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Review: Windows 7 Enterprise Edition

Okay, so this isn’t exactly the typical Oddball Review…no Asian horror or computer games in sight. However, after installing the final version of Windows 7 Enterprise Edition this past weekend (courtesy of MSDN), I am finding it significant enough to warrant a review of its own — particularly in light of certain earlier posts I’ve made here about Microsoft’s operating system.

In fact, it’s my opinion that Windows 7 is a slam dunk for Windows users, particularly in light of what an utter abomination I found Vista to be in many respects. It builds upon the behind-the-scenes changes in Windows Vista and simultaneously attempts to correct the egregious user interface catastrophes that product introduced. The result is what Windows Vista should have been, which might make you understandably annoyed had you paid for both. Being an employee of a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner who has access to these things as part of his job, it was not so difficult for Redmond to redeem itself in my eyes. In fact I will be happy to forget the Vista fiasco ever occurred.

Trivia: Windows 7’s name is rooted firmly in marketing, and may be perhaps its most disingenuous aspect. Just as CPU clock speeds were put forth as the primary means of differentiating the power of two systems in the old days, the big, shiny “7” on this operating system’s box art is meant to propel you into the next generation of Windows computing, forgetting whatever came before. In actuality, this version of Windows is not 7.0, but 6.1. Since Windows Vista was 6.0, this means the much-vaunted Win7 is merely a revision!

When you think about it, though, this makes perfect sense. Windows XP (version 5.1) was, after all, “merely a revision” of Windows 2000 (version 5.0). Yet look what a success XP was, and how long it stuck around. Windows 2000 was only on the market for a year or two. See any parallels?

It seems to me that Microsoft can be counted on to get an operating system really right only on the first revision of a major release. (That being the case, we might all want to sit out whatever really ends up wearing the Windows 7.0 badge.)

Anyway, enough semantics: On with the review.

A little over a year ago, I posted a rant about Windows Vista and how it was a ridiculous operating system, then provided my evidence by way of several examples of inexcusable UI behavior. I thought it might be pertinent to take a look back at that post and ask the question, has Windows 7 solved any of these issues? We’re about to find out.

Search, Part I: Indexing

I just did a search for some work-related files I haven’t used in a long time, because I need them again now. First of all, unless you open up Vista’s “Advanced Search” panel, you will only be searching in “Indexed Locations.” Query: Why does the concept of “indexed locations” even exist? If I want to search for something, that means I don’t know where it is. Either index the whole fucking hard drive by default, or just search everything by default.Chief Oddball, Windows is Just a Ridiculous Operating System (June 11, 2008)

The concept of “indexing” is very much present and accounted for in Windows 7 and, just as in Vista, when you open the search dialog you will be searching only in indexed locations by default. In fact, this is even less clear now than before. However, the scourge of indexing is much less of a problem because it’s a whole lot easier to add things to the index — without even realizing it.

Windows 7 includes a new concept called “libraries,” which I think may be the best addition to the OS’s file management system in quite a while. A library is simply a collection of files and folders, irrespective of where they are actually located on your various hard disks. In fact, you can include files in a library from a whole bunch of different disks. When opening a file in any application, you can select one of your libraries from the pane on the left, and you’ll be able to scroll through every parent folder in the library in a single list. This is completely awesome for my work stuff, which is spread across three different master folders. One click and I can see it all.

The way libraries mitigate the indexing problem is that any location in a library is automatically added to the index. The reasoning here is sound: If you use a folder often enough to include it in a library, chances are you want it indexed so you can find things in it more quickly. Since your documents, pictures, music and videos are all libraries by default now, and I created libraries for my work stuff, I can find just about anything I need pretty fast.

You can still search in non-indexed locations, but the method is different. Now, you have to actually perform a search first, then scroll to the bottom of the results to the “Search again in:” heading, and click “Custom.” A dialog will open up, where you can check off the drives / folders you want to search in, regardless of whether they’re indexed.

If the concept of indexing has to stick around, I’d venture that this is at least a sizable improvement.

Search, Part II: Results Caching

Let’s say you actually get some search results. You browse to a folder within those results, decide this isn’t the right folder, and then hit “Back.” You’d expect to be taken back to your search results so you can continue browsing, but oh no, Windows is too stupid for that. It can’t do anything intelligent like, you know, cache the results of your last search as long as the window is open. No, it has to repeat the stupid search all over again. Real efficient.Chief Oddball, Windows is Just a Ridiculous Operating System (June 11, 2008)

No longer a problem, I’m happy to report.

