The State of Windows 7 Satisfaction

The State of Windows 7 Satisfaction
Windows 7 is scarcely more than a month old. Most of the people who will eventually use it haven't gotten around to trying it yet; those that have are still settling in. And the Win 7 experience will change rapidly as remaining bugs are squashed, missing drivers arrive, and compatibility glitches are ironed out. Even so, it's not too early to start gauging what real people think of Windows Vista's replacement.

So to riff on Ronald Reagan's famous question from his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter, Are Windows users better off today than they were a few weeks ago, back in the Vista era? We decided to ask the Technologizer community, a group of tech enthusiasts with a high propensity to acquire new operating systems quickly and push them to their limits. Starting on November 16th, we surveyed our readers (and Twitter followers) about their experiences with Windows 7. Our goal: to do a reality check on the mostly favorable initial reviews of the new OS (as well as our own survey of largely enthusiastic Windows 7 beta testers back in March).

The 550+ Windows 7 early adopters who took our survey mostly echo the positive response that the upgrade has received from professional reviewers, pundits, and users of pre-release editions. A sizable majority say they're extremely satisfied with the OS and rate it as a clear improvement on both the beloved Windows XP and the widely-panned Windows Vista. Crippling installation problems-the bane of every upgrader's existence, and always a legitimate reason to postpone switching OSes-were rare.

Our full report follows. But first, some quick facts on the folks who took our survey:

  • Prior to using Windows 7, forty-six percent of respondents ran Windows Vista, and thirty-two percent ran Windows XP. Seventeen percent ran Vista and XP about equally, five percent ran an OS other than Windows, and a whopping 0.7 percent used a version of Windows other than Vista or XP.
  • Seventy-three percent upgraded an existing PC to the final version of Windows 7, and eight percent are running it on a PC that came with the OS pre-installed. Fourteen percent are still using a pre-release version, and six percent are running it on a Mac via Boot Camp or a virtualization program.
  • Sixty-four percent of respondents rate themselves as expert Windows users; thirty-five percent say they're intermediate ones. Less than one percent call themselves beginners.
  • Sixty-one percent are using Windows 7 entirely or mostly for home/personal use. Twenty-five percent are using it about equally for home/personal and business use. Just fourteen percent are using it entirely or mostly for business use.
  • Sixty-one percent are using a 64-bit edition of Windows 7, and thirty-one percent are running a 32-bit version.
  • Eighty-two percent did a "clean" install of the OS from scratch; nineteen percent installed it over Windows Vista.
  • Fifty-nine percent say they've used Windows 7 extensively, and thirty-six percent say they've done so a fair amount. Five percent say they've just used it a little so far.

It's important to note that our goal wasn't to survey a representative, projectable, normalized sampling of all Windows 7 users. The responses that follow are from members of the Technologizer community who chose to take our survey. Their opinions are their own-but we think they make for interesting reading even if they're not the last word on how average users will react to Windows 7.

Getting Up and Running

As with all things, first impressions count with operating systems. And if you've bought an OS as an upgrade, the first impressions it makes come in the form of the installation process.

As I've written before, there's no such thing as an operating system upgrade that doesn't cause headaches for some percentage of the people who install it. In the case of our survey takers who installed Windows 7, however, the number who encountered major hassles was very small-presumably in part because Windows 7 is so similar to Vista under the surface. The fact that the vast majority of respondents performed clean installations rather than installing on top of Vista surely helped, too.

Eighty-four percent say the process went off without meaningful hiccups; thirteen percent say it went fairly well. A total of three percent reported major problems, two-thirds of which were resolvable. Pretty impressive-when PC World surveyed Windows XP users shortly after that OS shipped, half reported installation difficulties.

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The fact that respondents' upgrades tended to go smoothly doesn't mean that they didn't encounter any issues with their new operating system. Two problem areas stand out: More than forty percent had to try and resolve driver issues, and more than a third needed to deal with software incompatibilities. Other problems, however, were reported by a much smaller percentage of respondents. For instance, eleven percent reported crashes or blue screens of death. And only six percent said that Windows 7's performance was poor, which is a relief given that the original version Windows Vista quickly developed a reputation as a poky resource hog.

Are the percentages of users who reported problems impressively low, or unsettlingly high? That's subject to debate. But here's something that isn't: Both Windows XP and Windows Vista also suffer to some degree from all the gotchas that respondents said they encountered in Windows 7.

(In this infographic and those that follow, the scale of 0% to 100% represents the percentage of survey respondents who answered a particular question as indicated by the bars.)

Judging the Features

We asked respondents to rate eleven specific Windows 7 features that were new or substantially revised. (In retrospect, we should have also asked about Windows 7's DeviceStage, the peripheral-wrangling feature which I've found disappointing so far.)

