By now you have all heard of the new Operating System from Microsoft. You have probably even read some reviews where they go over some of the new features. So I decided to get my own copy and check it out for myself.
To get Windows 7, I went out to the Windows 7 public beta website. After quickly burning the downloaded ISO file to a DVD, I put it in my DVD drive, rebooted my computer, and started the install. Apparently there are some that don’t know how to use an ISO. If you are in the same boat, then you are probably not a really technical person and you should probably avoid installing a Beta OS. With Beta software there are going to be lots of problems, and only a really technical person will understand how to handle them.
I chose to partition off a small part of my existing hard drive and dual boot Windows 7. Why did I choose dual boot over a Virtual PC? I wanted to be able to take full advantage of my hardware. Virtual PCs are a great way to get a quick idea of a new OS, but because they don’t take full advantage of graphics cards, tuner cards, and other hardware, it is impossible to test everything.
The install was extremely quick, about 25 minutes, and I was ready to roll. The install process hasn’t changed much from Vista. The first thing I noticed when installing is that Windows 7 has a new startup screen. Next, the install screens are basically the same as Vista.
Here is a short video of the new Windows 7 Startup Screen.
Once the initial install is complete the system reboots. If you are like me, and dual booting this OS, then you need to be ready to select Windows 7 as the OS when the selection screen appears. The next few minutes are spent waiting for Windows 7 to get ready for the first run, and for performing a second reboot.
The setup does not require any interaction until it is all ready for a user to be configured. As you can see, most of these screens are very similar to what can be seen while installing Vista.
There is one screen that is completely new to the setup process. This is the Home Group screen. Home Groups are suppose to be a secure way to setup sharing between two or more computers. I don’t know how useful this will be because I, and I am sure most others, already have sharing set up between all of our computers. It will be interesting to see what other functionality Home Groups bring to the table.
After completing the initial setup, the desktop is shown. I was very happy to see a clean desktop without any clutter and a pleasant background.
The first thing I noticed is that the taskbar at the bottom of the screen is about twice as big as it used to be. Because I have read others reviews of Windows 7, I was not surprised, but I was still curious — so I decided to try out some of the new functionality.
However, before I started opening programs and testing things I wanted to see what kind of resource footprint Windows 7 has. As you can seen from the screen below it is fairly low.
So back to the taskbar, the three icons that are initially loaded on the taskbar are for Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player. When you click on any of them they get a border around them that indicates they are running. A big complaint around the Internet is that it is really difficult to tell which icons are for running programs and which are not. I tend to agree with that assessment. With Vista there is a clear distinction between quick launch links and running programs., but not with Windows 7.
Fortunately, this is only the default behavior and Windows 7 has other options. By right clicking an empty space on the taskbar and choosing properties, it is possible to select a different setting. I personally like having the name of the program show up when it is running. This helps me to be able to tell which programs are running and which are not. Even in this mode there will always be a mixture of running and not running programs in the taskbar which can be very confusing.
There are good things about the new taskbar. For example if you have more than one Internet Explorer window open, and they are grouped together, you can easily get a preview of them all by putting your mouse over the taskbar icon. Then, if you mouse over each one of the previews it will not only show each window above, but it also removes all the other windows that might be in the way.
Another nice upgrade to the taskbar is the ability to reorder the icons by dragging and dropping them. This works for both running and non running programs.
The Start Menu also underwent a little change. It is nothing major, but as you can see from the images below the shutdown menu and icons are different.
Something else I noticed is that the sidebar is gone. In fact there is no indication that gadgets exist anywhere. If you have not used Vista, and you migrated directly to Windows 7 from XP, then this is one feature you may miss completely. I had mixed feelings about the sidebar in Vista because it provides a great service, but it can also be a memory hog. So when I saw that it was gone I was a little sad; however, because I have read other blogs I knew the functionality was not removed, instead it was expanded to cover the entire desktop. So, I opened up the start menu and typed “gadgets” in the search. The results that were returned provided me with a very familiar gadget index page. From here it is easy to drag gadgets directly to the desktop where they can be arranged anywhere the user wants.
