Windows 7 Beta Installed!

Windows 7

I spent part of my weekend fiddling around with the Windows 7 Beta, and though it took a little getting used to, I’m largely impressed with the quality of the product so far.

Saturday morning I got up around 10:30 AM, realized I had nothing better to do, and so decided I’d try to download the Windows 7 Beta a second time, having failed to get into the initial batch the day before.  I was pleased to find out that the limit of 2.5 million downloads had been removed, so  I loaded up FireFox, navigated to the Windows 7 website, found the link, went through the registration process, clicked the download link – and nothing.  I clicked a few more times just to make sure, and then loaded up Internet Explorer to cover all the bases.

After re-registering and receiving a second (and different, oddly enough) CD Key, I was directed to the download page again.  I clicked the button, and instantly understood why FireFox had failed to initiate the download; a warning about installing an ActiveX control popped up at the top of IE.

At this point, I believe I must have sighed audibly.  I think it’s great that Microsoft is making strides to correct the problems they’ve had over the years.  They’ve been slowly but surely coming around to accepting web standards with Internet Explorer, and they’ve been taking cues from other companies like Google to make more user-friendly and fun websites and software.  Kudos to them for that.  But after all these small steps toward progress, this was a large leap backward.  For everything Microsoft is trying to do to fix their image, it seems completely counter-intuitive to not only force users to use their much-maligned browser, but then impose an ActiveX control on them as well.  I almost have to wonder if Microsoft is just willfully ignorant of its many criticisms that have rang out over the years.  In any case, I pressed on with the download, only slightly deterred.

Windows 7 Beta is currently being distributed as a DVD image, which you can burn and then use just like an ordinary Windows install disc.  The download clocks in at 2.4Gb, so once the installation of the ActiveX download manager was finished, I was looking at a 3 hour download, and thus, 3 hours of waiting.  I flicked my monitor into its secondary input mode, fired up my Xbox, and spent some time vanquishing foes in Prince of Persia and traversing the wastelands of Fallout 3.  Surprisingly, I was even able to download / stream an episode of Venture Bros. (go Team Venture!) over my Xbox during the download.  It was a good time.

In between my game-playing and video-watching, I also got my older computer ready for the beta.  The Windows 7 Beta expires on August 1, 2009, so I didn’t want to overwrite my XP install on my primary computer and then be forced to buy Windows 7 later in the year.  I also don’t think it’s a great idea to use a beta version of an OS for your regular computing. I backed up my data and cleaned up the older machine.

After the download finished, I burned it to disc and popped it into my old computer.  A window appeared, asking me if I wanted to install, and I accepted.  Installation of the Windows 7 Beta was quick and painless, and though the machine restarted a few times during the process (this is supposed to happen, apparently), there was no weirdness whatsoever.  The initial part of the install has the new OS extracting and unpacking files, and this takes quite a bit of time, so I went out to return a video to Blockbuster and grab myself a late lunch.  When I returned, Windows 7 was just about done installing, and had a few questions for me to finish the setup.  Once completed, Windows 7 fired up for the first time on my older machine.

I always tend to have a slight feeling of “Now what?” every time I get done installing a new OS, and there was no exception for Windows 7.  I spent a few moments gathering my bearings, and then went about checking out all the OS’s newest features the media has been talking about over the last few months.

New Taskbar

New Taskbar

The revised taskbar in Windows 7 isn’t quite as alien as other sites have  made it seem – put simply, it’s the same taskbar you’re used to, but a little bit taller, and a little bit abbreviated.  The default settings do away with text descriptions in the taskbar, and instead use only icons for Start Button, quick-launch, and running apps.  In previous versions of Windows, you’ve had the option to group similar windows into groups, and Windows 7 takes this a step further – not only does it group windows of the same flavor into one icon, but upon hovering the mouse over this icon, it allows you to view all the grouped windows as thumbnails.  You can hover over these to show a full screen preview, and click to restore the window.

Notification icons are also present in their usual place, for security, networking, etc.  The system clock retains its position in the lower right corner, but is now next to a special button which will preview the desktop when you hover the mouse over it, and minimize all windows when clicked (the same way the Show Desktop button in Win XP works).

Though I felt that the new taskbar was more visually attractive than previous iterations, I was happy to see that grouping can be disabled and text labels are still available.  I might be able to make the jump to the fully new taskbar eventually, but for now I think I’ll make it look like my old XP taskbar, just for the sake of familiarity.