Most of the features were well-received, especially the Taskbar, System Tray, window tiling, and desktop-revealing Aero Peek feature, all of which received Excellent or Very Good ratings from at least two-thirds of respondents. Even the new version of Vista's much-maligned User Account Control received an Excellent or Very Good from more than half of users, and only three percent said it was poor.

The Windows 7 feature which survey-takers were most lukewarm about isn't a Windows 7 feature, exactly-it's Internet Explorer 8, which first shipped back in March for Windows Vista and XP. While fifty percent of respondents say it's at least good, only nine percent rate it as excellent. Twenty percent said it's only fair and thirteen percent say it's downright poor, by far the most negative verdict given to any feature.

In the infographic below, the length of each bar indicates the percentage of respondents who say they've used each feature (virtually everyone rated the Taskbar, for instance, but only fifty-five percent have tried HomeGroups.) Features are ordered by the percentage of respondents who rated a feature as Excellent or very good. The more green the better; yellow and red indicate lukewarm and negative reactions, respectively.

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Happiness Is...

Most of our survey respondents had no trouble setting up Windows 7, weren't crippled by problems once they got it installed, and found much to like in its changes. And that translated into impressive numbers for overall satisfaction. Seventy percent say they are extremely satisfied with the new OS, and twenty-four percent say they're somewhat satisfied, for a total of ninety-four percent who are satisfied to some degree. Four percent say they are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and two percent are somewhat or extremely dissatisfied. (When PC World surveyed Vista early adopters in 2007, it reported that only a little over one third of them were "very satisfied," and almost a quarter were "unimpressed.")

We asked respondents who said they were dissatisfied with Windows 7 to tell us why, but so few people were unhappy campers that the information we collected isn't statistically significant, so we won't chart it here. (Don't tell anyone we told you, but the majority of them said that Windows 7 is too expensive and doesn't have enough new features to warrant the cost.)

Does respondents' satisfaction with Windows 7 vary depending on whether they came to the OS from Vista or from XP? Yes-both groups are strongly favorable, but XP users are meaningfully less ecstatic. Seventy-nine percent of Vista users say they're extremely satisfied, while only sixty-one percent of XP users do.

We also gauged respondents' bottom-line appraisal of Windows 7 by asking them whether they'd willingly give it up for their old operating system. The vast majority-seventy-three percent-said they definitely wouldn't. Another eighteen percent said they probably wouldn't. Three percent said they probably would go back, and another three percent said they definitely would, or already had.

As with our question about overall satisfaction, Vista users gave Windows 7 a particularly hearty testimonial: Eighty-six percent of them say they definitely wouldn't go back. The percentage of XP users who say they've switched to Windows 7 permanently isn't quite that overwhelming, at sixty-one percent. XP users are also more likely to say they're probably or definitely abandoning Windows 7, although the overall percentage doing so remains low.

Comparing and Contrasting

Just to give the survey respondents even more ways to express their overall take on Windows 7, we asked them to measure it against other operating systems they're familiar with. A plurality of them have come to Windows 7 from Vista, and their consensus is that it's a major step forward. Almost two-thirds say it's much better than Vista, ninety-four percent think it's at least somewhat better, and only three percent rate it about the same. Just one percent deem it somewhat worse than Vista...and nobody says it's much worse.

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Windows XP is a far better-liked OS than Vista ever was, and its popularity seems to be reflected in our responses: Slightly fewer survey-takers give Win 7 a thumbs up compared to XP than compared to Vista, and slightly more say it's a step backwards. Overall, though, the positive feedback for Win 7 is still huge.

The "Windows or Mac?" question is one of tech's longest-running, most unsolvable debates. Still, we asked respondents who were familiar with Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard to compare it and Windows 7. The results were pretty much a wash: Roughly one-third think Windows 7 is better than Snow Leopard, a third think the two OSes are about the same, and a third think Snow Leopard is better. (We asked separately about OS X 10.5 Leopard, and got a similar response.)

We also asked respondents how Windows 7 compares to any version of Linux that they're familiar with. Yes, that's comparing a very specific product with a broad class of operating systems-it's a little like asking whether whether they prefer Ben & Jerry Cherry Garcia ice cream, or cake. But for what it's worth, more than two-thirds of the survey-takers say that Windows 7 is better than Linux.

One side note: In our screening for the survey, we verified that would-be respondents were running Windows 7. We asked those who said they weren't using the new OS what the primary factor holding them back was. Twenty-nine percent say it's because they're happy with Windows XP. (By contrast, only four percent of users told us they aren't moving to Windows 7 because they're pleased with Windows Vista.) Sixteen percent of holdouts say Windows 7 is too pricey.

"Since You Asked..."

We ended our survey by letting respondents provide free-form comments about Windows 7. Hundreds did-including additional praise, unsparing criticism, and mixed verdicts. Here's a sampling of what they had to say.

