Republished: A look at the Windows 7 RC

Originally published on 06 May 2009 (Images sadly missing at restoration time)

So, being a fairly well balanced person, I thought I would give Windows 7 at least the benefit of the doubt. So after a surprisingly quick download (either MS prepped their servers, or everyone else has been using Bittorrent!), I started installing Windows 7 Build 7100.

Full Disclosure: The recommended minimum requirements for the 32 bit version is 1 Gig of RAM and a 1 Gig processor. I installed it in a virtual machine allocated 600Mb of RAM running on top of a 2.6 Gig Processor.

Because I was using just above the minimum requirement for RAM, I'm not going to mention speed apart from where things were painfully slow (there were a few).

So, lets get started;

The installation process has a Disk partitioning menu that is far more user friendly than in days gone by. Anyone else remember the XP screen? That said, the increased processing requirements for the installer does mean that the installer runs more slowly than it necessarily needs to.

What hasn't changed however is the need to restart the system more than once. The user see's a section of the installer that mentions that the system may need to restart several times. Admittedly I didn't notice these as I had gone to make dinner whilst the system copied it's files. I did notice two restarts however, so it may well be that I didn't actually miss any!

After the first restart the installer runs from the Hard Disk, and the setup process quickly starts. The user is prompted to set a password. It's not necessarily required, but it is recommended. If the user enters a password they are required to enter a password hint to help them remember it.

So far all pretty standard stuff, with the odd tweak here and there. The system then asks the user what they want to do about Automatic Updates. I quite like this method, because it should reduce the risk of users not being aware its off/on by default. That said, as most Windows 7 sales will probably be OEM sales, many systems will probably have been configured beyond this section before the unit even leaves the shop. Still a nice touch none the less.

Next the user is asked to setup their network. The user is informed that Windows has detected a network (assuming it has of course) and asks them to classify it as either Home, Work or Public. There is a little note at the bottom telling the user to select Public if they are unsure. One of the examples given for a public network is a wireless hotspot, but one does wonder exactly why you would be installing Windows in a wireless hotspot. But then it's probably just the main Network wizard.

Now this is where the shock began, Windows 7 loaded the desktop (OK it took a little time doing the initial configuration) and rather than the screenshots we've seen in the Beta versions, XP's tellytubby hill or the God awful Vista default, the screen displayed this rather nice picture of a fish!

Unfortunately, this was about the best bit of my first impression. Most of the Aero features were disabled because of the lack of High end graphics card (indeed lack of medium end graphics card) within the Virtual Machine. I was prepared for that to happen, but what I wasn't prepared for is the awful style of the interface without Aero. The Taskbar icons are reminiscent of when Worms went Cartoony in Worms Armageddon. The icons are no longer refined (they were slipping in Vista though, so should have seen it coming.), and frankly the initial view was more reminiscent of a toy than a PC.
Still, these things are only cosmetic, lets not judge a system purely on it's looks.

Talking of cosmetics, apologies about the theme in a few of the pictures, I was trying to find one I liked.

I figured I'd try out Internet Explorer 8 as I've yet to play with it. Alas, it was a no go error, crashing almost as soon as it loaded. BUT, Windows stepped in, told me that a page had failed to load, asked me what I wanted to do about it. Sadly when I told it to close that page, IE 8 then crashed. Still it was a nice thought!

Once I had let the system sort itself out, I fired up IE8 again, and this time it loaded the default home page (MSN) reasonably happily. But of course, has had plenty of time to avoid the need for IE's Compatability Mode, so I pointed it at my own site. I've made no changes in the wake of the release, but then never implemented any hacks just to serve perfect pages to IE6/7. There have been complaints of IE8 garbling sites that are fully standards compliant, but as it turns out loaded pretty well.

Aside from the initial issues, IE seemed pretty solid, and does seem to load pages quite fast. Given that it's running on a system inside a VM I won't comment on Microsofts claims about page loading speeds. Needless to say, with a minimal amount of RAM it did take a while longer than I would otherwise be willing to wait.

So what else did I notice? Well the Control Panel has been dumbed down more than it was in XP even. But only by default, there is an option to view the Control panel by icons (either large or small, if you please!), and this has been expanded quite a bit. Things appear to be far easier to find than they were in Vista, and almost approach the accesibility found in XP.

This has been quite a basic view of Windows 7 Build 7100. One thing I will note is that the Beta is Windows 7 Ultimates, so some of the features noted will probably not be available in the cheaper versions. It is understood that the Final Release Versions in the UK will be Home Premium and Professional. However Ultimate will be available to Home Users for an additional fee and will contain the same features as Windows 7 Enterprise.

I have to admit, I installed Windows 7 expecting to hate it. I am a Linux user, and as such figured that the RC would contain (or fail to contain) many of the 'features' that older versions of Windows seemed to (fail to) deliver. That said, whilst I wouldn't use it as my main Operating system, I was pleasantly surprised. Compared to Vista, Windows 7 is a work of pure genius (Calm down, that's not saying that much!). The problem, as many others have noted, is that it doesn't really offer anything that XP doesn't. Or more to the point, nothing compelling.

OK so users have the option to encrypt their hard drive, they even have a candyfloss interface without the bloat of Vista, but what else have they gained? There's no way to change the Start Menu to the Classic Menu, and support contracts aside, I see very little to tempt businesses. Those businesses that steered clear of Vista and Office 2007 to minimise training costs will probably try and avoid 7 as well.

Although it is a step in the right direction, I suspect that the installed base of Windows 7 will consist of two groups. Those that have bought a new PC with 7 on it, and those who upgraded to escape Vista.