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What's wrong with Windows 7 - update

October 8, 2009: 6:18 AM ET

Reading between the lines of Walt Mossberg and David Pogue's reviews

Photo: Microsoft

Photo: Microsoft

It's a given that Windows 7, scheduled for release Thursday, is an improvement over Vista. But how does it stack up against Apple's (AAPL) Snow Leopard?

At moments like this we look to the well-compensated deans of tech journalism: The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and the New York Times' David Pogue.

The caveats in Mossberg's review were summarized  here two weeks ago (you can read that post below the fold).

In this launch-day edition we add the caveats in Pogue's mixed-positive review, which he neatly summarizes in virtual bullet points.

Source: David Pogue

Photo: David Pogue

"There are three ugly aspects of Windows 7," he writes, "so let's get them out of the way up front:

  • Upgrading from Vista is easy, but upgrading from Windows XP involves a "clean install" — moving all your programs and files off the hard drive, installing Windows 7, then copying everything back on again. It's an all-day hassle that's nobody's idea of fun.
  • The second bit of nastiness is the insane matrix of versions. Again, there are five versions of Windows 7.... (No wonder a raft of books about Windows 7 is on the way. A disclosure: I'm writing one of them.)
  • Finally, out of fear of antitrust headaches, Microsoft has stripped Windows 7 of some important accessory programs. Believe it or not, software for managing photos, editing videos, reading PDF documents, maintaining a calendar, managing addresses, chatting online or writing e-mail doesn't come with Windows 7." [Note: This software can be downloaded free of charge.]

"Otherwise," Pogue concludes, "Windows 7 is mostly great news." You can read his full review here.

Below: A slightly amended version of our Mossberg post.

Walt Mossberg is a man who takes his software reviews seriously. After testing Windows 7 for nine months on 11 different machines, he has pronounced it "the best version of Windows Microsoft (MSFT) has produced." (Ring a bell? See UPDATE below.)

"I still give the Mac OS a slight edge," he writes, "because it has a much easier and cheaper upgrade path; more built-in software programs; and far less vulnerability to viruses and other malicious software, which are overwhelmingly built to run on Windows. Now, however, it's much more of a toss-up between the two rivals.

"Apple will have to scramble now that the gift of a flawed Vista has been replaced with a reliable, elegant version of Windows."

Mossberg has written a positive review; he has plenty of good things to say about Microsoft's latest operating system, and anybody who is seriously interested in buying it should read the whole thing.

But if you want to know what's wrong with Windows 7, we've excerpted the juicy bits.

Photo: AllthingsD

Photo: AllthingsD

In Walt's words:

  • On a couple of these machines, glacial start-up and reboot times reminded me of Vista.
  • On a couple of others, after upgrading, key features like the display or touchpad didn't work properly.
  • Windows 7 still requires add-on security software that has to be frequently updated.
  • It's tedious and painful to upgrade an existing computer from XP to 7
  • The variety of editions in which Windows 7 is offered is confusing.
  • Microsoft has stripped Windows 7 of familiar built-in applications, such as email, photo organizing, address book, calendar and video-editing programs. [They can be downloaded free of charge.]
  • Windows 7 still isn't quite as natural at networking as I find the Mac to be, but it's better than Vista.
  • In my tests, [a new feature called HomeGroups] worked, but not consistently, and it required typing in long, arcane passwords.
  • The Mac still started and restarted faster than most of the Windows 7 PCs. But the speed gap has narrowed considerably, and one of the Lenovos beat the Mac in restart time.
  • In the name of security, Vista put up nagging warnings about a wide variety of tasks, driving people crazy. In Windows 7, you can now set this system so it nags you only when things are happening that you consider really worth the nag.
  • The system for upgrading is complicated, but Vista owners can upgrade to the exactly comparable edition of Windows 7 while keeping all files, settings and programs in place.
  • Unfortunately, XP owners, the biggest body of Windows users, won't be able to do that.
  • They'll have to wipe out their hard disks after backing up their files elsewhere, then install Windows 7, then restore their personal files, then re-install all their programs from the original CDs or downloaded installer files.
  • Then, they have to install all the patches and upgrades to those programs from over the years.
  • Microsoft includes an Easy Transfer wizard to help with this, but it moves only personal files, not programs.
  • This painful XP upgrade process is one of the worst things about Windows 7 and will likely drive many XP owners to either stick with what they've got or wait and buy a new one.

"Bottom line," writes Mossberg, "Windows 7 is a very good, versatile operating system that should help Microsoft bury the memory of Vista and make PC users happy."

UPDATE: Kudos to reader Jon T. of Cardiff, Wales, for digging up this quote from Mossberg's review of Vista:

"After months of testing Vista on multiple computers, new and old, I believe it is the best version of Windows that Microsoft has produced." -- Wall Street Journal, Jan. 18, 2007

"After using pre-release versions of Windows 7 for nine months, and intensively testing the final version for the past month on many different machines, I believe it is the best version of Windows Microsoft has produced." -- Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8, 2009

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @ philiped]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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