Windows Vista wasn't a pretty story. Sure there were significant improvements in terms of security, handwriting recognition on tablets and stability. But it was piggish-- a resource hog with serious CPU and memory requirements and the user interface was at times good and at others confusing. I was thankful for the alternative Mac OS X and honestly, grew tired of Windows XP which was starting to look pretty dated. So my hopes weren't high for Windows 7-- Microsoft isn't known for great user interfaces or cranking out lean, mean operating systems. Then came the first technical beta, available for only a limited time, and lo and behold-- it rocked!
I've since installed Windows 7 beta on several machines including the Sony Vaio P, the Acer Aspire One and an HP notebook. Even on the Vaio P and Acer netbooks, speed was very good (pretty much on par with XP) but with a much better user interface and a host of convenient shortcuts that made it easy to manage several windows. These include:
1. [Win+M] - Minimize all open windows 2. [Win+D] :- Toggle showing the desktop 3. [Windows+Up] - Maximize window 4. [Windows+Down] - Minimize windows / Restore 5. [Windows+Left] - Dock window to the left side 6. [Windows+Right] - Dock window to the right side 7. [Win+X] - Mobility Center 8. [Win++] - Zoom in 9. [Win+-] - Zoom out
And there are useful gimics like Aero Shake (grab a window by it's title bar and shake it to minimize all other windows.
Now Windows 7 RC (realease candidate) is available to the public in 32 and 64 bit Ultimate flavors as a free download from Microsoft's web site. The RC is good until June 2010, so you won't have to worry about it exploding next month. However, there is no upgrade allowed from the RC to the release version of Windows 7, so you will eventually have to reinstall the final release OS and your programs. Nonetheless, I heartily recommend giving Windows 7 PC a try (especially if you have a tablet or a netbook) if you're somewhat technical and don't mind hunting for a few drivers that might not be available through the actual install or Windows Update. I also recommend a clean install. Though an upgrade install from Vista retains drivers specific to your hardware, the performance isn't nearly as good. I tried an upgrade install on the Vaio P and HP notebook and it wasn't nearly as fast and stable.
On to the tablet and touch features. We tested this on the HP TX2 1020US. This tablet is available now at most computer stores for around $1,000 after rebates. Dell's XT2 tablet also offers this technology (made by N-Trig) but it costs about twice as much. What makes it interesting is the capacitive multi-touch display that also has an active digitizer. That means you can use your fingers or the EMR pen, and the pen input has pressure sensitivity in some applications. Since it's capacitive, it requires only a light touch with fingers, and since it's multi-touch, it supports gestures like pinch to zoom in Windows 7. Microsoft put a big emphasis on tablet and especially touch features for Windows 7, and it really is a close cousin to Microsoft Surface www.microsoft.com/surface/ . Touch is supported directly by the OS and included applications like Paint, unlike Vista. There's no need to rely on special software like HP's TouchSmart software suite to use touch and multi-touch. Very cool! You can move images around with your fingers, re-size the on-screen keyboard to suit your finger size, scroll using inertia just like the iPhone, rotate with a two-fingered gesture and use touch in most any application (though not always multi-touch). For those who have an HP TX2 or Dell XT2, touch and multi-touch are much more responsive in Windows 7.
Hard to believe? Here's our video walkthrough demonstrating this on the HP TX2 running Windows 7 RC 64-bit. For those who own this notebook, a clean install got us the drivers that we needed except the N-Trig drivers for Win7 RC (download them at http://www.n-trig.com/Content.aspx?Page=Multi_Touch , and HP's hardware buttons (the Vista driver works fine and it's in your SWsetup folder on the C drive and on HP's support website).
We'll be posting a full review of the HP TX2 1020US convertible tablet soon, and here are specs in the meantime:
12.1" LED backlit capacitive multi-touch screen with active digitizer and pen, 1280 x 800 resolution AMD Turion X2 Ultra ZM-82 2.2GHz CPU (Griffin CPU, Puma platform) 4 gigs RAM ATI Radeon HD3200 graphics 320 gig, 5400 rpm hard drive dual layer DVD burner with Lightscribe WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet and modem 4.65 pounds with 6 cell battery ExpressCard3/4 slot and SD card slot VGA webcam with stereo mics Altec Lansing stereo speakers Fingerprint scanner
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview