Spent yesterday testing the recently released Windows 7 Beta. My goals were to compare it to Vista and see how it ran on the older WinXP machines. The machine I selected was an older Toshiba Satellite M65-S9092. The reason was that it is not Vista certified. Toshiba makes no Vista drivers specifically for this model and I have been running Vista for about 6 months on it. The Toshiba is a good example of older hardware that got abandoned by the Vista migration.
The first test was a fresh install on the slowest, smallest disk drive I could find. The drive is from an ancient Toshiba notebook and is only 20 GB is size. The next test will be an upgrade from Vista SP1 on a large, higher speed drive in the same Toshiba M65.
My first surprise was the fact that the fresh install took about 45 minutes from start to finish. This compares favorably to the Vista 3 hour fresh install on the same hardware.
Second surprise was that there were no hardware incompatibilities save one, there was no wireless card driver installed. Since the notebook was Ethernet hardwired, this did not present an issue during the install and later allow for the download of the Intel Proset Wireless driver for Vista. Again, the Toshiba M65 does not have Vista drivers, but the Intel card is supported using Vista on other Toshibas. So obtaining the compatible driver from the Toshiba support site was not an issue. Just needed to get it from the list of another notebook that also has the same wireless card.
The third surprise was the performance. It screams! Even on the very same hardware which Aero had to be turned off when using Vista. Windows 7's Aero works just fine without stutters or delays. The overall look is clean and reminds me a lot of OS X. As I have said recently, Windows 7 is basically Vista done right. Hopefully, as it moves through the beta cycle Microsoft will not adversely affect the performance profile.
I will have more on the testing and upgrade activity later. For now, I would suggest that Windows 7 is a great alternative for people not wanting to go the Vista route or who have been wondering whether to upgrade to Vista or move to Mac or Linux. My opinion: DO NOT UPGRADE TO VISTA! Wait for Windows 7, you won't be disappointed. Also note that I can't imagine how fast Windows 7 will run on something like the new MacBooks.
Another personal opinion about how Microsoft could retain some of its "honor" after the Vista catastrophe; by providing a really, really cheap upgrade to all those who have already purchased Vista. I mean ridiculously cheap! This would do two things. First, make those poor folks who have actually been tolerating Vista all this time, happier. Second, provide a fixed base of people who are going to speak happy words about the Windows 7 OS. This alone could bring Microsoft back from the "bad" list.
Here's hoping you get to try Windows 7 beta, I think you will find it an amazing improvement over Vista. I will have more information about the testing as things progress.
UPDATED 2009-01-18: Get latest engadget Windows 7 news
Windows 7 Home
Download Win 7
ars technica - Deep inside the Windows 7 Public Beta (please note that ars says that the speed difference between Windows 7 and Vista is "pretty slight". This may depend on the hardware you use. In my case, the perceived Windows 7 performance improvement is immense over Vista)
Update: Just finished testing the upgrade of Vista SP1 to Windows 7. Unfortunately, this was an absolute failure. A large number of incompatible applications, tools and utilities were listed and required removal prior to starting the upgrade. The list of items was un-installed from the machine but the upgrade continued to report a minimum of these items (all were already removed) and although it allowed the install to continue the upgrade eventually failed and reverted back to the former Vista OS version. Of course, now all those items had been removed which meant that the machine was not exactly restored. All of this effort took many hours and brought back memories of the XP to Vista migration. My faith was now restored in the ability of Microsoft to take something wonderful and subvert it into a steaming pile.
My hopes are not dashed completely since this is the beta version. They will need to make some significant changes to the upgrade process to make it usable.
Overall, I like what Microsoft is doing with Windows 7. However, their typical implementation skills with install and upgrade kits, as always, is less than adequate.
My personal opinion is that Windows 7 is just the public face of a "Mojave". They are simply tweaking and repackaging Vista to remove the bad taste from everyone's mouth when they utter the phase "Windows Vista". Here's hoping it is successful and actually improves the computer experiences of all involved.
Updated 2009-01-20: What’s New in Windows 7: The Taskbar! (Chris Pirillo Show)
Chris | Live Tech Support | Video Help | Add to iTunes
Updated 2009-01-27: There appears to be some flaws in the Windows 7 impressiveness. Suddenly, after running AVG security software for a little over one week, Windows 7 demonstrated the same wonderful performance profile of Vista. CPU hits 100% as soon as the machine finishes booting. 85% of the usage was dedicated to AVG. Thinking that this too shall pass, the machine was left alone for 4 hours and the same usage continued. Uninstalling AVG and installing Norton cured this problem, at least for now. This may not be Windows 7 fault, but rather AVG beta issues. Still something feels very familiar.
Another area of consumption was after installing Office Professional 2007. The basic package ran fine, but after the "business" portions (Business Contact Manager, Accounting Express and the associated add-ons) performance again went into the toilet. Now, this may not all be Windows 7 fault but rather the fault of applying these apps to an under powered PC. Un-installing the Business portion of Office 2007 solved some of the issues.
In addition, the backup/restore compatibility with Windows Home Server was tested. This meant backing up the Windows 7's 20GB drive and then restoring it to a new 100GB drive. That activity mirrors what would normally happen in an hardware upgrade scenario. The only issue was the inability to boot from the new drive, not an insignificant problem but easily resolved. The issue was repaired using the original Windows 7 installation disc in repair mode. However, now Windows 7 comes out of sleep mode displaying an error that the boot manager has generated errors or can not be found. Standard repair attempts have not resolved this issue but simply pressing enter as requested allow the boot to successfully complete. (more on this later)