YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Microsoft hopes Windows 7 makes you forget about Vista

The new operating system is more consumer friendly and includes several upgrades, including a lightning-fast search function.

October 04, 2009|David Colker

Microsoft Corp.'s new Windows 7 computer operating system hopes to pull off a major trick with memory.

Not computer memory, but ours.

It's supposed to make us forget Vista.

The Vista operating system, which Windows 7 will officially replace later this month, had a terrible reputation almost from the time it debuted in 2007.

Because of Vista's technical foibles, sluggish operation and inability to play nicely with some other programs, consumers and professionals shunned it in droves, refusing to update from Microsoft's old, reliable XP operating system.

Apple Inc. made fun of Vista in a set of hilarious TV commercials, and Microsoft struck back meekly with ads that proclaimed Vista wasn't as bad as you thought.

The Windows 7 upgrade, which will sell for $119 for the Home Premium consumer version, is a chance at redemption. But it's also a campaign to head off the first real competition Windows has ever had in the PC field.

Next year, Web giant Google Inc. will introduce its first operating system, Chrome OS. Because it will be a so-called cloud computing system -- with many of its operations living on the Internet -- it's already hyped to be extremely fast, with the ability to constantly evolve.

Like Windows, Chrome OS will work on PCs. But unlike Windows, it will be free.

At first, Chrome OS will be just for the small laptops known as netbooks. But if it is successful and is expanded to full-size laptops and desktop computers, it could be a formidable challenger.

Which is perhaps why, although there is nothing revolutionary about Windows 7, Microsoft has striven mightily -- and in some ways successfully -- to at least catch up with and foresee the competition when it comes to user friendliness.

A prime example is its computer search function, which is frustratingly slow on Vista and previous Microsoft operating systems.

The new search on Windows 7 is a tremendous improvement in that it can almost instantly find a word or phrase anywhere on the computer, whether in documents, e-mails or even the names of photos and songs.

But outside of Microsoft, that kind of search is nothing new. Google Desktop gave PC users the ability to do it starting in 2004. And Apple made lightning-fast search part of its operating system in 2005. Finally, and perhaps not coincidently, Windows has gotten up to speed.

Microsoft is also looking forward by updating its enhancements for tablet computers that use touch screens. Indeed, the company says that on the day Windows 7 officially debuts -- Oct. 22 -- several manufacturers with which it works will introduce PC-based tablet computers.

That's a proactive move to head off Apple, whose long-rumored tablet is reportedly in development for introduction early next year.

Microsoft has already made copies of Windows 7 available to the press, which is a sign of either hubris or confidence.

Luckily for the software giant, a preliminary look at the operating system hints mostly at the latter.

Windows 7 has a look that resembles Vista, which is to say ugly. But early testing by me and a couple of colleagues found the new operating system to be faster and less troublesome than its predecessor.

It's also not nearly as bulky. The standard version of Windows 7, unlike Vista, will run on netbook computers.

Windows 7 sports a few enhancements that are so consumer friendly you have to remind yourself they were created by Microsoft. The software giant, which at times has seemed nearly impervious to consumer woes, is out to make friends while it can.

From our testing, here's how Windows 7 performed in several key areas:



Upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 went smoothly, taking about 50 minutes to two hours, depending on what was on the computer and its speed.

An upgrade advisor program scanned existing programs and flagged possible compatibility problems. In one case it found two major programs that would not run on Windows 7 -- iTunes and the Panda anti-virus program. But updated versions of these programs were installed without a hitch and then ran just fine.

If you want to jump from XP to Windows 7, that can be done but requires an extra step. You first have to take all your files -- documents, photos, etc. -- and put them on an external storage device.

After installation of the new operating system, you put them back on the computer, and you'll also have to reinstall any programs that aren't part of Windows 7.


What's missing

In the past, Microsoft operating systems came loaded with e-mail, calendar and video programs.

No more. They're not on Windows 7.

But don't despair -- they can be downloaded for free from the company's Windows Live site.

Most potentially problematic is the new e-mail program that replaces Outlook Express and Windows Mail. But a test of transferring content from Windows Mail to the new Windows Live Mail program went well. The mail program also includes a calendar application.

Los Angeles Times Articles