I have been using Windows 7 Ultimate 32bit for several months now, so to give a decent review I will start with the installation process, drivers, software and usability, Security, users and UAC.
Starting with the installation process, I had done a complete bare metal install rather than upgrading from Windows Vista Ultimate (32bit). I felt the install process for a clean install was very simple. What I did not know though was there was going to be a 100MB recovery partition created on a separate drive (if you have multiple).
Some of the things I do like about the install process are: It is very was very easy to figure out which drive I wanted to install Windows on there is a lot of information on drive setup menus. A floppy disk is not required to install special drivers (similar to Vista).
If you are used to doing lots of re-installs the setup options are on the limited side and it is not as intuitive as XP was. It seems to be easier to delete partitions once you get to the more advanced setup options. The interface was designed for less technically savvy people to be able to do clean installs and select the default options, but for 90% of the people that is just fine.
Once the install process was complete and I started loading device drivers, I was impressed with how easy it was to get everything to work. I have an odd speaker setup, basically quadraphonic that I use for DJ work, and in Vista it would not work at all. It worked right from the start in Windows 7. I think it was due to DRM processes that Vista was crippled with.
If your particular hardware does not have a Windows 7 version yet, in most cases the Vista version would get it to work. With video cards though this is not always true, some of the older video cards will never have drivers written for them because the vendor does not want to support the product anymore. In my opinion prior to upgrading do some research and ensure your device is supported. Overall the driver install process is smoother than XP and Vista.
A lot of my older games, Red Alert 2, Sims, and Diablo 2 play perfectly in Windows 7. I did have to upgrade my CD burning software and my Security software, although this was completely expected.
As my workplace still uses XP, I actually prefer how XP sets up the start menu, but the limited system tray icon management is a welcome change. I can play movies on the computer with ease and run Office as well.
I have not had any hard crashes with Windows 7. I have found though it is better to let the system automatically clean up temp files and such rather than hunt them down myself due to the different file structure. Again, because I use several different OS’s I forget that once I click SHUTDOWN, the computer is going off, no “Are you sure?” Again, while different that XP I feel that 7 is less clunky than Vista.
I have noticed that Windows 7 keeps a lot more logs than other Microsoft products, which is good if you have do due some troubleshooting. From a security standpoint the “out of the box” security is far better than XP and a lot less annoying than Vista. File and folder permissions are not set to Full Control by default and Users only have Read and Write access by default. Administrator permission is required to view these settings. I am not as familiar with all of the differences between XP and Vista/7’s file and directory structures yet. Common sense and keeping virus definitions up to date are still required to properly secure your computer though.
The User Account Control (UAC) has a slider, the higher up the bar, the more times it prompts you for authorization. The default level is not bad; it only prompts you when you are doing something that will affect the entire system.
I have three separate users on my main computer, two of the three have email access and one is for children. The parental control features are useful, you can restrict by time of day, file and folder access, game rating (E, T, M, etc.), drives and whether or not the account can access the internet. It takes a little bit of time to set up if you get to the file and folder level and it can be bypassed with the administrator password, so take a note parents and change your password from time to time.
To summarize, the installation process has been improved from XP significantly, like Vista floppy drives are not required for non-standard devices. Legacy software, such as older games, will run on Windows 7, although with the advent of widescreen flat-panels you will have you play in “windowed” mode. Driver installation has been streamlined with better vendor support and Windows will support Vista and XP drivers if need be. The nagging UAC has been toned down to make it a useful feature and the built-in parental controls will “hopefully” keep the ‘younglings’ safer and the parents saner.
Overall I have enjoyed using Windows 7 and my non-technical spouse finds it easier to use than Vista. So, if you are using XP, it will take a while to get used to Windows 7, but if you are using Vista, 7 will be a breeze.