Start Menu

Start Menu

The Start Menu is very similar to the new style menu that made its first appearance in Windows XP – a design I’m not entirely sold on yet, but which is growing on me.  With Windows 7, recently accessed programs appear in the main list, a button to access all programs is placed below that, and commonly accessed locations, like My Computer, folders for photos and documents, and Control Panel are all accessible from a list on the right column.  The menu also expands to show more options for certain items on the list, which is a cool addition for quickly navigating to more specialized areas of the OS.  Like the Taskbar, the Start Menu will take some getting used to for users of older versions of Windows, or who have refused to adapt to the newer versions of it (like me).  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the experience with it, and didn’t find it to be too counter-intuitive.

Personalize Menu

Look ‘n Feel

There’s no doubt that Windows 7 is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors in terms of eye candy.  The glassy look of Vista’s Aero theme is applied liberally throughout.  Windows cast shadows, buttons glow, and shines of light move dynamically across the surface of windows as you move and size them around the screen.  Icons are high resolution and look nice and sharp.  A handful of themes are available for customizing the OS, and the colors of Aero can be changed to just about any color you want.  I was also happy to see that multiple wallpapers can be set up to automatically change out now and then, and that windows animate as you open, close, minimize, and maximize them.

Overall, Windows 7 is a visual feast; so much so that at times I found myself surprised I was even using Windows.  For users of Vista, it may not be a huge step up, but for me, an avid XP user, it was a very new experience, and I came off liking most of the changes.  There were a few trifling issues here and there, but I’ve never used an OS that I haven’t found graphical faults with, and this is beta software, so I won’t complain much.  Windows 7 is much better looking than other versions of Windows, and in my opinion is graphically superior to Mac OS X in some areas.  We’ll leave it at that.

Updated MSPaint

Software Updates

Since I’ve not used Windows Vista for more than a few seconds, I don’t know how extensive some of the updates to Windows 7 are, however I do believe that the updated versions of the calculator, MSPaint, and other built-in tools are new to 7.  Calculator has been given extra ‘programmer’ and ‘statistics’ modes, and Paint has received a complete redesign, including a new ribbon-based GUI, like MS Office.  I’ve not used either extensively yet, but the new features are always welcome.

Performance Analysis

Technical Issues

I’ve installed Windows 7 on the same computer twice now, once on top of a previous install of Windows XP, and once (after a botched attempt at installing Mac OS X on the same hardware) as a fresh install, and both instances were easy and trouble-free.  I’ve used the OS for a few hours now, and so far I’ve had only two problems.

The first, which was slightly expected, was that the installation disc didn’t contain drivers for some of my hardware.  After all the driver problems Vista had, I expected something far worse, but it seems that Microsoft has ironed out most of the kinks this time around.  Unfortunately for me, the drivers I was missing were for my motherboard’s built-in networking and sound.

The sound drivers weren’t all that important, because I have an ancient Soundblaster 16 installed (which strangely, did have drivers).  The networking drivers however, were sorely missed, and even after fiddling with drivers downloaded and burned to disc from my primary computer, I could not get the Windows 7 machine connected to my network without installing a newer Ethernet card (a $10 purchase from Fry’s).  After installing the new card, the machine connected practically on booting up, and within moments I was online – at which point Windows 7 proceeded to download and install the correct drivers for my onboard networking and audio!

The only other issue I’ve had was one where Internet Explorer began to hang when I tried to open it.  I’ve been submitting all the errors I find to Microsoft, however, so hopefully things will be even more smoothed out by the time they decide to launch Windows 7.

In the coming weeks I hope to try out some games and other applications on Windows 7, to test performance and compatibility.  I’ll report back on that as I do it.

Altogether, I came away from my initial Windows 7 experience impressed.  Sure, there are things that I’m not entirely thrilled about, but I think that even at this early stage, the pros far outweigh the cons.  I’ll definitely be interested to see what the coming months bring to Microsoft’s new OS, and I hope that each change is for the better.  If you decide to take part in the beta, be sure to submit bug reports and suggestions as you test things; it’ll ensure that we all have a better experience with WIndows 7 in the future!

By the way, I’ll post some screenshots of my system when I get home from work! Done!

