Photography and Art

Friday, May 15, 2009

Windows 7

This is normally a blog about photography, but photographers in the digital age spend an inordinate amount of time on their computers, so occasionally it makes sense to talk about new software tools that make our jobs easier. I'm happy to report that Windows 7 is one of those tools. 

At the risk of insulting Microsoft, the best operating system for my PC is one that I don't notice. The less intrusive an operating system is, the better I like it. My PC is a tool that I use for my job and photography and Windows 7 is a great operating system because it fades quickly into the background and simplifies my life.

I've been running the Windows 7 release candidate now for a week. I've rolled it out from a slow single core Pentium machine that acts primarily as a printer attachment on the network to my main desktop (four Intel cores) and now my laptop (two Intel cores). Prior to that, these three machines were running Vista with mixed success. 

Vista was a disaster for the old printer machine because it needed more memory than I could install on the box. The old Pentium had the max 2 gigs of memory, but Vista thrashed around and couldn't run Photoshop or Lightroom without the disk light going non-stop, indicating that memory was swapping in and out constantly. Response time was abysmal. It took forever to boot. I managed to make the situation workable by plugging in a 4 GB flash card and using it for swap space - Vista still thrashed about, but response times were manageable.

Under Windows 7, the old machine's disk light still goes a fair bit after booting, but eventually it settles down to a nice equilibrium, indicating that the Windows 7 memory footprint is smaller than Vista. Switching from application to application is really snappy. Boot times are definitely much lower. My old computer has come back from the dead with Windows 7.

For my other machines, each with 3 GB of memory, Vista was not really a performance issue. The quad core desktop handled Vista pretty well and the laptop was a bit more sluggish than under XP, but tolerable. Windows 7 has really helped snap up the laptop and is even helps the faster desktop.

It's interesting to read the PC World article that claims that Windows 7 is not much faster than Vista. I think they totally miss the point. It is absolutely true that applications like Lightroom and Photoshop run almost exactly the same speed on my main editing machine on both operating systems. But, neither one runs well on Vista on my older, slower machine with less memory. With Windows 7, they run tolerably well. Windows 7 is much better from a speed point of view because it just seems snappier. Going back to my original premise, you don't notice an operating system that switches back and forth from one window to another without delay. And that's a good thing!

The other thing I really like about Windows 7 is the simplified user interface. The bottom task bar can now be used for all your commonly used software and it works just like (surprise!) MacOS. All your common apps are arranged across the bottom of the screen. When an application is running, it gets a little box drawn around it (as opposed to the little MacOS divot). When you hover your mouse over the running application, it gives you a little screen snapshot (or more if you have two or more instances running). This is really nice.

But, going back to the theme of this post, Windows 7 is really good because it doesn't annoy you. Applications switch back and forth quickly. It boots quickly. After you put your laptop to sleep, it wakes up quickly without a bunch of thrashing around. The interface is simple and elegant. I've experienced almost zero bugs with the release candidate version. Installation was fast and simple - you don't even have to watch over it. Once you've answered a couple of questions, it installs all by itself.

I think Microsoft has a winner on its hands here! Finally.

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