In fact, the whole search dialog has been improved quite significantly. Results come back in an easy-to-read format and can be easily switched to other views, such as “Details,” where you can see the folder each resulting file is in. Even better, the keyword(s) you searched for is highlighted wherever it appears, be it in the filename, folder name or email content (Windows searches your Outlook data as well).

Now, if you right-click a file in the search results and select “Open file location,” you’ll be taken to the folder where that file lives. Nothing new about that. What’s new, though, is that if you click the back button, you’ll not only be returned to your previous search results, but you’ll be returned to the same scroll position in your search results, with the same file still selected. For whatever reason, Windows Vista chose to throw all of this information away. Windows 7 keeps it. Bravo.

Making Copies of Files

The process for making a copy of a file in the same folder where it already lives has gotten less convenient for me since Windows Vista. In XP, when you did that, the copy of the file would be renamed to “Copy of [original filename]” so that it did not conflict with the original file. Now, in Vista, the file gets named “[original filename] – Copy”. That in itself isn’t so bad, but here’s the worst part. Now, Vista alphabetically resorts the file list automatically, as soon as you perform any file operations like copying or renaming.Chief Oddball, Windows is Just a Ridiculous Operating System (June 11, 2008)

This is still going on, although it is at least improved in the sense that there’s not so much lagging of the display when you actually make the file copies. (In Vista, it seemed like there was pause between when you pasted the files, and when the display would scroll to catch up, which always tripped me up when I was slamming away on those keyboard shortcuts and expecting things to happen quickly.)

I still don’t like this concept, but it’s performing better now and is thus getting a bit more palatable.

File List Views

But my absolute favorite Windows stupidity crisis is the one where the OS will conveniently forget the view settings you wanted for a particular folder. Yes, this is STILL HAPPENING in Vista, and it’s been happening since Windows 2000 if I remember right. You know how this goes: You expect all of your folders to display in “List” view, and then one day you go into a folder that you go into a hundred times a day, and suddenly it’s in “Tiles” view for no reason.Chief Oddball, Windows is Just a Ridiculous Operating System (June 11, 2008)

Admittedly, it’s a bit too early to tell whether this bug has been fixed, as it usually doesn’t crop up until well into the lifetime of a Windows installation. However, judging from the way my folder views have behaved thus far — with 100% consistency and predictability — I feel hopeful that the problem has finally been solved.

Much like Vista, at the onset Windows 7 displays folders differently depending on what kind of folder it perceives it to be. A folder of documents, for example, might be displayed in “List” view by default, whereas pictures would be displayed in “Large Icons” view by default (in which thumbnails are visible). And again like Vista, you can change the display used for all folders of each type by browsing to a folder of that type, changing the view and then saying “Apply to Folders” in the Folder Options -> View dialog. The difference is that this time your selections actually stick, and not just in Windows Explorer dialogs either, but in file dialogs in most third-party software. I always used to hate how Photoshop kept going back to “Large Icons” when I browsed to my Pictures folder, despite my setting “List” view over and over again.

In fact, Windows 7 does a much better job overall of remembering the last view state of a folder, even across third-party apps. I commonly use Firefox to upload images to my company website’s content management system. The CMS irritatingly allows you to upload only one file at a time, so I’ll usually have to repeat the process two or three times in one sitting. I usually browse for the file using the browser’s file control, then sort the file list by “Date Modified” so I could quickly grab the most recent file I added. In previous versions of Windows, when I’d come back to upload the next file, I’d hit the Browse button again and the file list would be back to sorting alphabetically. Maddening!

But in Windows 7, if you use libraries, you are given the option of arranging your file view, not just sorting it, by name, size, date, etc. When you use the “Arrange by Date Modified” setting, it sticks — meaning that when I come back for that second or third upload, the file view is still sorting by date modified each time. It’s wonderful. Additionally, when you switch to arranging by date, the view automatically changes to “Details” so that you can actually see the dates in question — and there are Outlook-style groupings like “Today,” “Last week,” etc.

Did I mention that I really like these libraries?

