The first version of Windows I used was Windows/386 2.1 and it gives me pause to realize that was twenty years ago. Windows 2.1 was the first operating system sold by Microsoft allowing a primitive form of multitasking, meaning your PC could handle multiple processes at the same time.1 This version is also famous for what may be the most simultaneously corny and terrifying operating system promotional video ever.
Back in 1989, as a high school student, Windows 2.1 meant I could run my (pre-Internet) modem-based bulletin board system in the background as I wrote essays using Wordperfect and played a game, all at once! It was amazing, even if it crashed regularly the built-in calculator was creative. If asked to subtract 10.2 from 10.21 the result was puzzling: 0.0100000000000016. Cooperative multitasking and Windows 2.1, though clunky, and severely limited to juggle around DOS’s 640K memory limit, was a leap ahead for the DOS world.
Since then, there have been many Windows iterations, each one with its own unique look-and-feel and blips-and-chimes, features have appeared and sometimes vanished. Of all the versions, some have been stand-out performers like Windows 2000, and a few clunkers, like Windows ME deserves the joke that ME was an abbreviation for Mistake Edition.
Microsoft Windows 7, the latest version, has been my primary workplace computing platform since January. It wasn’t released to the public until last month, but I was excited to try the beta versions. Immediately, I appreciated most of the interface changes and the stability, but most surprisingly Windows 7 appears to be much speedier than its predecessors.
The Windows 7 experience comes in welcome contrast to Vista. In 2006, I struggled with Vista’s poor performance for a week or two, shook my fist at the incessant complaints from the User Account Control (UAC) window, and dumped it to return to Windows XP. Upon official release, I tried Vista again, but appalled by the performance hit I took with the upgrade, I returned to XP, flirted with other options, and started waiting for the next version, codenamed Vienna, to be released as a beta.
Typically, a fresh install of an upgraded operating system on existing hardware results in slower performance– that’s been my experience over the years, whether you’re talking Windows, MacOS, or Linux. Why is that? There is price associated with the bells and whistles of progress, increased complexity, balanced against the reliable and unrelenting march of Moore’s Law. So I was not expecting Windows 7 to seem faster than both my Windows XP and Vista experiences. To check against my perceptions, I found others benchmarking the same observations.
When I conducted rudimentary benchmarking with my Lenovo T500 laptop (Intel Core 2 Duo T940 processor & 2 gigs of RAM), I ran 32-bit versions of Windows XP SP3, Vista SP1, and 7, and found start-up and shutdown functions to be dramatically improved from XP and copying and compressing files to be faster than both XP and Vista. When I benchmarked some complex Microsoft Office functions, 7 performed a bit better than Vista, but not dramatically. Still, I’m impressed!
So, if you have newer hardware, particularly if you have a multicore processor, I’d recommend giving Windows 7 serious consideration. Before proceeding, remember to always verify compatibility and support for existing applications and peripherals before making the leap, backup all your important data, and be prepared to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with the new features and interface.
Here are some starting points to learn more about Windows 7 beyond its performance improvements:
- List of Top 20 Features of Windows 7 – quick summary
- How to Use Windows 7’s New Interface – getting around the new interface, useful particularly if you’re unfamiliar with Vista
- Browsing, Finding, Organizing, and Finding Information with Windows 7 – short video addresses changes to to search and file organization features
–John C. Rowland
1 Yes, one could argue Microsoft “sold” XENIX as an advanced product using pre-emptive multitasking well before Windows 2.1 existed, but it was never sold directly by Microsoft. XENIX was a popular Unix variant licensed from AT&T and ported by Microsoft to the Intel 8086 platform. From there Microsoft licensed to to companies like SCO and Tandy who sold it, Microsoft never directly sold it to consumers.