I’ve been an avid user of Windows 7 pre beta ever since we got a build at the PDC conference in Los Angeles in October 2008. I installed it in dual boot on my work laptop, as explained here. There were a few minor kinks that forced me to keep Vista on this machine. The most annoying was that it was impossible to debug Silverlight on that build. Well, happy to report that this annoying bug is gone now, and I can develop and debug Silverlight on Windows 7 now. Let’s see other problems and what happened to them:
Unsolved (and workarounds):
- Unability to mount ISO files without external solution: This is probably the most annoying missing thing in Win7 at the moment. I can’t understand why it’s not built in the system (Is it to preserve the other vendors, who would pretty much go out of business otherwise? Hard to believe). Unfortunately, it seems that one of the best known ISO mounter, Daemon, cannot be installed on Win7 (at least Not On My Machine (TM)). Through Twitter and other people’s experience, I tried another mounter called VirtualCloneDrive. It seems to work better, but it caused some issues on the pre beta (prevented the laptop to shut down or go to sleep properly). These issues seem to have been solved now, but I would be careful with that anyway. If you notice that your PC doesn’t shut down properly anymore, and you have VirtualCloneDrive installed, try to remove it and see if it solves the issue.
- LiveMesh resets the color scheme: This is actually not a Windows 7 bug, it is a LiveMesh bug as confirmed here. The bug should be solved in a next version of Mesh, which I hope will come out soon as it seems to be ready already.
- CA eTrust ITM antivirus doesn’t update the definitions: This is the antivirus software that was proposed to me by our IT guys when I installed my work laptop. While it works fine on Vista, it seems to be unable to update the virus definitions on Win7. It already didn’t work on the pre beta, and it still doesn’t work on the beta 1. I use AVG instead on all my machines, and it works just fine.
- Intel drivers still cannot be installed, probably because a low grade programmer thought it would be clever to hard code the operating system check in the setup. The Intel drivers are the only setup that even the Compatibility troubleshooter is unable to install. Honestly, this kind of rookie mistake is really annoying and doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t affect my day to day work, so I can live with it, but I would get even better performance if I could install these.
- Debugging Silverlight: As mentioned above, the bug that prevented Silverlight debugging in Visual Studio seems to have disappeared. This was also confirmed by some people I talked to at Microsoft. Great news.
- Alienware On Screen Display now works fine. For some reason, I couldn’t install these drivers in the pre beta. Note that the functionality of the keyboard shortcuts worked (switch bluetooth on, switch WiFi on, stealth mode, volume, mute, disable touch pad, et…) but no indication was displayed on the screen. With the beta, I could install the OSD drivers, and they work. This is a nice touch.
That’s all that was not working so far. The Silverlight bug was the most annoying one, and probably the only reason why I still have Vista on this laptop. Since it’s solved now, I don’t really have a reason to not format the Vista partition and use that space for data. I will still wait a few days, however, to see if everything really works well, and also what others experience. My guess is that Vista will be gone very soon though.
Interestingly, the beta Win7 build gives me a better Windows Experience Index than the pre beta one. The old one was only 5.0, due to a rather slow RAM access. The new one gives me 5.5, with a whooping 7.9 (the maximum note) for the graphics (not surprising since this is what Alienware is really best known for). CPU and HDD are also doing good.
Setting on old PCs
After I saw how well Win7 performed on my new work laptop, I thought I would take the plunge and install it on all my PCs at home. The first in line was my really old, but still working self-built desktop PC (640 MB RAM, 16 GB System HD, 664 Mhz single core, 160 GB data HD). I use this PC for two purposes mostly@ As a file server for videos (TV shows mostly) that my wife and I download from BitTorrent, and as a gaming platform for the kids (5 and 7, so the games are really simple and don’t need power). This PC was running Windows XP SP3 and installing Vista on it has never even been an option for me. However, Win7 seems so much smaller and slicker that I thought I’d give it a try.
I had a few issues that I had to solve by looking for drivers online. Keep in mind that this is not a Vista-to-Win7 upgrade, but an XP-to-Win7 upgrade.
- The graphic card (Matrox G400) didn’t plug-and-play like it did on XP, and I had to install drivers manually. They were easy to find on the Matrox website. I used the XP drivers and installed using the “Compatibility troubleshooter” feature in Win7. I didn’t notice any side effect, and was able to set up my display correctly.
- The Ethernet card reacted weirdly (Netgear FA311 wired ethernet PCI adapter). It also didn’t plug and play, so I installed the XP drivers. The card still couldn’t connect however, and I had to change the Network Media setting (in the advanced section of the adapter properties) from AutoSense to 100BaseTx. This issue is not very well documented, but I was lucky to find a comment on Netgear’s site that led me to try this. I am no network expert, so can’t really explain what happened there, but it works fine now.
Other than these two issues, Win7 installed just fine on this really old machine. My first tests indicated that it works as well as XP did. After installation, I still have about 6GB for programs. I don’t think I will go back to XP, and would rather purchase a cheap HDD for the system if it gets full too fast.
The main reason why I wanted Win7 on that old PC is really helpful: Homegroups. Accessing my videos an other files on that server is a simple as a mouse click as soon as the laptop connects to the home network. I will test that more in depth now.