The public beta release of Windows 7, Microsoft’s follow up to Windows Vista, has been out for a few weeks now and I recently began testing a couple of initial installations. Microsoft has released both 32-bit and 64-bit versions for testing and evaluation with a targeted release date for the final version slated for “later this year.”
After performing uneventful fifty minute installations on two different computers it was time get some hands on experience. If a first impression is any indication Windows 7 is a very slick product. To get a better feel for Windows 7 in a real world situation I installed the 32-bit version on two older systems, an HP Compaq xw4200 Workstation and a Dell 4700C small footprint desktop system. The thinking here was that these systems would be good tests to see how feasible it would be to upgrade older computers to Windows 7 and not limit the new operating system to new computers where it would come pre-installed.
Windows 7 – Some Background On Installation
The HP computer used for testing is equipped with a 3.0 GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 2 GB of RAM, an ATI FireGL V3100 graphics adapter with 128MB of RAM and an 80 GB SATA hard disk drive. The Dell 4700C is equipped with a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 1 GB of RAM, basic Intel 910 GL graphics chip set and an 80 GB hard disk drive.
The beta release of Windows 7 is comparable to the Ultimate version of Vista in that it has all the various operating system components that would be included in the Home Premium and Business versions plus a few other bells and whistles. The installations went smoothly with a few additional Windows updates and some updated hardware drivers to download and install to complete the process.
Although this is still a beta test version, Windows 7 seems very stable. The thing that impressed me the most is how well it performed on these older computers, especially a computer with only 1 GB of RAM. I have not been a big fan of Windows Vista and have seen firsthand how slowly Vista can perform with only 1 GB of RAM. This was not the case with Windows 7.
Initial testing of Windows 7 indicates that Microsoft has taken the criticism of Vista to heart and substantially improved the operating system’s performance. The overall interface also seems cleaner and less cluttered. A number of new utilities have been added and the infamous User Account Control (UAC) mechanism has been modified so that it can be less intrusive without being totally disabled. There is now a 4-position UAC slider control to adjust its settings rather than simply turning it off as many people did with Windows Vista.
A strong complaint I had with Vista is that Microsoft had taken some basic functions that were very easy to access within Windows XP and hidden them or buried them under layers of menus. Much of this has been cleared up in Windows 7 and a number of steps have been taken to make the whole environment easier to use, administer, and maintain.
From a nuts-and-bolts perspective the new Resource Monitor included in Windows 7 is outstanding. With tabs for Overview, CPU, Memory, Disk and Network, this utility is a major leap over the version in Vista. XP has no tool that is comparable to the Resource Monitor.
Looking Ahead for Windows 7
This is just a limited first take on Windows 7 and it has been very positive so far. I’ll have more insights after digging into Microsoft’s new operating system more over the next several weeks. Hopefully, by the time Windows 7 officially ships Microsoft and the numerous hardware manufacturers will also have been able to resolve the various frustrating hardware driver issues that still continue to show up periodically with Vista.
The Windows 7 beta also includes the beta version of Internet Explorer 8. Initial impressions of IE 8 are also quite positive and there will also be more about that in a future post.
Other Takes On the Upcoming Windows 7
For a more in-depth analysis of running Windows 7 on limited hardware resources check out Ed Bott’s excellent piece in his ZD Net blog: “How well does Windows 7 handle 512MB?”
Walt Mossberg’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Even in Test Form, Windows 7 Leaves Vista in the Dust” also provides some helpful insights on Microsoft’s big step to move beyond Vista.