Windows 7, round 1
October 15, 2009
Disclaimer: I’m writing the following not as a member of the KDE e.V., but as an individual computer user. As usual, I’m only expressing my very own opinion. Though this should be clear to anyone reading my blog, I’m stating it explicitly now because there have already been more than enough flamewars because of misconceptions and misunderstandings, esp. when it comes to operating system debates.
When Vista had its public beta, I downloaded and installed it on a non-production machine. “Non-production” was a very good idea, because it ate the partition table. I’m not sure how much this has influenced my
switch upgrade from XP to Linux some months afterwards. (I was surely also influenced by my first few contacts with Vista, which are very well described by the word “horrible”.)
So I was still running an XP system on my PC at home (mostly for my scanner, which does not work under Linux, and for games that refuse to run under Wine). Eight years after the release of Windows XP, I thought it was time to finally retire XP, and move on to something more stable and secure. (Yes, I know, Linux… but it has to be a Windows for aforementioned reasons. Actually, this machine is a dual-boot with Arch.) So I decided to give Windows 7 a try. Because my university is enrolled in Micro$oft’s MSDNAA program, I could recieve a free copy and license of Windows 7.
I thought that the MSDNAA program was partially meant to attract students from the non-Windows realms to consider the switch. That is, until I wanted to download Windows 7 from their webpage. All I got was “Downloader for Windows 7 RTM.exe” (and the license key). Yuck!
Anyway, let’s see if Wine eats it. Wine wanted to install Gecko, which it uses as a replacement for the Internet Explorer engine that can be used by third-party programs on Windows. Wine crashed. Later I found that the program consists of an Internet Explorer window without interface (think QWebView) that downloads some ActiveX controls (yuck again!) to do the actual downloading. The advantage of this system is that the download can be paused and resumed by simply closing and restarting the program, the disadvantages are about anything else.
Glad am I that I still have a Windows XP installation. This one could execute the Downloader.exe and download Windows 7. I ended up with a 2,4 GB ISO, which I burnt to DVD under Linux. (Windows does not include the necessary tools. Of course.)
Up to now, I’ve already spent three hours of work on an offer that is trying to convince me that Windows is better than Linux. No comment.
Installation of Windows 7 went quite smooth, with the only WTF that it needs to reboot three times, while I have seen Linux distros that install without even a single reboot. I had expected that it would eat my Grub installation in the MBR, but that’s normal (and restored in under three minutes with a Linux live CD.) Actually, I was (for the first time in the process) positively surprised, because Windows did not expose its usual imperialistic behavior when it comes to hard disk partitioning. It showed me a list of all partitions, I selected the Windows XP one, formatted it and clicked “Install”. So far so good.
The desktop showed up in non-native 1024×768 resolution, and with compositing disabled. I’d expected this, because the NVidia video driver is missing. Because my home PC is actually an early 2006 notebook, I expected suitable drivers not to be available, but Dell offered me Vista drivers, which worked very good. On my way, I found another WTF: On the NVidia driver download page, I have to select the exact model of the graphics card, while under Linux one driver serves all. Why can’t Windows be as simple as Linux?
The next possible surprise: The video driver was the only driver I had to install. Under Linux, I expect everything on this notebook to work out of the box, but on Windows, only one missing driver is astonishing. XP required about a dozen driver packages to be installed in a particular order (unless you use the recovery partition, ruin your Linux dual-boot on the way, and get all the nice extra programs that the do-gooders at the notebook manufacturer donate to you; you know what I mean). Another thing which surprised me was Microsoft Paint, which seems to have had its first bigger update since Windows 95.
Of course, something was missing. An open-source browser. An archive reading program. A good text editor. Long story short: KDE was missing. Next surprise: The kdewin-installer has progressed very well (I actually thought that development speed had lowered because of manpower problems). The package list in the simple mode is a bit long because (for some unknown reason) all apps are grouped into module packages, except for kdegames. Also strange: The KDE stuff does not show up in Windows 7’s start menu. I blame this on Windows 7 changing conventions, because this used to work on XP. Adding the bin directory of the KDE installation folder to the $PATH variable solved the problem for me, I’m more used to launching progs with
Alt+F2 Win+R than with the start menu.
My conclusion: From my first observations, Windows 7 is definitely the best Windows ever (I won’t judge on how hard it was to achieve this position). However, I do not consider the graphical presentation mature. I mean, I have Aero Glass and such enabled, but to me, Windows 7 feels like a dozen apps, developed in parallel, and combined for the first time only one week before release. There is by far not as much a common style as in KDE.
Okay, there is this glass look all over the place, but the conceptual basis is not much more. The taskbar buttons have nice glow-on-hover effects, everything else doesn’t. The windows have nice compositing effects, the desktop applets don’t. And each of the desktop applets looks, and behaves, different, though there are only nine of them. (Compare this to the dozens of applets shipping with the KDE Software Distribution. And by the way, the desktop applets are not scalable, and of course always too small.)
Using KDE, you do not have to have a widget style that matches your Plasma theme, or suitable color schemes. It’s the behavior and the subtle design elements that make everything feel like a coherent whole. In my opinion, this is absolutely missing from Windows 7, though this should be a key selling point of Windows as a platform. (Many people buy a computer based on the presentation in the computer store, and also based on what friends tell them about their own experience.)
Micro$oft has hundreds of developers working full-time on the user interface, while KDE apps are usually developed by only one or two people at a time, most of them working in their free time as a hobby. Micro$oft has dozens of the best-paid designers in the world, KDE has a handful of mostly freelance artists. Taking all this into account, Windows 7 is a shame for the Microsoft developers, because it’s in my opinion easily surpassed by KDE in terms of polish and design.
The fine print: Just in case someone wants to read this into my post, I am in no way saying that KDE is perfect. I am also not saying that Windows 7 just sucks. (I’ve actually enjoyed using it up to now, esp. when compared to XP and Vista.) What I’m saying is that KDE is far more close to perfection than Windows 7 when it comes to polish, style and taste.
P.S. The rumors about 16 GB installation size of Windows 7 are exaggerated. The Professional edition needs about 9 GB.