The Good

I wish Microsoft on UPDATE TUESDAY would push through a survey like this. I mean I know they have "back end" stuff that reports to them about my PC. BUT why not just force through an OPTIONAL survey people would take. I AM AN APPLE GUY. But I LOVE Windows 7. I updated an XP Machine to Vista and my life with Windows went to hell. Windows 7 IS A way closer solution for XP to Vista non converts. I am happy with my PC again. ALSO I would just like to mention, the world can't afford new HIGH END PC's every YEAR. I am using A Pentium 4 with EMT64/HT. Be nice if people at Microsoft realized this is still a customer.

I have been testing Windows 7 since the Beta in January, and my experience has been extremely positive. Features that didn't work good for me in Windows Vista, such as Sleep, work perfectly in Windows 7 on the same machine. And while I have not needed to run any legacy programs in XP mode, I use it extensively for application and website testing in older browsers. The integration in the start menu is just great. I'm lovin' it!

It really is everything Vista should have been at the get go.

Love it. Absolutely love it. Haven't been this excited about a Windows release since Win98. (XP was too buggy for me to be excited for at launch.)

It's the first version of Windows I'm actually happy to use.

It does what I want it to do, and feels like wearing an old hat - it just fits.

I'd say that Windows 7 is probably the best version of Windows ever. I still like (Snow) Leopard much better, and I also prefer Linux - for political reasons, and because it's better suited for much of the geek stuff I do. But overall, I like W7 a lot.

Sleek, nimble, fast, compatible.

The upgrade process went extremely well, I have to admit I was surprised when compared to other Windows upgrades I have performed.

It just works - I have no complaints. The fact I don't think about it while I work tells me it's doing its job.

The Bad

It is not the second coming, despite what others would have you believe. Some of the changes were useful, others seemed to be changes just for the sake of making changes, and yet others simplified the interface (making it easier for newbs, but taking away functionality for power users). Given that the industry is moving forward on Win7, I'll stick with it.

Seems to be made for people who have no idea how it works or why it works. I am unable to locate files and features without allot of searching - they hid to many things and got rid of some. Seems to be a program for little kids to play with - do things that are not important - like the adds on TV. The people on TV say Windows 7 was their idea - no wonder it is screwed up.

Not enough has changed from Vista to make it a worthwhile purchase for a XP user. It is still horrible just as Vista was.

Surprised how well I can live with it but, as someone who has no time for eye-candy, I'm not really convinced it's that much better than XP.

I am more concerned about performance and I did not find W7 far better than XP about that. I upgraded because XP was a past product.

Overall impression is sloppiness. Hardly any actual features for the average user; essentially just a shell.

I'm very disappointed with Media Player 12. I've always use the video enhancement to tune video playback to my liking. Now the feature is on the right click context menu, you can't keep it on top where it's accessible. As soon as you click to play the video the menu disappears and the only way to get it back is to close and re-open it. The button is in the tray to restore it, but it won't bring it back on the screen. I also miss having the controls at the top where they can be accessed.

This cleaned up version of Vista, with some unfortunate bells and whistles apeing the Mac O/S just proves that there was really no problem with Vista, outside of third party providers not being ready for Vista.

It's far too expensive.

The Mixed

Though I dread the idea of returning to XP, I'm not sure that I use enough of Windows 7 new features on my netbook to merit the ~$50 upgrade cost (Family Pack price).

If buying a new system, get one with 7 preinstalled. Definitely upgrade if you're currently using Vista. If you're on XP, I don't see a real need to part with your money for 7. Some things work better on 7 over XP, some worse. The security in 7 is largely just windows asking "are you sure?" when you do anything requiring admin privileges.

The overall performance is superior to Vista, especially on file transfer times (noticable improvement) I consider windows 7 a successful implementation of the features attempted to add to vista, but without any losses from the XP System.

While the Media Center libraries are a great feature, a software implementation of a full media extender would be preferred. it's great to watch recorded tv across the network, but it would be better if machines that did not have a tuner could watch live TV like the xbox360 can, full extender experience.

Also, I have run across some file permissions issues with the media libraries in which I cannot delete TV shows recorded on the local machine. while annoying, it is not a killer problem.

I also am using some of the windows 7 touch features on my Touchscreen PC. While it is more touch friendly than any of the Previous OS's, there should be many more options for expandability on this front, similar to the Accessibility options that many generations have implemented for visual and hearing impaired persons. While windows 7 is touch-friendly, it is not touch-centric without Origami.

I first tried to install over Vista, but ran into many problems. After many frustrating days, I did a clean install and that worked fine.

I've been very happy with W7. That said, the first thing I did after installing was to disable UAC and revert the taskbar to match the style in XP/Vista. There's been a few glitches, but overall a very worthwhile upgrade.

We'll continue to keep tabs on what the world thinks of Windows 7-and might even do another survey once more people have had more hands-on time with the new OS, and some of the initial glitches have been resolved. For now, please continue the conversation in the comments, whether you're a happy Win 7 user, a disgruntled one, or somebody who's still choosing to avoid it for now....

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