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Windows 7: The Upgrade, Review, Tweaks, and Compatibility

Posted on February 9, 2010 by josh

As an IT Manager at a small to mid-size business, it's always a delight to see any system updates that are useful, well-designed, and fully functional. When these things are encompassed in an operating system, it's even more delightful. We operate a few different web properties and I've always wanted to maintain a good variety on our network (mostly for live testing purposes). You know, some users on Windows XP with Internet Explorer, some on Windows XP with Firefox, some on Windows Vista with Google Chrome, some on Mac with Safari, etc. I have been using Windows XP for some time, so when Windows 7 was announced, I was half dreading the transition; especially since I was due for a system upgrade and I knew I'd need to lead the charge. Also, Vista hadn't proven to play well with all of the software we used on its initial launch.

So, when I finally ordered my new system and started my transition from Windows XP to Windows 7, I was naturally trepidatious. I was also transitioning to a 64bit OS. How big a headache would it be? As it turns out, it's been the best operating system transition I've experienced thus far. New Dell laptop, check. Fresh install of Windows 7, check (also, the install was faster than I expected, and I didn't have any of the install issues that have been reported by some users). The only two things that have been a hindrance were easy to fix. The first was obtaining new drivers for a network printer; no problem. The second was some software with known compatibility issues on 64bit operating systems; no problem, Windows 7 has some great features to help with this, which I'll explain shortly.

While trying not to sound like a broken record with every other reviewer of 7, here are some reasons why I love the new Windows:

    • It takes all the best features of Vista. The aero interface and more "favorite-present" functionality work well. While I haven't always been a fan of all of the wizards Microsoft includes in progressive versions of Windows, I like the additions that were made to 7. For most of my users, and most home users for that matter, I can see how the "hold-my-hand" style menus and wizards are useful.

 

    • I love keyboard shortcuts and Windows 7 adds some really useful functionality. One useful shortcut is WindowKey+P to switch monitor modes (Computer Only, Duplicate, Extended, or Projector Only). We use multiple monitors at Gordian Project, so the strong multi-monitor support is appreciated and works well. Another set of new keyboard shortcuts for multi-monitor that I love is the ability to manipulate an active window; WindowsKey+UpArrow to maximize, WindowsKey+DownArrow to Restore/Minimize, WindowsKey+LeftArrow to dock to the left side of the active screen, WindowsKey+RightArrow to dock to the right side of the active screen, WindowsKey+Shift+RightArrow to move the active window to the monitor to the right, WindowsKey+Shift+LeftArrow to move the active window to the left monitor. Pretty cool.

 

    • The taskbar now includes keyboard shortcuts, too. Press WindowKey+{Position#OfTheTaskbarItem} to open up or switch to the taskbar item in that position. The new taskbar may bothersome (one user has complained to me that it's sometimes difficult to discern which items are open and which are shortcuts), but I think it's a drastic improvement. The last keyboard shortcut that excited me is WindowsKey+B to access items in the system tray. This one has been a long time coming. You might be say that I should just use the mouse, but I hate to take my hands off of the keyboard and anything that saves me time while I'm working is a welcome improvement.

 

  • The last thing that I've noticed, so far, about Windows 7 that's impressive is the improved compatibility engine. Not only does Windows 7 do a great job of utilizing the generic compatibility engine to make recommendations on compatibility settings, Microsoft has also made available Windows XP Mode. Windows XP Mode leverages Windows Virtual PC in a unique way that blew me away. First you download and install the Windows XP Mode package. Then, you download and install Virtual PC. This gives you access to a full version of Windows XP as a virtual pc, which, in itself, is pretty useful. But Microsoft took it a step further. Any application that you install in your Windows XP Mode virtual pc appears in the start menu of your Windows 7 machine! So, you can "Publish and launch applications installed on virtual Windows XP directly from the Windows 7 desktop, as if they were installed on the Windows 7 host itself." Not everything I needed to install and use is compatible with the 64 bit version of Windows 7, so this feature alone makes the upgrade far less daunting...at least for me.

For those of you IT managers out there wondering whether or not you should upgrade, I recommend it.

 

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