There are some changes to several applications as well. For example, several default applications have been removed. Programs such as Messenger, Movie Maker, Mail and others are no longer installed by default. I can only assume that this was done in reaction to all the trouble Microsoft got in because they bundled so many programs in their OS. It also has the side effect of making a much cleaner and less resource intensive OS. If you used any of those programs they are still available, and still free. You can get them by going to the Live website and downloading Live services.
The Ribbon is also being integrated into several new programs. If you don’t know what the Ribbon is then you probably haven’t used the new Office suite. Well, if you don’t know what Ribbon is then you can take a look at this website for a good explanation. Here is a picture of Paint, and Word which have the new Ribbon look and Notepad which does not.
Also included in Windows 7 Beta 1 are the Beta of Internet Explorer 8 and the Beta of Windows Media Player 12. However, if this website is correct it would be a good idea to avoid Media player because of a bug that can destroy your music.
I did notice a couple of new things about Internet Explorer 8. For one, when you close a browser that has more than one tab it asks if you want to close all of them or just the current one. Also, when you download a file or something, the Icon for IE will show the progress of the download. As you can see from the screenshot, the icon is half green which matches the download progress bar.
The program I am most interested in looking at is Windows Media Center. I have been using Media Center for several years — my first version was Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. So how is Windows 7 Media Center compared to Vista Media Center? Well, if you already have Vista and the TV pack for Vista installed then you may be disappointed. Media Center in Windows 7 is almost identical to Vista Media Center with the TV Pack. I am actually really excited about this because the TV pack raised the number of tuners that Media Center would accept. As I was setting up Media Center I almost shed a tear of joy when I saw that it recognized all 6 of my tuners. No more tweaking the registry to overcome the 4 tuner (2 analog and 2 digital) limitation like I did with Vista Media Center. Unfortunately, the limitation was not removed, instead it was just raised to 8 tuners. For now I am happy with this, but it would have been nicer to just have it removed.
If Windows 7 is using all the functionality of TV pack then it will also record all TV shows in the new wtv format which is not compatible with older Media Centers. So this means if you have multiple machines, like I do, they will all have to be upgraded if you want to share TV recordings.
In addition to the tuner limitation being raised there have also been some interface changes, as you can see in the images below.
Not everything with Media Center is perfect. Apparently Microsoft has not turned on the download servers for Windows 7 yet, because I was unable to download the guide and other setup software.
Because of how important the guide is to Media Center it is almost impossible to use Media Center in its current form. This dampens my enjoyment of the Beta, but it gives me a lot to look forward to when Windows 7 is officially released.
PlayReady is now part of Media Center. Unfortunately, PlayReady is nothing more than another layer of DRM that will keep you from watching your content whenever your want. It is required for watching some content. I was unable to install PlayReady because of the aforementioned download problems.
There are some other areas of Windows 7 that got a makeover. For example, the resolution chooser has changed a bit. Instead of being a slider with a bunch of numbers that don’t have an explanation, the slider now has comments next to some of the resolutions to let the user know which one to choose.
Also, the Classic theme is no longer available. Instead we are being pushed into the world of Areo and dynamic themes. There are several themes in this screenshot that have cascading boxes under them. This indicates that the theme has more than one background, and if chosen it will rotate through those backgrounds as you use the computer.
When I installed the Home Server connector I was surprised to see that it listed this OS as Windows Vista Ultimate. This either means that the core of Windows 7 is still broadcasting Windows Vista, or Windows Home Server is going to need an update so that it will recognize the new operating system.
I also managed to get the search in the start menu to crash.
Even though the downloads for Media Center are not working, there are some downloads that are. I was surprised when I got a notification that there was an update available from Windows Updates. I let it download, and discovered that it was an update for Windows Defender.
I am very happy with most of the changes that have been made in Windows 7. It is coming along very nicely and I look forward to the final release when I can really enjoy it.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|