XP Mode: Seamlessly Combining The Old and The New

Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate Editions also come with “XP Mode,” which is essentially just an updated version of Microsoft Virtual PC (which I’ve been using for years) that comes with a built-in license for Windows XP. In fact, when you download XP Mode, Windows XP Service Pack 3 comes preinstalled and ready to go. Even better, it supports USB devices, so you can plug them into your computer and the virtual XP installation can make use of them. Perhaps best of all, when you install a program using the Virtual XP machine, it then goes onto the Windows 7 Start Menu under the Virtual PC heading — and you can run it right from Windows 7, where it will appear as a window on your desktop just like any other app, even coexisting alongside other Windows 7 native applications. Extremely nifty.

I had to laugh when I saw this, because this might be able to solve the stupid problems with Palm’s Desktop software that I bitched about recently. Palm Desktop 4 and the Palm Treo’s sync cable don’t work on Vista, but if you could install both in XP Mode and run them seamlessly like this, it might just solve all of your problems. Too bad my dad doesn’t have Windows 7. (His laptop did come with a voucher for a free copy, but unfortunately it only gets him Windows 7 Home Premium, which I don’t believe comes with XP Mode.)

For more details on XP Mode, check out this blog. It’s astoundingly in-depth.

“My” Stupid Folder Names

One thing I didn’t like is that Windows 7 puts that stupid “My” back in front of your folders like “My Documents,” “My Pictures,” yada yada. The “My” was dropped in Vista, which I thought was a vast improvement, but now it’s back. Not a real big deal; though — just rename the folders and you’re done. Yeah, it’s that easy. You can also change the location of those special folders by right-clicking, selecting Properties, hitting the Location tab and then clicking the “Move…” button. (I think that was true of Vista as well, but XP made you jump through hoops.)

Other Observations

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the little things that Windows 7 has improved compared to Vista and everything prior. Here’s a short list of new stuff I loved when I first got acquainted with it:

  • The UAC elevation prompts are less frequent and a bit less annoying. You also now have an exposed option to disable the “black screen” effect when UAC prompts occur, but I’ve since learned that this is not just a cosmetic feature and is actually essential to security, so I’d recommend living with it if you can. Most happily, simply moving things around on the Start Menu no longer fires two frigging confirmation prompts, and some such actions don’t fire any prompts at all.
  • When you are in an Open File or Save File dialog, where the filename field comes pre-focused, you can now once again press Shift+Tab to put the focus in the file list. This was how Windows always worked, until Vista came along and focused on the sorting headers the first time you pressed Shift+Tab, and the file list the second time. Since I’m a keyboard jockey, this really pissed me off. (Of course, now that I’ve gotten used to the Vista way, I get to switch back to the Pre-Vista way. Whatever.)
  • Speaking of the Save File dialog, one of the things that pissed me off the most about Vista has been fixed here. Sometimes I want to save a file with a name very similar to one that already exists, so I’ll highlight it in the list, then tab back down to the filename field and make a small edit, then hit Enter to save. Maddeningly, Vista would often think that I was trying to overwrite the highlighted file, even though the name in the filename field was clearly different. Drove me batshit. This doesn’t happen anymore in Windows 7.
  • Clicking once on the network status icon in the system tray pops open a window listing all of your available networks, and you can simply expand any of them to reveal a “Connect” button. Wireless networks in range are even displayed with their SSID and signal strength in-line. This makes it incredibly easy to connect to a VPN, a wireless network, or whatever else.
  • Speaking of the system tray, Windows 7 smartly hides most of the icons that land there by default, and through the “Customize” dialog, you can easily choose whether you want to see an icon, hide it but continue receiving notifications from it, or hide the icon and its notifications entirely. Hopefully this is the end of the ubiquitous Windows system tray icon overload.
  • The new taskbar is mostly great, in that it displays small icon buttons rather than long bars with the titles of your application windows printed on them. If an app has more than one window open, it “stacks” onto the same taskbar button, and a quick hover with your mouse cursor displays an in-line popup containing thumbnails of each window available so you can pick one to bring forward. You can also — finally — reorder items on the taskbar at will. The only thing I don’t like is that it makes it a little hard to quickly grab the exact Explorer window you want if, say, you have six Explorer windows open. You have to either do the hover trick, or use Alt+Tab. I usually go for the latter.
  • Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate Editions ship with all kinds of useful gadgets and accessories, including Windows Media Center, a useful screen capture app called the Snipping Tool, Sticky Notes that you can place anywhere on your desktop, a simple DVD Maker that can convert music, pictures and digital video files to a DVD that will play back in your set-top player, and even a Math Input Panel where you can freehand draw equations and have them OCR’ed into real symbols.
  • Speaking of gadgets, there is (thankfully) no longer a concept of “Windows Sidebar,” a vertical bar along the side of one monitor where your gadgets would live. If you filled up the sidebar, it would start paginating, which was freaking horrible. Plus it would constantly lock up, fail to update and forget the order you placed your gadgets in. But now, you can drop gadgets anywhere you want on any of your monitors — far more useful for those who like to arrange things exactly to taste.
  • Applications you pin to the Start Menu have little flyout tabs showing the last x number of files / items / etc. that you opened in that application. Remote Desktop, for instance, lists the last few machines you remoted into, and simply clicking one from the list logs you right in (assuming your credentials are saved). A handy time saver.
  • A handful of new Desktop Themes are nicely integrated into the system, with subjects including Nature, Architecture, Landscapes and more. Themes can control icon placement, wallpaper imagery, and even the color of the “chrome” on your windows. The wallpaper itself can even act as a slide show, changing anywhere from every 15 minutes to once every day or two in case you like to see something different now and again without going into Display Properties. One thing I missed: The fish wallpaper from the Windows 7 Release Candidate was nowhere to be found! (Fortunately I still had the RC installed on a separate drive, so I rescued the fish. I named it Drake, incidentally.)
  • PRO TIP: If anyone else misses the old “Image Resizer PowerToy” from Windows XP, an enterprising fellow has created a clone of it that works on Vista and Windows 7, even 64-bit editions. I’ve tried it and it’s just like you remember. Get it from


