Microsoft Windows 7: A Review of Sorts
11th Feb 2011, 21:03:22
I'm primarily a Linux, BSD and Mac user.
The last time I used Microsoft Windows as a primary OS was more than ten years ago. My employer is now deploying the latest incarnation of Microsoft Windows, Windows 7. Since I am expected to have a reasonable familiarity with the computers on our users' desks - at least enough to find the IP address, open a web browser, ping a host - I thought I'd try out Windows 7 as my primary OS for a while.
Of the twenty five versions available, I decided upon Windows 7 Professional 32-bit. Strangely, the DVD does not offer a live boot mode other than a rather limited rescue image. So, I must install Windows somewhere to try it out. I grab a PC running Debian Lenny and get started.
Soon enough, I'm asked whether I want to perform an upgrade or a custom installation. The installer can only upgrade from other versions of Windows, it does not offer to import my settings or documents from my existing home partition. Oh well, I choose custom.
The installer finds the 30GB of unallocated space on the hard disk. I use the 'advanced' setting to allocate this space to Windows. There doesn't appear to be any option to use logical volumes here, nor is there a way to separate the system files from home directories. As soon as I click 'Next', the installer proceeds to install Windows into the partition. I've not been given the opportunity to choose the software I want installed, since Windows doesn't seem to have any distribution sets. Oh well.
Now the installer wants me to provide a product key. I don't have one. The person who manages the software licenses for our company is not here, so that's me done for the day. When I do speak to him, he tells me the problem has arisen because I have used the 'wrong' DVD to install from, so I have to abandon the install and start all over again with the disc provided. I have a Licence, let me use the damn software! It already seems like a lot of trouble, but having come this far, I push on.
So, on day 2, after repeating the above process and a few reboots, my reward is an attractive desktop:
A quick look around shows that everything has been installed into a single partition, which oddly already contains 10GB of files. I dread to think how much space 'Ultimate' edition would have chewed through. I already have questions:
- Where was the option to use logical volumes or software RAID?
- Where is my swap partition?
- Where are the home directories?
- Why is there no separate var partition - what happens if a log file fills up?
- Where are the system binaries?
- How do I encrypt my home directory?
It seems that these things just aren't done during a Windows install. Windows seems so... old fashioned.
At this point, it becomes evident that (without prompting me) Windows has overwritten my GRUB bootloader leaving me with no way to boot Debian, which is installed in partitions sda1 and sda2. I have a look around but there does not appear to be any way to get the Windows boot manager to recognise the Linux install. This would be almost acceptable if there was some way to retreive my data from my home directory, but Windows is unable to recognise these filesystems - evidently only FAT and NTFS are supported. This is very disappointing.
After just minutes, I already have to revert to Debian, booting from a Linux CD to fix the problem. GRUB is able to auto detect the Windows install and reinstalls itself to the MBR. This restores my ability to boot Linux and lets me boot Windows 7 with the press of a key at boot time.
I now connect my freshly installed Windows 7 install to the network, which results in Windows asking me whether this is a 'Work', 'Home' or 'Public' network. It doesn't explain why it wants this information or what the impact of selecting any of the options will be. I notice that the computer has acquired an IP address, so I just ignore the question. It seems to work anyway, so why ask? Get out of the way!
Taking a look around the desktop, I a notification icon catches my eye. The message is alerting me to the dangers of running without any virus protection. Why is Windows 7 so vulnerable to virus attack? If it is so dangerous to run without virus protection, why isn't this configured as the default?
Leaving these questions hanging in the air, I search for a software package repository, but find no evidence of such a feature anywhere obvious. I slide back over to my usual desktop and search the web. I discover that indeed there is no software repository for Windows 7, however, Microsoft offers on their website (which, by the way, looks like a link farm from 1997) a free-of-charge addon called 'Microsoft security essentials'. If this addon is in fact both essential and free, why on earth isn't it included as part of the default distribution set? Wasn't there enough space on the DVD? Did Microsoft forget?
Setting this aside, I download the utility on another machine and place it on an NFS share. I can't find a checksum for this file listed anywhere on Microsoft's website, so I will just have to hope that the file wasn't altered in transit. Afterall, I can't very well virus scan it, can I?
