Windows 7, A Linux User's Perspective

It’s no secret that I’m a Linux fan. I love it. I use it. I tell of its goodness far and wide. It’s also true, however, that I administer and use a variety of operating systems throughout any given day. I like to think that makes me more objective than some, and I like to think more people will pay attention to me if I don’t bash every other operating system out there.

This week, I tried out Windows 7 Beta.

I know it’s Beta, and it can’t be expected to perform perfectly. I get that. There are some glaring issues that I think Microsoft missed with their attempts to fix what they broke with Vista.


I was never a big fan of Vista’s usability. It had some real flashy visuals (if your computer was fast enough to support them), but compared to earlier versions of Windows it seemed cumbersome to me. Windows 7 looks a lot like Vista, but is trimmed down on the flash. It oddly seems to resemble the KDE desktop, at least to me. I don’t have a problem with borrowing design ideas if they work (I like the Start menu idea myself), but it makes me chuckle that Microsoft would decide to emulate KDE. It’s possible that I see KDE because I’m a Linux nut -- but the task bar, clock area, and default settings just look a lot like K-Panel to me.

Microsoft KDE?

I realize that looks don’t equal functionality. This is true regardless of the operating system. Compiz, for instance, has some nice features. The ability to switch virtual desktops with a 3D cube effect certainly doesn’t make it more functional though. (Of course, Compiz can manage those 3D effects with a simple onboard Intel card, and Vista requires a Dodge Viper class video card -- but this article isn’t supposed to be about Vista...) Functionality is really the key to productivity, so that’s where we’ll go next.

Simplicity, Not Stupidity

Apple gets lots of credit, much of it deserved, for having a simple interface. Linux has a variety of choices that vary from absurdly simple (netbookish interfaces), to customized chaos. That’s one of Linux’s advantages, it can be anything for anyone. It can also seem to be a downfall, because “This is Linux” tends to be confusing when it can look so drastically different.

The problem I have with Windows 7, is that Microsoft still seems to confuse simplicity with dumbing down. Windows 7 is supposed to be much simpler, much more trim, and much easier to use. Trying to manage any system settings is an exercise in futility. Just connecting to a local area network was a 12 step program towards insanity. I know Microsoft is trying to answer all the ridicule they get about security, but asking a user to decide security question after security question does not make security “simple.” Microsoft, please read this: Don’t ask a user if they want to open their computer up for sharing to home, work, or public -- block off all sharing unless a user asks to turn it on. Look at how your competition manages to handle security issues. You don’t need to try making it more simple, just as simple. And speaking of security:

Secure, or Insane?

I realize Windows 7 is still in Beta. I really do. I read that it’s supposed to have backwards compatibility with Vista though. I have a corporate version of Symantec Antivirus, designed for Vista, and I can not get it to install. You tell me I must be administrator. If I try to run as administrator (BTW, why can’t you just prompt me for an admin password?), I get crazy messages about insecure installation mode, unsupported somethingorother, and you ask if I’d like to install with the correct permissions. Sadly, clicking on “YES” brings me back to the start.

It scares me to run Windows without anti-virus software, so the inability to install Symantec worries me. And that brings me to the interesting observation I made while testing Windows 7. Linux has better support for software. Give the average user a Beta install of a popular Linux distribution, and a Beta install of Windows 7 -- and guess which one will be easier to use out of the box? Linux! Which is easier to install software on? Linux! Which requires you to enter an absurdly long alphanumeric key in order to install? Not Linux!

Microsoft: I was expecting great things with Windows 7, and the most I can muster is, “Meh.” I think I’ll go format that hard drive now, because a Windows machine without virus protection makes me nervous.


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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Linus recently switched from

Anonymous's picture

Linus recently switched from KDE to Gnome...

It's a shame...

Dom's picture

"I have to use mostly Gnome because I use Ubuntu, which, unfortunately, is too Gnome-oriented."

I don't use Ubuntu (I use Debian unstable with KDE) and I think this is just a shame. I know Debian's default DE was (don't know about latest releases) GNOME and that's what I used with woody but I switched over to KDE without any problems IIRC. Would you care to give me an example or two of how Ubuntu is too GNOME-oriented?

Ubuntu, Gnome-oriented

El Perro Loco's picture

Hi, Dom!

"Would you care to give me an example or two of how Ubuntu is too GNOME-oriented?"

Hmmmmm... I guess that's *by definition*. You see, Ubuntu is Gnome-oriented in the same way as Kubuntu is KDE-oriented. I apologize for not having made myself clear on that point.

(Most of the people I work for/with use Ubuntu, not Kubuntu, and I have to go with the flow in that.)


vook's picture

With all due respect to Mr. Torvalds - he cast's a stone by using the word 'idiots' to define those who use Gnome. He's human though, and I do love the guy after all. Either way, in my opinion, KDE beckons "Where do you want to go today ?" (just click the K!).

