Windows 7, A Linux User's Perspective

by Shawn Powers

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.