Friday, January 16, 2009

Windows 7 Beta Watch

In the whole scheme of "I'm a Mac" vs. "I'm a PC" people, I guess I'd have to say that I'm a PC. Sure, I play with different Linux distros sometimes, and I'll admit that some of them are quite good (my favorite is Kubuntu 8.04). And yeah, I've even flirted with the whole Mac thing. I bought a MacBook when they first came out with the Intel processors, and later I even upgraded it Tiger to Leopard. I even think that, for most day-to-day net surfing and what not, Mac OS X beats Windows in a lot of ways.

But I keep finding myself coming back to Windows. Part of it might be familiarity... I've been using Windows since Windows 95. Part of it might be the fact that I like to build my own desktops, and you can't really do that with Macs. And part of it is definitely gaming.

Whatever the reason, I use Windows, and I've kept Windows pretty modern. I felt like I squeezed all I could out of XP, and I did migrate to Vista. Sure, Vista has suffered a lot of (often justified) criticism, but I'm at a point where XP is just too primitive for my tastes.

Naturally, I've been following Microsoft's news of Windows 7 with some interest then. Microsoft has been very keen on promoting the fact that it has a lot of the best features of Windows Vista, but they're also quick to point out how well they've trimmed the fat. They also like to point out the new taskbar, which I personally think they've included so that Windows 7 has an obvious visual difference from Vista, but I digress. The end result, they said, would be a shiny and modern operating system that would be so much more efficient than Vista that even a netbook could run it.

When the beta went public, I downloaded it and tried it on my spare desktop. And, unfortunately, I had issues. Whenever I tried to use the graphics card I'd installed in it, Windows would crash, even in the installation period. It installed and ran if I used the integrated graphics, though. After installation, it seemed mostly okay, but I had no sound (even though Windows thought everything was fine in that area), and my wi-fi adapter didn't work.

I don't use my spare much, but I remembered Microsoft's promise that it would run on netbooks. And while I use my main desktop for 95% of my computing, I do use an Asus Eee PC 900HA every day, if only to run my instant messenger client (I use Pidgin, if you're curious) to chat with my buddy who uses Google Talk at work. Having my IM client running on the netbook frees up the desktop for gaming, after all. And it's always irked me that I've moved on to Vista for my computer, my wife's laptop, and my HTPC, but I was still stuck with XP on the netbook.

So, to save myself some time down the road, I partitioned the hard drive on the netbook to keep a small portion for XP, so I could go back to it easily, and installed Windows 7 on the other partition. And I must say, it's a much better experience than on the desktop.

For starters, pretty much everything worked from a clean install. The touchpad works, even for multi-touch things like scrolling. Windows thought it was an ordinary mouse, though, so I had to get software from Asus' website to control the touchpad's features. Windows also reports that the Ethernet port isn't working. Asus has drivers for that, but I didn't bother with them, simply because the built-in wi-fi adapter works fine. Other built-in features, like the SD card slot and the built-in webcam, are also working fine. Windows does report that there's an unknown device connected... at the moment, I have no idea what it is or what it's for, but the netbook seems to be functioning perfectly.

Performance-wise, I thought maybe the netbook was a little slow. I think this is because I'm used to doing my computer activities on a desktop I built for gaming. The netbook runs XP just as slow as it does Windows 7, if not slower. And while Engadget might be reporting that Sony's new VAIO P netbook doesn't run Aero, and Gizmodo might be saying that a Dell Mini 12 doesn't run Aero, but my Eee PC runs Aero fine... and I still plan to upgrade the RAM later.

For software labeled "beta," Windows 7 seems very stable. So much so, that I expect that it'll be pre-installed on computers in time for the back-to-school sales in August, rather than the late-December/early-January date that mark's Vista's anniversary. For day-to-day surfing the internet and office work, most people could use Windows 7 without an issue. For power users, there's a few hardware issues that need to be worked out yet, and probably some software compatibility issues too (although those should be minimized, since Windows 7 uses Vista's core kernel).

All-in-all, Microsoft is well on their way to keeping their promise. Windows 7 is delivering the best of Vista with more polish, less headaches, and less bloat, and it does indeed run on netbooks. Whether you've been using Vista since launch, or whether you've been clinging desperately to XP after hearing about Vista's bad press, Windows 7 is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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