There doesn't seem to be any way to mount the NFS share through the GUI, nor is it mentioned in the help system. A web search suggests that Windows 7 needs 'Client Services for NFS' in order to mount an NFS share and that this is available through Control Panel's 'Add/Remove Software' feature, which was of no help to me earlier when I wanted to 'add' some virus scanning 'software'. No such entry is there. Digging deeper reveals that this is because NFS is only available in the 'Ultimate' and 'Enterprise' versions of Windows 7, to which I could upgrade through the 'Anytime Upgrade' - for a very reasonable cost no doubt.
Instead, I enable file sharing on the Windows system, through an option four layers deep in the control panel (it's under 'Advanced sharing settings'). This allows me to mount the '\Users' directory through samba and copy the Security Essentials .exe file to the downloads directory.
Upon running the installer, I am asked whether to allow the program to make changes to my system. The installer proceeds smoothly, but at the end of the installation process, I am asked to restart the computer. On the plus side, Windows 7 does seem to boot quickly.
To my dismay, Windows 7 is still warning me that my computer is 'At risk'. Windows 7 has been unable to retreive virus definitions because it doesn't know my AD username and password to authenticate to the our company's proxy servers. If it had asked, I would have told these details. This is perhaps a good point to join my company's AD domain.
To join the domain, one goes to: Control Panel, System and Security, System, Advanced System Settings, Computer Name, Change. After supplying my AD credentials, Windows 7 joins the domain, but once again it wants a restart.
I restart and successfully log in with my AD account. However, I am now no longer an administrator
on the machine. This requires me to log out, log back in as the local account I created during
setup, then do some tedious messing about to include my AD account in the administrators group for
the machine. Windows 7 probably has an equivalent of
su, but it's too well hidden for
me to find it.
Windows 7 still won't authenticate with the proxy server. The corporate proxy servers run Squid 3.1, which is configured to use NTLM authentication, which has works OK with the Windows XP PCs our end users use. Firefox, or indeed other browsers I've used in Debian work quite happily with this arrangement. it transpires that Windows 7 no longer does NTLM authentication. It's not just deprecated, or off by default, I mean there is no option to turn it on at all. To re-enable it, one must alter the Windows 7 registry.
The Registry Editor is not accessible through the list of available programs in the start menu, it must be accessed by searching for 'regedit.exe'. Once in the Registry Editor, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, SYSTEM, CurrentControlSet, Control, Lsa. In this location, Pull down the File menu and choose New. Create a DWord and set the hex value to 1. Finally, I am able to use Internet Explorer, and Windows 7 is able to retreive its virus definition updates. However, Windows Update still fails with error code 8024401B, which the documentation says is a proxy error. HTTP status codes exist for a reason; if it told me what the error was I'd fix it.
It's now the end of day two. The installation process was challenging, but with this out of the way, hopefully I will get to take a look at some of Windows 7's features.
Having left Windows 7 running overnight, I find that it has crashed and automatically rebooted. Except that it hasn't. Apparently Windows does this when automatic updates are applied. This is wholly unacceptable! What if I'd left it monitoring something? I and I alone will decide when it is time to schedule a system reboot, thank you.
Besides this, I'm starting to notice that each time I log in to the system, I'm confronted by a flashy icon in the dock/task bar. This is caused by our company's login script running a binary.
I can turn off notifications altogether, but There does not appear to be a way that I can tell Windows 7 it is always OK for this binary to run. I suspect that the average user would disable all such prompting entirely at this point. I'll ignore it for now.
What I can't ignore is the notification telling me that I have 30 days to 'activate' my copy of Windows 7. This is because Microsoft wants to verify that the Windows 7 install is 'genuine'. For reasons which weren't made adequately clear to me, my install will not activate itself automatically over the internet. In this situation, one is expected to phone Microsoft to get the Windows install activated. I'm told that this can happen at any time if I was to change 'too much' of my hardware. If I don't 'reactivate', I will then be locked out of my computers. This is unacceptable, I need to have access to my computer at all times. Thankfully, a person who will remain anonymous gave me a file of dubious origin which makes this problem... go away. If it's that easy to circumvent, the only people Microsoft are hurting with this 'feature' are their customers.