Further - Gnome doesn't have to encompass your whole desktop. I for one use a Gnome - Openbox combination, with some gdesklets on the side.

And for the person who can't find a stable Linux distribution - well, those that you mention /aren't stable Linux distributions!/ Ubuntu is Debian Unstable/Experimental (tweaked to kind of work out of the box, sometimes, if you are lucky) after all. Ubuntu is a buggy Linux experience - Just let it be known! Ubuntu *is not* stable! Ubuntu is to Linux as Microsoft Windows is to Microsoft Windows - always in beta.

People! Just suck it up and go with Debian - grumble through that ANSI/Curses installer as you will. If you invest a little time into your Linux, you will be rewarded. Some tenfold, some a hundred. Let everyone with ears listen!

Screensaver in Gnome

Tweenk's picture

System -> Preferences -> Screensaver

Gnome does the exact opposite of Windows. Windows floods you with options, most of which are just useless. Gnome exposes only the most used settings in the UI, and for the more advanced ones you can explore GConf. There are some quirks (e.g. Super not being a modifier, and Rhythmbox is annoying) but there are also very nice touches (e.g. not highlighting the extension when you rename a file). I don't know what exactly Gnome prevents you from doing. Up to date I never found it to stand in my way. I think you're just used to KDE, and try to use Gnome like it was KDE - but they're just different.

"I think you're just used to

Dom's picture

"I think you're just used to KDE, and try to use Gnome like it was KDE - but they're just different."

I agree, it's good differencies exist and as I started with GNOME, some 4 years ago with Debian woody, within a year discovered KDE and since then been hapily using it (can't wait Lenny to come out and KDE4 come into unstable...) I have to say I don't know how much GNOME improved over the last 3-4 years and what it offers today.

It just doesn't attract me enough to go and try it out so I won't be babbling about which one is better but I just felt I should tell you KDE also has very nice touches, one of them being not highlighting the extension when you rename a file.

Double reply - to vook and Tweenk

El Perro Loco's picture

Thank you guys for your considerations. One of the things I appreciate in this blog is the high level of civility exercised by the posters.

I am not a Linux guru - far from that. However, I was "born" under the DOS command line (my original sin!), then I evolved, evolved and became a reasonably educated Linux user. I was a professional programmer - today I just dabble in programming - and I am not a stranger to the inner workings of OSs in general, either.

With that baggage, I am perfectly at home with Ubuntu - which, I agree, is not perfectly "pure" Linux. In my view, it made Debian a little easier to use for the common folk, but in choosing Gnome for its "preferred" interface it went down the "dumbification" lane. Gnome irritates me when it prevents me from formatting my desktop clock/calendar to show yyyy-mm-dd hh:nn:ss, for instance. It is *my* decision to make, not the UI's. And about the screensaver: I can easily find where to select a screensaver, but that's it: unimportant as screensavers are, I'd like to be able to set, say, how many balls I want bouncing on my screen. Gnome is presumptious enough (or lazy enough) to think I always want, say, five balls.

Microsoft couldn't have done better in second-guessing me. And gconf - a little known, incomplete and poorly documented Windows-Registry-Editor-like tool - works against an UI's primary goal: immediate usability.

KDE, on the other hand, provides many more menus. Although this is dangerous terrain (think "featurism" and bloating), it is closer to "immediate usability". Also, it respects more of my rights, as as user, to decide over as many aspects of my computing experience as I want.

(Now, please keep in mind that I'm talking about the graphical UI. The command line is a totally different game - which I like to play, BTW!)

My final note:
vook said: "If you invest a little time into your Linux, you will be rewarded. Some tenfold, some a hundred."
I couldn't agree more! :-)

Another POV

XLII's picture

After checking out OpenSUSE 11.1 I decided to move back to Ubuntu (unfortunatelly I no longer have time or energy to tweak with my OS). That's where Windows 7 beta came out, so I decided to give it a shot.

I must say that mostly I disagree with point of view made by author, however - I have my own "problems" with Windows 7. Mostly on the usability matters.

First of all - I think that Windows 7 is pretty fast. Faster than Windows Vista and faster than two distros I've been switching during last few years (yup, that's OpenSUSE and Ubuntu). Firefox scrolling is much fasters and I can surf smoothly trough the web without constant locking up on flash ads etc.

I also like the new window manager features. I really miss multiple desktops and alt-move/resize, but those aren't killer feats for me, so I can live with it. Interface elements are just the right size. Under Linux first thing that I do when running X environment is decreasing DPI.

