By Harry McCracken | Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 3:18 am
So help me, I like Windows 7. Its emphasis on staying out of users faces whenever possible is a huge sea change that makes it the most pleasant version of the OS in eons. I’ve been running various pre-release iterations for a year now, and look forward to booting into the thing–a radical improvement over Vista, which usually had me gritting my teeth as I pressed the power button. Here’s a long and favorable review which I wrote for PC World.
But as Windows-reviewing pundits go, I’m relatively cautious. Windows 7 may be launching today, but there are things we won’t know about it until millions of people try to install it on millions of PCs, each of them unique. And there are other aspects of the OS whose success is contingent on work yet to be done by parties other than Microsoft. Like, for instance, Device Stage, the new feature which lets makers of cameras, printers, and other gadgets create customized user experiences within Windows 7.
When I wrote that PC World story a few weeks ago, I tried to review Device Stage and gave up: None of the gizmos I plugged in gave me the results that Microsoft was touting for Device Stage. The company told me that manufacturers were still readying their Device Stage support in preparation for Windows 7′s launch day. Well, that day is here–so I’ve been revisiting Device Stage on a couple of Windows 7 PCs. My experimentation is limited and unscientific. But so far, it’s left me completely disappointed with the feature.
Device Stage is supposed to do two primary things:
A) Give you a section in Control Panel (Devices and Printers) where all your peripherals are listed, with slick icons that depict the specific items you own;
B) Give each product a page of its own that brings together useful information and resources–for a camera, for instance, it might provide a battery gauge and links to online documentation and photo-sharing tools.
But when I connected a whole bunch of items to a Windows 7 system, here’s what I got:
So much for realistic icons: My HP Officejet Pro L7500 is the only item that got an icon that looked like itself. The Nikon D90 camera got a generic camera icon. So did my iPhone 3GS. A BlackBerry Curve was identified as a “RIM Composite Device” and got a mysterious slablike icon. I’m not positive what the “USB Input Device” is, but I know the system doesn’t sport anything that looks like the icon. And that refrigerator-like icon with the warning triangle near the bottom? It represents Microsoft’s own brand-new Zune HD.
When I double-clicked the D90 icon, I got its Device Stage, which looked like this:
Not bad, I guess–I got a battery and a few basic photo-related tools. But back in January, Microsoft was already touting the D90 as a “a device that works great with Windows 7 today.” It published a D90 Device Stage image:
Much nicer, and certainly more customized, with a pretty image of the D90 and links to Nikon-specific support resources and photo tools.
When I connected a Seagate FreeAgent drive to the Windows 7 machine, I got a dialog box that probably doesn’t count as a Device Stage at all. It looks like a typical device dialog box of the sort that we’re familiar with from previous versions of the OS:
Pretty darn spartan. And why is it telling me to right-click to get to tasks related to the drive, such as the ability to browse it? It’s inconsistent with what Device Stage leads you to think is Windows’ new approach to providing access to such tasks, and you can tell that Microsoft thinks people will expect to find the tasks here–that’s why it displays the odd message telling users they’re looking in the wrong place. Why couldn’t the FreeAgent get a Device Stage in the same format as the one the D90 has?
Now, it’s entirely possible that Device Stage is going to get much faster very quickly. It’s more of a service than a feature: Windows 7 can download Device Stages on the fly when you plug in a relevant device. Maybe the manufacturers of all the products I tried will finish their Device Stages in the very near future. Or maybe my choice of items–which were the ones I happened to have handy–was unlucky and unrepresentative. And to be fair, Microsoft says that it’s concentrating mostly on trying to convince vendors to make Device Stages for new products; it’s not claiming that every gadget you’ve already bought will ever get a full-blown Device Stage of its own.
In any case, my experience with Device Stage on Windows’ official launch day has me more convinced than ever that judging Windows 7 is an experience that’s going to take a few weeks, at least–and which will benefit hugely from the input of lots of real people rather than just the guys who write formal reviews.
If you have Windows 7, let us know what your Device Stage experience is. Better yet, tell us your impressions of Win 7 in general…