Microsoft proves that seven is indeed a lucky and magical number. It would be too, for a company which decided to skip a version 13 for their Office suite to avoid bad luck.
Despite the criticism and negative publicity, Windows Vista was a significant Windows release, and a step forward in the evolution of the Windows operating system. Windows 7 is a marked improvement over Vista all around, and its new features and improvements make it a strong competitor for Windows XP as well.
Ironically, Windows 7, isn’t even Windows 7.0! It runs a slightly improved kernel of Windows Vista with a version number of 6.1 much like Windows XP ran an improved Windows 2000 kernel with a version of 5.1 (Windows 2000 was 5.0). However as Microsoft has painfully pointed out on several occasions, this makes Windows 7 no less significant.
Windows 7 will support both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. The bare minimum requirements for the 32-bit include a 1GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB available hard-disk space, and a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver. 64-bit systems will require at least a 1 GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 20GB of free space on your hard drive, and a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver. A touch-screen monitor is required to take advantage of the native touch features. Do note that some users have claimed to have limited success running the Windows 7 beta with less than 1GB of RAM, but that’s not recommended.
Windows 7 is the biggest step forward in usability since Windows 95. In fact, over half of what makes it better than Vista boils down to user interface improvements and enhancements, not so much actual new features.
Its fancy new user interface—the heart of which is Aero Peek, making every open window transparent except the one you’re focusing on at the moment so you can find what you’re looking for — actually changes the way you use Windows. It breaks the instinct to maximize windows as you’re using them; instead, you simply let windows hang out, since it’s much easier to juggle them. In other words, it radically reorients the UI around multitasking. After six months of using Aero Peek and the new launcher taskbar, going back to Vista’s taskbar, digging through collapsed app bars, or even its Peek-less Alt+Tab feels barbaric and primitive.
Windows 7 brings back a sense of a tightness and control that was sometimes missing in Vista—there’s a technical reason for this relating in part to the way graphics are handled. The more chaste User Account Control goes to that — the frequency with which it interrupts you was grating in Vista, like standing under a dripping faucet. But it actually works as Microsoft intended now, with more security, since you’re less likely to repeatedly hammer “OK” to anything that pops up, just so it leaves you the hell alone.
Other super welcome improvements are faster, more logical search—in the Music folder for instance, you can narrow by artist, genre or album — and more excellent file previews, though they’re not quite as awesome as what OS X offers up. (And why aren’t they on by default?) There are lots of little things that make you say, “finally” or “that’s great”, like legit codec support baked in to Windows Media Player, Device Stage when you plug in your gadgets, or the ridiculously awesome background images.
In short, Windows 7 is what Windows should feel like in 2009.