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Today is Tuesday, May 12th. This officially makes it 1 week since I installed Microsoft Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 on my 3 year old Dell XPS laptop; and as I glance over at the screen, I still see the little betta fish ("beta fish!") swimming in the blue desktop. That's right, I haven't even considered going back to XP or Vista. Not this time. Not ever. I have a little experience with beta testing windows. A few years ago, I was one of the early trial users of the new Vista operating system: then known as Longhorn. Quite a while before that, I was one of the first to try out a vastly new operating system upgrade to Windows 98 to be named Windows 2000. I would compare the changes Windows 7 brings to that first change to Windows 2000 and not the debacle that was Vista. RELIABILITY When I look back to my first experience with Windows 2000, I remember being struck by how astonishingly stable it was. In hindsight, this was due to it being built upon the same architecture of a Windows NT server as opposed to the old MSDOS structure. A welcome change to the all-too-common blue screen of death in those early Windows 95/98 days. Windows 7 RC1 has had just 1 application crash on me in the past week. (On day 1 it apparently didn't like my choice to install FireFox as the default browser: a second try accomplished the task.) This may not sound so impressive, but you really need to see the new ways that Windows 7 handles basic tasks to appreciate the additional thought and design that must have gone into the new interface. Every tool, every icon, even Windows Explorer has been redesigned...not just aesthetically, but also functionally. Yes, Windows Search is still built into the start menu like in Windows Vista, but it now works all the time and is an invaluable file and application management tool. USABILITY Back when I beta tested Windows 2000, I was just an average Desktop OS user with little server experience. Still, the user interface made the new tools and functions very simple to understand. Disk Defragmenter, for example, was no longer the only useful item found in System Tools, but instead was located in a brand new folder called "Administrator Tools," side by side with a host of other useful goodies. Windows 7 is alot like that, but on a much grander scale. The Windows 7 interface is remarkably intuitive when paired with our existing experiences with Windows operating systems. Back when we were introduced to Windows Vista, we were told again and again how "cool" Windows Aero would be. Then, once I had Vista, I had to do some extensive research to learn that Windows Aero was simply a glorified Alt-Tab. A great example of an easier introduction to new Windows 7 technology is that one can learn about what a button or tool does by simply hovering the mouse over the taskbar icon. In Windows XP and Vista you would see a little tooltip caption that would explain the window to be restored. Windows 7 has gone visual. Now you see a thumbnail representation of the window to be restored. If that window has multiple tabs - as is now the rage in web browsers - you see a separate thumbnail for every tab within the minimized window. Then the correct tab is just a single click away - on the thumbnail - at any given moment. PRODUCTIVITY Windows 7 is entirely about Productivity. In addition to the mouseovers described above, the OS has made open windows easier to navigate by automatically making open windows slightly transparent as you roll your mouse over other open windows. This reduces the NEED to repeatedly Alt-Tab or resize windows on smaller monitors as you can often see the data you need to recopy right through the window you're currently utilizing. This also works with the new and improved show-desktop tool in the tray. Mouseover that tool, and you can quickly open a new application from your desktop without minimizing a single window. MAINTAINABILITY My number one problem with Vista has always been its overbearing security features. While great for the casual employee with a Windows Vista Certified IT department monitoring the needs of the company, the security features severely increase the time it takes the casual user to get up and running with a new computer system. The constant prompts and administrator logins are a huge pain. But I was very pleased with Windows 7's new approach in this area. Many of those same security features are now only defaulted in the public domain. If you are signed in with an Administrator Role, you can continue doing whatever you like unless you choose to increase the security on yourself. Within just a day I was able to successfully install MS SQL Server 2005 Developer, MS Office 2007, and Exact Synergy Enterprise (using IIS 7.5) without problems. The only software I have so far been unable to install has been the enterprise version of Trend Micro antivirus that we use here at Attivo, but Windows 7 was even helpful on that problem too. With just one click Windows redirected me to the Trend Micro website for a special Windows 7 supported version of their antivirus software. Now think back to Windows Vista for a second. Do you remember any kind of help like that when Windows Vista went live? How about during it's BETA? Yeah, I didn't think so.