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BW Businessworld

Speedy, Smart And Seven

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If you are in the market for a laptop, as i happen to be, and walk into a gadget shop to check out what is available, you are likely to be proudly led straight to a display of sleek little netbooks. These handy ultra portables are very difficult to resist, though they are very basic. Those who do not see them as a primary device nevertheless consider them as a second one to use when there is a lot of travelling to be done.

Netbooks are absolutely the flavour of the month. Google's upcoming Chrome operating system (OS), migrating most of the computing experience online, makes buyers even more interested in the netbook.
Why then is Microsoft coming out with a heavyweight new Windows, still very much computer-centric? Wasn't Windows Vista supposed to be the last big system before Microsoft too transitioned to the Web? That's the sort of thing that research firms Goldman Sachs, Gartner and others said way back, before the release of Vista. They said future operating systems would move towards integrating less functionality into their own architecture.

Well, that hasn't quite happened, and Windows 7 actually has more functionality built into it than Vista. In fact, critics are saying it is what Vista should have been. But then someone always says that.

While a Web-centric direction like Google's is totally in keeping with the needs of the future, Microsoft's client-centric approach is reality now. The majority of users work intensively with the operating systems on their computers. They want full functionality where they can see it. They want personalisation and control over their computing environment down to each component. Google Docs and other applications are a click away even today — but have droves of users given up on the office software on their PCs in favour of the online apps?

Not particularly. While there are special situations and a stream of users who need lightweight, on-the-go computing for which it makes sense to be Web-based, not everyone is in that bracket all the time. Of course, it's just too bad that Google's Chrome OS is still a long way off — so any speculation on who's killing who is premature.

As for pitting Windows 7 against soon-to-be-launched Snow Leopard (Apple's next evolution of its OS X), I am not even going near that old, tired debate. Windows 7 versus Linux too will always be a strongly polarised debate. Only this time, Microsoft seems more vociferous and aggressive about why it thinks Windows 7 is superior. Screenshots of a slideshow from a Microsoft training module trashing Linux are doing the rounds on the internet.

If you want to get a look at Windows 7, and don't want to download the Enterprise 90-day trial, head over to YouTube, and browse the collection of video clips previewing the system and highlighting the new features the operating system will bring.

This version of Windows is cleaner, simpler and smarter. It does not need industrial-strength computing resources to work and can even apparently work on a netbook, though I have to see that to believe it. The operating system is fast and your programs and files are more accessible.

The taskbar or Superbar looks quite Mac-like, and has big icons and slickly slides up previews of what's in your open programs. The previews fade into glassy boxes letting you see the desktop again — a feature I am particularly looking forward to using.

Handling different windows on the desktop is also enhanced and includes a snap feature I am a bit wary about.

A customisable feature called the Jump List gives you access to things you typically work with. A particularly nice addition is the multitouch capability, which allows you to flip and move about pictures and windows on the desktop. Of course, you need to have a touch screen.

Also on the list of new features is easier search. You search from the start bar, and there are suggested results to make things quicker. Libraries now let you keep access to related files together, no matter where they are stored. How safe and stable the new Windows will be is, of course, something we will know over time.

Windows 7 will be available in November, and I should be able to move up to it (free) from whatever version comes preinstalled on my new laptop. I can say one thing: I will be relieved to have mostly skipped working on Vista for anything but a short while, instead leapfrogging straight to what seems to be a better operating system.

The author is editorial director at Mindworks Global Media Services. [email protected]

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 28-09-2009)