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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

Windows 7 is Windows Vista After Rehab

My copy of Windows 7 Home Premium arrived on Friday. On Sunday night, I began doing some housekeeping on my computer to prepare for the upgrade: I uninstalled programs I was no longer using, cleaned up unnecessary files, defragmented, etc. To finish it all off, I decided to finally delete that 10 GB recovery partition Dell put on my computer when I bought it. I've never used it and probably will never need it, so I got rid of it.

That was a mistake. Or rather, I didn't anticipate the problems it would cause, which was my mistake. When I rebooted the computer, rather than faced with the choice of booting Windows Vista or Kubuntu 9.04, I saw "Grub Error 22," and my heart skipped a beat. I had killed my boot record!

The good news in this situation, of course, was that my filesystem was intact. I cast about for the Kubuntu 9.04 Live CD from which I had installed Jaunty back in April . . . and couldn't find it. Fortunately, I did find the CD for Kubuntu 7.10--old, but perfectly usable. I booted into Gutsy Gibbon and verified that yes, my Windows installation was intact. I just couldn't boot it, and that was the problem I tried to resolve. Alas, I couldn't get to Grub's configuration file--I couldn't access any of my Kubuntu installation. Nor were attempts to reinstall Grub successful. In fact, everything I did seemed to make the situation worse.

So I did what we all do when we hurt our computers: lowered my standards. No longer was "reinstall Grub" on the list; now I would be content to just restore the default Windows boot record. I planned to do a clean install of Kubuntu 9.10 anyway, so I decided that this was no large setback. The instructions for repairing the Windows boot record with my Kubuntu Live CD did not work. I tried the recovery CD I had received from Dell, but it only offered the option to re-install Vista from the factory defaults.

At this point, I remembered that I had a Windows 7 installation DVD sitting on top of my printer. If I had to do a clean install to fix the problem, I might as well install Windows 7. I had backed up all my important Windows data via Kubuntu already, so perhaps this would actually give me a "fresh start." I booted from the Windows 7 DVD . . .

. . . and below the option to install was the option to "repair." I was elated. Upon selecting this option, I sat back and watched as the DVD searched for a Windows installation, found Vista, detected that the boot record was bad, and asked if I wanted to fix it. After a frantic click of the "Yes!" button, I watched as Windows 7 saved me before I had even installed it.

So I might be a little biased when I agree with those who think Windows 7 is a great operating system.

I performed the actual upgrade on Tuesday night, and as soon as I had persuaded the DVD that my laptop was compatible (it kept on giving me silly error messages) the actual install was a snap. It took about four hours, and when it rebooted, all my data was intact (a plus) and everything worked like it should. So I delved into Windows 7 to discover what I liked and what I didn't like.

I love the new Libraries feature. It's a sensible way to collect disparate folders with similar roles. You can completely customize your libraries, and when you combine them with the "jump list" feature from the taskbar, you've got near-instantaneous contextualized access to your files.

Speaking of which, I have mixed feelings about the taskbar. I'm not sure if I like the compacted icons for each active application (I am aware I can disable this layout and use the default, Vista-style one, but I haven't done this yet). I do like that the Quick Launch bar is gone; you can just "pin" applications to the taskbar like you can do to the Start Menu. Windows 7 has done a lot to reduce redundancy.

I did end up disabling User Account Control. I know, I know, it's not safe! But it annoyed me to no end only ten minutes into exploring Windows 7. I even tried turning it to the lowest notification setting, but all my attempts at diplomacy failed: UAC was out to get me. So I killed it. I confess. Take me away!

Some of the new icons are a bit ugly, but there's probably a way to customize that if it's a dealbreaker for you.

Recall that I actually liked Vista. If you didn't like Vista, you might need to overcome that hurdle before you warm up to Windows 7, which is essentially Vista on steroids. Still, Windows 7 does address the major problems of Vista--it's Vista without Vista's annoying idiosyncrasies. It's Vista after rehab.

I'm not even going to try to compare Windows 7 with other brands of operating systems. If you're a steadfast Mac or Linux user, Windows 7 won't make you change your tune, and I don't mind. I still hold to the hope that one day I can use Kubuntu more than I use Windows, but until that day comes, it's good to have a Windows installation that works with me more than it works against me.

Now if you excuse me, I need to go compulsively organize my documents into Libraries. . . .