A couple of years ago I would probably easily dismiss the idea of trying out a new version of Windows on the basis of a Free Software ideology or the chorus of voices of Free Software or Open Source fans saying how it just sucks and I better not bother. But things have changed and while some may accuse me of betraying my ownfour freedoms or even worse the sin of promoting subjugation of computer users, my “evolution” (or de-evolution, perhaps, in some views), has exactly a lot to do with freedom. For what that’s worth to would be detractors, it’s freedom that I rediscovered, not that I betrayed.
But that’s a much deeper topic so I’ll suffice with saying that I found freedom to be a far more fundamental a concept than the legal crumbs you call “four freedoms” (hint: beyond copyright and government).
That’s a part of what opened me up to the idea of trying out Windows 7, but partly it was also the recommendations of a friend who actually switched to it on his home computer and kept giving it rather high praise. He too used to be a big Free Software guy and a Linux advocate. Microsoft actually offered a release candidate of its new OS for free testing for almost a year, a fully unlocked ultimate edition so I downloaded it and first tested it in VirtualBox and was quite impressed by the UI changes. It was enough to get me to consider installing it for real on another partition as a dual boot with Ubuntu, which I did after some time of putting it off.
This isn’t a full review of Windows 7 so I wont get into all the boring details. I will describe my thoughts and feelings about it instead. I do think that this is a significant improvement over Windows Vista, let alone XP and would agree with those who would say it’s Vista done right. I’ve been told this is solely because computers today are more powerful than they used to be when Vista came out, so nobody is noticing the ongoing high requirements. Even so, however, changes go beyond just reducing the resource requirements. Most notable is the new panel, especially with regards to how open windows are handled. It seems like an amalgam of Mac OS X’ dock and the old Windows panel.
Another thing are neat window management improvements such as the ability to quickly tile windows to half a screen by just moving them to the right or left border of the screen or maximize them by moving them to the top. And of course, it’s flashy as hell, like Vista. The glow of panel buttons actually follows mouse movements (which looks pretty cool), window border and titlebar blurred transparency is everywhere and window buttons glow like traffic lights when hovered.
Overall, however, much of what I would consider the pros of using Windows 7 are the pros of using any windows, except now it actually feels like using a modern OS that doesn’t feel as bloated as Vista so I would say that Windows 7 is merely a “bonus”.. Perhaps those who characterize it as a service pack to Vista aren’t too far off. In any case, the biggest advantages of using Windows that I personally find are:
- Production software availability – with windows you pretty much know that you’ll be able to find software for what you need such as for instance good video editing applications. And Windows 7 seems to be compatible with programs made for Vista, which has been around long enough.
- Better 3D support – while there is no Windows 7 driver for my video card (ATI Radeon X800) probably for the same reason why there isn’t one for Ubuntu 9.04 (AMD discontinued support), the Vista driver works and offers complete support not matched by free Xorg drivers I’m relegated to on Ubuntu, making sure that all 3D needs are met properly.
- Gaming – which is a no brainer. Like it or not, unfortunately, most good games will still run best on Windows (and I have a few games from Steam).
As you can see this isn’t particularly specific to Windows 7, but Windows in general.
On the other hand, the ongoing advantages of using Ubuntu are:
- Cleaner, more flexible and customizable UI – despite all the improvements Windows just doesn’t compare with something like a GNOME desktop with workspaces and compiz powered expo effect. And you can completely change how the desktop looks and feels. I’m spoiled by this.
- Easily available software from central repository (synaptic and Add/Remove Programs), offering software that covers majority of all of my needs and never contains ads or requires registration.
- Peace of mind that comes from knowing that Ubuntu is based on a platform with a good security track record, and which is Free Software, widely disseminated and reviewed, which alleviates some of my paranoia.
- It keeps improving faster than Windows constantly showing potential for addressing whatever issues I may even have. Trying stuff out is also a good way to simmer thoughts that I can share on Nuxified.
- Familiarity. I am at home with console, GNOME, KDE, apt-get, synaptic etc. I get things running faster.
I think it is becoming rather obvious why Ubuntu rears itself as a better choice here. Availability of production software is an issue that I face only a small minority of time. I mainly do web development or writing which I can easily do with tools readily available. Fun stuff like watching movies, listening to music, watching videos online, chatting etc. is all well supported. So the things that are missing are things which I need too sparsely to warrant switching to a new OS, let alone paying for it.
The same goes for gaming and 3D support, which are most related to each other. While I can’t quite game on Linux (especially now with only free Xorg drivers), a dual boot is an acceptable option given that I game so rarely, and there are technologies on the horizon which may completely remove that need as well, such asOnlive which will allow anyone with a web browser and broadband to game easily and without compromise regardless of which OS they’re on.
I think many others may find themselves in similar situations. It’s always about a few productivity applications, 3D support and gaming, isn’t it? However, WINE supports more and more of the windows applications better and better and there is virtualization for the rest and dual booting as a last resort. Onlive will pretty much bring modern gaming to all platforms. And 3D support keeps improving. I happen to own an old card for which there isn’t a native driver for Windows 7 either, but the free driver is improving and proprietary drivers work for all newer cards better than they used to.
All in all, a good case is being built for popular, well supported Linux based OS’s like Ubuntu.