Windows 7 image courtesy of Windows 7 Team Blog

15 comments:

  1. Sam - Over a year ago

    I agree with you on most all points; Windows 7 is far ahead of Vista in terms of usability and, most importantly, speed. Its visual effects are often better than those of Vista, and yet, unlike Vista, they actually work smoothly. Everything is responsive and for the most part intuitive (I’m not sure why shaking a window minimizes or restores everything else, I never would have discovered that on my own, but I like it, so there you go…)

  2. Dangerous_Dave - Over a year ago

    Well I’m currently trying to download the beta. From what you guys are saying, it sounds like it’s far better than vista. I’ll just wait to see if it’s got that horrible start bar that vista has…

    I can’t download it on my laptop, because it requires IE (and I have a macbook). I thought I would download it on my parents computer, but aparently IE6 isn’t good enough. So I’m currently updating, so let’s hope this works.

  3. Dangerous_Dave - Over a year ago

    Well I finally got it going, IE 6 wasn’t enough, IE 8 was too much… Now I have it going.
    First impression? Far better than my first impression of vista, although they still have that awful screen realestate saving start bar. Obviously not enough people complained about it in vista. And the taskbar is too Maccy. Sure I like the setup in Mac OS X, with the dock and all, but I don’t like it in windows. I may be able to handle it if it had an expose-like function.
    Now I just have to work out how to get around all the stuff stopping me from using aero just because my computers crap. With just 512mb of RAM, it runs like a dream. I think it can handle aero, even if it thinks it can’t. My ex-flatmate had a laptop, 1GB of RAM, vista basic (cost her about as little as a new laptop can cost). Ran like a fat guy chasing friut and veggies. I’m much more impressed with 7’s (is that what we will be calling it? we have ME/XP/Vista/7?) speed. That’s what they said they were working on, and I think they have done a good job, though I haven’t tested any games with it yet (Here comes RA2!).

    Let’s see what the next week brings, after which I would have got over the newness and never touch it again.

    This is so long I could have put in my own blog… Too late now.

    Oh, and has anyone done the GM Test yet? It says anything that runs in vista will work in 7, so I guess that means lot’s more complaining about GM7 not working.

    -Dave

  4. Soleil - Over a year ago

    I’m currently dual-booting Vista HP and Windows 7. Although the jump is smaller, I’m reasonably impressed with 7. The graphics are a definite upgrade, the taskbar effects (like seeing all your tabs if you mouse over IE8) are pretty slick, and the loosened controls are good. That said, I don’t think it’s enough of a leap to actually buy 7 when it comes out, although knowing Microsoft, the major changes are going to be in places you’ll never find or know about until you stumble upon them by accident.

    I haven’t tested GM yet . . . no point in installing on an OS that will disappear in August.

  5. BenRK - Over a year ago

    I’ve yet to try it, and I doubt I will for hardware reasons. But a friend of mine has tried it. He likes it, but I always get the feeling that people are just liking a re-named Vista.

    Even so, that hasn’t stopped my friend from calling Vista “the Windows ME of today”, even though he has no experience in Vista.

  6. Mattthew_H - Over a year ago

    The Taskbar looks like Linux OpenSUSE’s taskbar – a lot.

    Before I download it, does it run smothly on older machines? I might install it on my Windows ME computer (Not an old OS, but not a very powerful computer) it can run OpenSUSE 11 on it though, so, we’ll see :P

  7. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

    I dunno about a Windows ME grade computer – without a more recent processor and at least a gig of RAM, it’s not going to be much fun, I’m afraid.

  8. Dangerous_Dave - Over a year ago

    I tried GM. Got ‘Failed to set data for “” ‘ :D

  9. Mattthew_H - Over a year ago

    Okay, well, I might try it on my brothers computer then – he wouldn’t mind :P
    Never uses it anyway….

    Thanks Fred!

  10. xot - Over a year ago

    Hey, Marty, can the Start menu be set to “Classic” mode? I simply refuse to use the newer XP style menu, it’s worthless.

  11. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

    Not that I know of… I think it’s stuck in the “new” mode. Not my favorite, but I’ve gotten a bit more used to it since I began using Windows 7. The shortcuts on the side help a lot. But I’m not a big fan of the most-used lists either, so it’s a trade-off for me.

  12. xot - Over a year ago

    That’s very disappointing. I hope there is a way to restore it. The XP menu is crippled, wretch-inducing user-hostile spyware, full of big ideas that go against 30 years of interface design. Oooo, sick burn.

  13. Dangerous_Dave - Over a year ago

    I’m pretty sure I saw a “Classic” mode for the start menu, that makes it all grey and windows <XP like.

  14. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

    Open up the beta feedback window and hammer them with complaints! That’s what I do!

  15. Snooky - Over a year ago

    I couldn’t possibly read this whole thing (too busy XD) but Venture Brothers? I love that show!

Leave a Reply