretty interface. “Frankly, Windows 7 is Vista, at least under the hood,” he writes.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to make conclusions about an operating system based on a pre-beta version. Most early reviews praise the leaner, faster interface of Windows 7 and some of its new desktop features. But Kennedy’s discoveries from his deep dive into Windows 7 are disconcerting, and make me wonder if Windows 7’s beauty is only skin deep.