As for simplicity.. come on Author. I was actually amazed with simplicity AND scalability of configuration options. I don't know where did you take this 12-steps of horror, but my network config took 3 steps. Asking if detected WLAN was right, what is my passphrase and what type of network security (Home/Office/Public Place?) I want to use.

Other than that.. well. That's just another story.

One day after installation I felt like someone exchanging toolbox for a stick. First thing I wanted to get is subversion client and some WAMP/WAPP platforms. After 2 hours I gave up. While WAMP platforms are easy to get WAPP platforms are non-existent and mostly need to be configured from the scratch (thanks Linux for doing it for me). Sure TortoiseSVN is great client (I haven't found nothing close to it for Linux), but I don't need SVN unless I had devel platform on and running.

For pdftk, xmlstartlet and ImageMagick I had to install cygwin. Not mentioning running at least 2 apps (and downloading 3) just to get my ssh connection running. Getting my scanner to work took me another 2 hours and, because my hardware is pretty old, it looked like taken straight from the Win 95. Oh yeah, I actually had to go to producer site, which I haven't done for quite long time (where's the whole Out-Of-The-Box feeling?).

I must say that W7 looks pretty solid and likely it probably it will bring back some customers to Microsoft. On the other side I think that convining advanced users to switch is futile task. It feels so much feature lacking, that I rather have clean Ubuntu than full fledged W7.

Will I go back to Linux? No.
My laptop was having some issues earlier. After reinstallation BIOS refused to work further with bootable drives. Two times its motherboard has been replaced (under warranty) and it seemed that issues had been resolved. But now it happened again, warranty period has ended and I'm W7.

So looks like my laptop will be a paperweight after beta period :(

Network Setup

Ryder Step's picture

I too can not believe how difficult they made the network setup. I honestly didn't think they could add more steps and make it less intuitive than Vista, but M$ft does it again. Additionally they haven't done anything to remedy the start menu. I recently blogged about my disdain for the start menu in Windows Vista,

Windows 7 compared ... Antivirus?

ischi's picture

I'm using MacOS, Ubuntu, and Vista and see advantages in all Systems, and I'm not running AV on any. AV always slows down, and its completly useless for a halfway smart User! Don't run as Administrator, and don't click every link someone sends you. Phising and Social engineering is a way bigger problem then your standart Virus which your AV will catch. I tried 7 myself and kind of like it, its fast, already stable and does almost everything I need, but looks awefull on 1024x768 so it not for my Notebook ;).
Seems MS has done a decent Job, but why is it still missing Multible Desktops? That kills it for me. Oh well it's gonna have its crowd with me standing kind of next to it ;)...

no AV on Vista? Really?

Kennon's picture

"Don't run as Administrator, and don't click every link someone sends you. Phising and Social engineering is a way bigger problem then your standart Virus which your AV will catch."

That comment means you are pretty clueless on how modern worms and virus spread in 2009. Most of the newest stuff is transmitted through either 100% or mostly legit sites, or exploits and require ZERO user intervention. Look at the 9 million+ infected machines and growing as we speak of Downadup. The point you make above held true back in 2000 but today if you are using Vista (or any MS OS for that matter) with no AV then it is only a matter of time before you become a node on someone's botnet or have your data stolen no matter how "smart" you think you are.

KDE ripoff

Kennon's picture

I am glad I am not the only one who thinks the interface on W7 is a little more than reminiscent of KDE. When I looked over the shoulder of our Windows admin at work and saw him playing around with the beta I said, "Oh cool, what made you try KDE?" (he actually has a Novell SLED10 gnome desktop he does a lot of work from) He laughed and said it was Windows 7 beta I almost fell over. Not that I mind terribly that the tables are turning and now MS is taking tips from the FOSS world (IE7 interface is mostly a glossy version of FireFox2) I was just shocked at first.


GraphiteCube's picture

"It scares me to run Windows without anti-virus software, so the inability to install Symantec worries me."

Why would people still use Symantec antivirus? AntiVir is free, and has smaller footprint.

And, I can't agree with your comments on the networking. It seems that you "feel" Linux has better networking management just becoz of KDE simplified it for you, but remember, not everyone is KDE user.

"Just connecting to a local area network was a 12 step program towards insanity."

Plug the network cable, done. I wonder what else you have experienced?

"Don’t ask a user if they want to open their computer up for sharing to home, work, or public -- block off all sharing unless a user asks to turn it on."

Oh yes, if Windows doesn't prompt it, then someone will ask "where can I enable it?". Just press "No" if you don't want to share your drive/ documents.

seriously? really?

Jason's picture

"Plug the network cable, done. I wonder what else you have experienced?"

I don't imagine that Shawn is just trying a two-computer ad hoc connection here. Clearly he needs to configure his network connection, as many users of larger networks do, and in order to do some basic configuration he had to hunt for Cíbola.