Sunday 1 February 2009

Windows 7 Ultimate Beta: From a Windows XP user's perspective

Windows 7 Beta (Build 7000) was officially available for download to the public on 9th January. There was a mad rush to download the Beta version at around noon CST (7pm UK time), as it was reported in the press that only the first 2.5 million could download the Beta version. To be frank, I was one amongst the millions who had frantically tried to download Windows 7 Beta that day. I must have tried for about a couple of hours before giving up.

Later that evening, I read that Microsoft servers were overwhelmed by the activity on their servers that the Beta version wasn't made available for download. An announcement was later made, which said - to give the user a pleasant download experience - the download would be available on more servers in the coming days. On Sunday, I read that the Windows 7 Beta was available for download and the 2.5 million download limit was removed.

I personally think it was the smartest move made by Steve Ballmer. With the lot of bad press received about Vista, it was time Microsoft needed to get as many people as possible on their side. There was every chance that the move could back-fire on Microsoft. However, the top brass at Microsoft were confident that this time they have got it right.

I eventually downloaded Windows 7 Beta on the 9th of January. It took me a day to download it. The reason why I wanted to test Windows 7 was - I like many others had avoided switching over to Vista from XP. In the early days I was swayed by what I read about Vista and the reasons to avoid it. Furthermore, most hardware vendors weren't really geared up with the drivers to run their hardware on the new operating system. I waited for a year to see whether the situation would change, but by then, the die has been casted against Vista, with the announcement that Microsoft were in the process of developing a newer operating system, that would be leaner and faster.

In this post, I wish to share my experience about Windows 7 Beta. I loaded Windows 7 Beta on a total of four computers at home.

Windows 7 Ultimate Beta on a 6 year old laptop:
My first installation of Windows 7 Ultimate Beta was onto a Dell Inspiron 8200 six year old laptop, which has a 1.8 GHz processor, 1 GB of memory and 32 MB onboard graphics card. This laptop originally came pre-loaded with XP. I upgraded its hard drive from 40 GB to 160 GB. Thus, it had some spare capacity available to load a new operating system. But having only 32 MB graphics card compare to the recommended 128 MB, I was sure that I wouldn't be able to explore its fullest potential, especially the Aero theme. However, I knew if anything went wrong, I wouldn't really feel sorry about the experience. I was pleasantly surprised, when I saw Windows 7 working perfectly fine on a 6 year old laptop. The old hardware which didn't have the necessary drivers all seem to work miraculously. There in lies the secret to the success of Windows 7. For Microsoft the biggest selling factor for Windows 7 lies in its ability to run successfully on older computers with low form factor. In the current economic climate, where people are reluctant to invest in a new computer, installing Windows 7 on an old computer would give the user an experience that is new, different and fast compared to when XP is installed.

How different is the experience compared to Windows XP? It is very different and for the most part very good. I however didn't like the default desktop background screen with the blue goldfish. It just seemed too cheesy. I only liked a couple of desktop background screens provided with the installation. The one with snow mountain peaks was good. Microsoft need to get some very good professional photographs for the desktop background, based on various themes, like Landscapes, Wildlife, Sealife, Portraits, Space, etc.

Here are a few comparative screenshots of XP and Windows 7 Ultimate Beta to give a flavour on how things compare.......

Control Panel (XP / Windows 7 Ultimate Beta)

Devices and Printers (Windows 7 Ultimate Beta only. No Single Screen Equivalent in XP)

Device Manager (XP / Windows 7 Ultimate Beta)

Help and Support(XP/Windows 7 Ultimate Beta)

One might notice that few of the screens are eerily similar, like the Device Management. Whilst some on XP look better for example, the Control Panel and Help & Support.

Windows 7 Ultimate Beta on a 1 year old Desktop:
My second installation of Windows 7 Ultimate Beta onto a 1 year old Desktop was pretty uneventful. As my Desktop was Vista Capable, there were really no issues with the compatability of my hardware. Furthermore, most of the hardware I added later on have updated Vista Drivers. The performance of Windows 7 on the Desktop is quite satisfactory.

Windows 7 Ultimate Beta on MacBook:
My third installation of Windows 7 Ultimate Beta was onto a MacBook using Bootcamp. The default drivers provided by Apple's installation disk for Vista worked for Windows 7. However, I got my first Blue screen when I updated the drivers for the trackpad. I had to do a System Restore to an earlier state (before the trackpad driver update) to get rid of the problem. This meant that, I cannot use the right click with a two finger tap. I personally feel the experience of Windows 7 is undoubtedly the best on MacBook, for the simple reason that the system is extremely responsive (in a way snappy). I feel that the trackpad in MacBook is the one bit of hardware, that sets MacBook truly apart from other Notebooks. I think the manufacturers of Windows Notebooks need to unashamedly try and duplicate the performace of the MacBook trackpad.

Windows 7 Ultimate Beta on VirtualBox:
My last installation of Windows 7 Ultimate Beta was onto VirtualBox on Ubuntu Intrepid OS. I had used VirtualBox in the past and it is very good to try any operating system, without the fear of crashing your system due to incompatible hardware. The performance of Windows 7 Utimate Beta on VirtualBox is quite similar that of Windows XP. Nothing spectacular, but adequate.

I really like the look and feel of Windows 7. It has got umpteen new features that do not exist in Windows XP. The website Gizmodo makes an interesting read about Windows 7 features, which is worth having a look before deciding for oneself.

But for me, I will surely upgrade to Windows 7, when it is released. Microsoft might pull the plug on the support for Windows XP once Windows 7 hits the streets. I thus think it is imperative for everyone to upgrade to Windows 7. Planning ahead would save the Windows XP users the agony associated with an upgrade of an Operating System.