Windows 7 – small business perspectives on Microsoft’s new OS

Alex Bellinger leaves his love affair with Ubuntu for a hands on encounter with Microsoft’s Windows 7 (RC1) and asks what’s in it for small businesses.

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11th May 2009 at 11:35 pm

As many of you know, Vista hell became too much for me and I spent most of 2008 using Ubuntu.

And what a very pleasant surprise the open source operating system and all the good (free) things that come with it has been.

But there were a few gotchas: poor multimedia support, no viable Linux accounting package and a power management system that left my laptop hotter than the sun.

These niggles, the fact that I’m a bit of a tech tart, David Tebbutt’s initial reactions, and my never ending quest to find out whether stuff’s good for other small businesses, prompted me to install Windows 7 beta on my main work laptop in February this year.

The following review is based on my experience of the beta and release candidate 1 (RC1) of Microsoft’s new operating system.

windows7

Windows 7 wallpaper - Gates & Ballmer ride into a Yellow Submarine landscape, but is Microsoft's new OS blue monster or blue meanie?

Wow, it works now

Remember the Wow starts now? Microsoft’s come a long way since then.

What the Vista launch proved is that a computer OS no longer merits marketing hype. The evolution of operating systems, Apple and Linux included, is now iterative, not revolutionary.

What matters is do they work well? The bottom line is Vista didn’t and Windows 7 does.

Like many others, I’ve found Windows 7 beta and RC1 to be equivalent to or perhaps even a little faster than XP.

A stable, fast, secure operating system that you can forget about is exactly what small businesses want. Windows 7 could be just that …

It’s all in the detail

There’s really not a lot to say about Windows 7. The very fact that people are talking about the new ‘wallpaper’ in the OS is a rather amusing sign of this.

But actually this is great news. It feels lighter and more refined to use and seems to herald a new less is more philosophy coming from Redmond.

Perhaps cloud computing is forcing software vendors away from the bloatware mentality of Moore’s Law where all the extra headroom created by leaps in processing power had to be filled.

What you’re left with focuses on well executed detail and usability. About bloody time.

Windows 7 small business benefits

As a small business owner these are the things I enjoyed about the software:

– at last the desktop search built into the start button works well bringing a touch of Apple’s Spotlight to the PC – this is a real time saver when you want to find a document quickly;

– the ability to mouse over the taskbar and get a peak at files and windows you’ve got open works very well and saves time (click on the image below to see a screencast review to go with this blog post) as do the jump lists which give you quick access to files you’ve been working on;

– Vista was a pig for connecting to wifi networks on the move and Apple MacBooks are also often a pain if you’re trying to get some work done in an airport or down your local cafe. Windows 7 puts that right and is much more intuitive in terms of finding and connecting to wifi networks;

– compatibility is good thanks to ‘XP mode’ which means all your old software should work fine. Much to my surprise my ancient accounting package is alive and well under the new OS, saving me from an expensive forced upgrade;

– with all the data protection legislation around these days small businesses will increasingly value the ability to encrypt sensitive data on computers easily. Bitlocker on Windows 7 does this for an entire hard drive, while encryption on a file or folder basis also works well.

That’s about it, other than general stability and speed.

Similar features are found in other operating systems and arguably Microsoft should have had all this sorted years ago. But it’s here now and it works. Having said that …

Ghosts and the black screen of death

Just like Ubuntu there are some gotchas, albeit I’ve been testing beta and RC1 versions, so some quirks may get ironed out.

I frequently get programmes including Firefox and Microsoft Office documents suddenly freezing and turning a ghostly shade of transparent. Like ghosts they’re then often difficult to lay to rest. This was particularly bad in the beta, but it’s still happened a few times over the last week in RC1.

On much more rare occasions I get what I can only describe as the ‘black screen of death’. Windows 7 doesn’t stop running (which is good), but if a programme crashes I’ve had the background turn a mournful and appropriate black …

Norton Internet Security 2009 has proved extremely problematic to install correctly – but I expect Symantec will rectify this before the RC1 turns final. Windows-targetted viruses and malware remain a pain which Linux and Apple users don’t have to struggle with.

Finally Internet Explorer 8, bundled with the new OS, still feels slow. Firefox is the way to go.

Conclusion

If you’re a sole trader with an XP or Vista computer and you’re sticking with Microsoft, yes upgrade to Windows 7 (assuming Microsoft is sensible with pricing).

If you’re a larger SME, the benefits of Windows 7 are not so compelling that you should shift existing hardware/software upgrade cycles just for the sake of getting your hands on what’s new.

But when you do, you’ll notice a positive difference.

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk

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  1. […] head of the queue. However the Windows 7 operating system that our beloved leader (Alex Bellinger) blogged about last week, received the full treatment, and it shows. Half a million individual items of feedback were […]

  2. I’m not sure – Microsoft’s marketing has been very very clever – Make sure everyone in the world (ignoring the IT community) believes you are the only real operating system, give away free copies to educational facilities to get users ‘hooked’ and an entire generation walks through life not even questioning whether there is an alternative.
    Not to say that it is a good thing, but it has been very effective…

  3. Yes, but Apple and Netbooks using Linux are opening the eyes of ordinary punters about alternatives. Microsoft knows it can’t rest on its laurels or even its monopoly!

  4. […] it happens I also think it’s a great operating system as I said in my Windows 7 review earlier this […]

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