A few days ago, I installed the Windows 7 Beta on my physical machine. I am impressed by the ease with which it installed, as well as the additional functionality added to it; however, it's still not perfect.
Installation and bootup
Installation was fairly straightforward, and very similar to Vista's. I deleted my old installation of XP Professional (which I never used) and installed Windows 7 in its place. After the installer finished, 2 new entries were added to the Windows Boot Manager – Windows 7 and "Earlier version of Windows". I removed the latter option.
Windows 7 booted up considerably faster than my Vista installation (and XP, for that matter) – taking about 25 seconds to get to the desktop. I went into System Properties and activated Windows without issues – now it's good until August 2009.
Connecting to the internet
Upon first boot, I was prompted to install a driver for my Linksys WUSB54GC. I was told that Windows could not find a suitable driver, and that I should check Windows Update. But how could I download a driver if I needed said driver in order to connect to the Internet? I tried searching for the driver from my Vista installation; Windows 7 found the driver but refused to install it, giving me the error "The specified path or file was not found".
I ended up going back into Vista and downloading the driver for the Ralink chipset in my wireless adapter (Linksys' site did not have any drivers for my wireless adapter). After I installed the driver, I ran Windows Update, which installed the drivers for my other hardware.
Windows Media Center
Windows 7 Media Center's user interface is similar to Vista's. I haven't used Media Center much in Windows Vista, so I can't say how much better Windows 7's is.
Interestingly, my Hauppauge WinTV-Go-Plus was recognized by Media Center and worked. (On Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and Vista's Media Center, I would get an error message reading "No TV tuner hardware detected", despite the fact that the drivers were installed correctly). However, my TV-viewing experience was far from perfect – every 2 minutes or so, I would get an error stating that the TV signal had been lost (although I could still hear the sound from the TV broadcast).
60 Hertz hurts!
One of the biggest issues that plagued my new installation of Windows 7 was a problem with refresh rates: I could only run my 17" CRT monitor at 60 Hz. For those of you who have CRTs, you probably know that a 60 Hz refresh rate causes the screen to flicker noticeably. I got a headche after staring at the screen for 20 minutes or so.
Although all of my refresh rates were listed in Advanced Display Properties and the NVIDIA Control Panel, selecting anything above 60 Hz would have no effect – the screen would still display at 60 Hz. I tried rebooting, I tried unchecking "Hide modes that this monitor cannot display", I tried installing various versions of NVIDIA's drivers, but to no avail.
I finally solved the problem by pin-modding my VGA cable (I removed pin #12 with needle-nose pliers in order to disable EDID) and rebooting. After that, I could select a 70 Hz refresh rate at 1152x864 resolution without issue. Come on, Microsoft... a pin mod just to enable a usable refresh rate?
User Account Control
Windows 7's user account control is less annoying than Vista's. You can now select when you would like to be prompted. The available options include "Never Notify", "Notify me only when programs make changes to my computer" (with and without desktop dimming), and "Always Notify" (like in Vista).
The Windows 7 taskbar is an improvement over Vista's. As I said in my last blog entry, I love the ability to move taskbar buttons around. I prefer the thinner taskbar with text labels and grouping disabled, since it feels more homelike to me. I also like the ability to rearrange tray icons.
Aero Peek is a fairly useful feature, and so is Aero Snaps (to maximize a window, simply drag it to the top of the screen). The window thumbnails are also improved. I like the color hot-track feature, even though it is simply eye candy and offers no functionality.
Improvements/changes to Windows accessories
Paint, Calculator, and Wordpad have seen some noticeable changes since Vista. I especially like the Programmer mode in Calculator. I'm not a huge fan of the Ribbon interface, which is now in Paint as well as WordPad, but I guess I'll get used to it.
Here are a few (minor) things that I dislike about Windows 7 so far. They're not big enough to make me hate Windows 7, but I would really like to see them improved before the final release.
- Control Panel's lack of icon views (I don't like the long 2-column list of control panel items – I prefer medium icons)
- I miss Windows Sidebar. I honestly can't see why people with widescreen monitors complain about it – I have a standard 4:3 (non-widescreen) monitor and I still used Sidebar on Windows Vista.
It's impossible to disable taskbar button grouping and yet use large label-free
taskbar buttons. I can't stand grouping (I've disabled this feature in XP and Vista).
The only options I can select are, effectively,
a) Label-free buttons with grouping enabled,
b) Buttons with labels and grouping enabled only when taskbar is full, and
c) Grouping disabled, but buttons have labels.
It's also possible to choose whether to use the thinner taskbar (similar to Windows 9x through
Vista) or the thicker taskbar. I have lots of programs open at the same time, and the
thicker taskbar just won't fit everything.
The logical option, in my opinion, would be to have separate settings for grouping and labels.
I have yet to try out various new features of Windows 7, including HomeGroup and VHD boot (which I'm fairly excited about). I will post another blog entry when I get around to trying these out.
In short, I think Windows 7 is an improvement over Vista. It starts up and shuts down considerably faster than Vista (and even my old XP), and includes some subtle changes in the user interface. At the same time, it is very similar to Vista, and thus should not pose too many problems for people who do not like new things. I do have some minor gripes with it – but nothing is perfect, is it? Plus, this is only the beta. I am considering switching to Windows 7 as my primary operating system (until August comes and the beta expires, that is...)