Windows 7 is supplied with quite a limited range of applications. There are the usual calculator, sounds recording and stick notes applications that one would expect. I'm surprised that an email client isn't include - though apparently the Basic edition does have one. A basic graphics program is provided called 'Paint', which I remember from Windows 95. There is the basic 'Notepad' text editor as well as the slightly more featureful 'WordPad'. WordPad appears to be able to open .doc documents but not save them. It certainly lacks most of the features of a useful text editor, such as the ability to specify the type of encoding, line breaks, etc.
Asking around the office, other users recommend an editor called TextPad. I download the zip file
for this from the web, extract the contents, run the installer and click through the prompts. I am
really missing the ability to simply
# aptitude install textpad. When I open up
TextPad, I find that it is commercial software and I should pay £16.50
if I wish to use it. This
isn't expensive, but it is yet more cash laid out for features which can be had for free in other
operating environments. For now, I'll use the evaluation version until I find a satisfactory
It's now mid way through day three and I'm yet to do any actual work in Windows 7. Let's put that right. To ease me into things, my first task will be a simple one: Boot a Cisco Catalyst 3550, connect to its console port and upload a new IOS image over TFTP.
Windows 7 Doesn't have a TFTP service. I'm told that 'Cisco people' use a product from a company called
SolarWinds. I don't know who they are, but I do know that I have to give them my name, company
name, email and telephone number. I install the TFTP server and it doesn't work; it must be
the firewall. The firewall doesn't have an option to allow UDP/69. I add the TFTP server to the
list of 'approved' applications - no effect. Disabling the firewall altogether seems to work, so I'll
just disable the firewall entirely each time I want to transfer something with TFTP. I know what
I am doing, why won't it just let me type
pass in on $ext_if inet proto udp port 69!
Windows 7 lacks the old 'Hyperterminal' terminal emulator, though to be fair this was never much cop anyway. I download the putty suite of utilities. I would check the cryptographic checksums for the binaries, but windows doesn't include OpenSSL or the equivalent. I make a mental note to install this later. For now I will just have to trust that the binaries are authentic and not corrupt.
Next step, a serial port. As is usual now, this computer no longer includes an RS232 serial port. Of course this is not a problem because USB to serial adaptors are widely available. I plug in a no-name adaptor, but Windows 7 does not have the drivers for it. I also try a keyspan USA-19H, a very popular adaptor - again, no drivers! Deep within 'Control Panel, System, Advanced, Advanced Settings, Hidden Systems, Hardware, Hardware Manager, Devices, Device Manager, Hidden Devices' or some such is the option to search for an updated driver. This produced a blue-screen error. I try to reboot, but Windows 7 is going straight to a blue screen with each boot. I give up and boot Debian.
Windows 7 has miraculously revived itself. I'm unable to reproduce the problem I had yesterday, but I'm also unable to locate any drivers for my serial adapters.
I've been using Windows for four days, but have achieved very little. I have met my objective of familiarising myself with the UI, but noting more. I've lost patience, I've run out of time and I'm going back to Debian.
If this is the OS most people are using, I understand why most people hate computers so much!
- Boots and runs at an acceptable speed.
- Easy for a novice to install.
- Informal support is easy to obtain due to large user base.
- Security is improved in comparison with previous Windows releases.
- The UI is pretty.
- Installer lacks essential features, is unaware of other Operating Systems.
- Lacks flexibility in filesystem and partition layouts.
- Poor hardware support.
- Lacks any tools to manage installed or installable software.
- Lacks support for commonly used services and protocols like TFTP, SSH, NFS.
- Configuration options which are not in the GUI must be done through a complex, non human-readable registry database.
- Appears to be vulnerable to malicious software, yet lacks any inbuilt virus scanning software.
- Essential programs and utilities are not included or available during installation.
- Draconian 'activation' and registration procedures must be followed in order to use the product.
- The user can be locked out of the system due to hardware changes.
- Configuration of UAC prompts is not granular enough.
- System will automatically reboot whilst left unattended.
While Windows 7 is an improvement over previous Windows releases, it is remarkable just how little has changed since Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Overall, Windows 7 shows a great deal of promise, but it lacks a lot of the features that an IT professional needs. I can imagine that someone might be able to use Windows 7 on their primary computer if they only needed to perform very basic tasks, but it is not yet ready for my desktop.
Perhaps I'll give it another go in 2021.