Monday, March 09, 2009

Windows 7 Beta - impressions after a couple of months

Okay, I'm always up for fun.

So, as previously noted, I downloaded the new Windows 7 beta, both 32 bit and 64 bit editions.

The 64 bit edition went on the young padawan's honkin' big gaming box: Athlon 6000 3 gHz 64 bit dual core processor, 4 GB memory, 512 MB video card. His initial reaction: "It's ridiculously awesome."

He's already told me to hold off buying a laptop for college as long as possible since he wants Windows 7 on it, not Vista.

I have to say, with Aero effects (possible with the badass video card) there is some cool looking stuff -- such as previewing windows as you switch between apps -- and if you like eye candy, you'll love this shit. On his machine, it runs well: no lock ups or crashes or other signs of instability. He did find, however, after buying a new Zune 120 that the Zune drivers are not ready for prime time, and have caused him some degree of pain.

Still, he's happy.

I installed the 32 bit version on a (relatively) old system: 2800+ XP Athlon (single core), 1 GB memory, and an old 64 MB NVidia PCI card that came on an 8 year old Dell. Hardly the recommended hardware specs, but there you are. To further the challenge, I stuck it on a 20 GB hard drive.

And it runs...okay.

No fancy Aero effects, obviously, but I wasn't expecting any. Performance, while hardly zippy, is respectable. It's no speed demon, but it's eminently usable - certainly more so than Vista. Along with Windows 7 beta, you get the IE 8 beta. I used it and, although it had no horrific flaws, I soon installed Firefox 3. Interestingly, I've heard that it will be possible to uninstall IE8, should you choose to do that.

The install took almost half the 20 GB hard drive. A modern Linux install like Ubuntu will take about half that, and come with a vast array of apps. I also installed the latest version of OpenOffice.org's office suite, and encountered no problems.

Just for fun, here's a benchmark comparing Vista vs. W7 vs. Ubuntu, both 32 and 64 bit versions. In brief, W7 is a definite improvement over Vista, and comparable in many cases to Ubuntu. It pained me to write that...

While it ran adequately, I've noticed on my machine, an occasional tendency to lock up. The only way around this is to reset or restart. Not exactly confidence-inspiring, but this is a beta. At first I attributed this to heat issues (although I haven't had this problem near as much with XP), and still haven't ruled this out. It is annoying, whatever the cause.

While I like some of the new user interface (especially for the docs and images) it can be confusing for someone like me used to the old XP / 2000 way of organizing files. What can I say? I'm old. The new "network sharing" system seems highly convoluted and so far I've not had much luck integrating it back into the other non-W7 machines on my home network -- especially the Linux boxes.

Overall, it's okay. A lot of the surface appeal is the eye candy, of which I'm not all that impressed. You'll still find yourself facing a lot of dialog boxes asking if you approve some change to the system - even changes the OS is proposing to make. And looking for stuff -- like the Run box.

Bottom line: ridiculously awesome? Hardly. But certainly an improvement on Vista, which I once counted as a reason not to by a new machine. I probably won't upgrade for the sake of upgrading but the padawan will be standing in line to get his copy (or torrenting it) when it's finally released.

Update: ZDNet has an article about the changes between the Windows 7 beta and Release Candidate, along with screenshots.

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