I’ve run into just a few minor issues with compatibility, where software that worked normally under XP and/or Vista didn’t behave as expected under Windows 7. As a disclaimer, I must admit that this is my first time installing a 64-bit operating system, so some of these compatibility issues could be x64 related, not Windows 7 related. Here are some snags I ran into, for what it’s worth:

  • The iPhone isn’t supported properly unless you install iTunes. Windows would apparently install the driver for mine when I plugged it in, but after a reboot, it would fail to recognize the phone and require that the driver installation be repaired. This always fixed the issue, but was annoying. Installing the latest version of iTunes took care of the problem (and also applied that pretty iPhone icon to the device).
  • Cool Edit Pro 2.0, for years my favorite audio editor, just plain wouldn’t start up in Windows 7. It installed fine, but wouldn’t get past “Scanning Effects” on the startup screen. Applying compatibility settings had no effect. I will probably set it up as an XP Mode application (woohoo! XP Mode rocks!) but I’m currently demo’ing Adobe Audition 3.0 as a possible replacement. Audition is basically the same software anyway (Adobe bought the makers of Cool Edit some years ago), except that unlike Cool Edit, it works just fine in Windows 7. It’s a little overwhelming what with everything they’ve changed and added, but at least it’s still Cool Edit at heart. (It’s also a little expensive, but it wouldn’t be Adobe without a platinum-plated price tag.)
  • Adobe Acrobat 8.0 doesn’t install quite right under 64-bit. You have to update to at least 8.1 to get everything squared away. I believe the issue has something to do with creating the Adobe PDF printer.
  • There’s also a problem with Adobe CS3 that may cause Internet connectivity to be lost. This is related to a bizarre service that gets installed improperly and is supposedly related to Bonjour. The service will have a strange name like ##Id-{{String2}}-GUID##. It must be stopped and disabled to correct the problem. Installing iTunes with the latest version of Bonjour seemed not only to fix this problem (and get Bonjour working in the process), but it also removed the oddly-titled service from my machine.
  • MySQL 5.0 installed fine, but the Instance Config Wizard would not run to completion unless run as administrator.

So that’s it: my review of Windows 7 after approximately three days of use. In those three days, I’m already convinced that it’s a far better operating system than Vista was in a great many respects — and if nothing else, it’s far easier to live and work with on a daily basis.

In my opinion, Windows 7 is the next Windows XP: Here to stay, at least for a while. And for a change, you actually won’t mind having it aboard.

Oddball Verdict: Highly Recommended