So I finally downloaded and installed the release candidate of Windows 7 Ultimate. (Gizmodo has a bunch of resources on how to get it and make it work for you.)
Anyway, after a couple of hours of playing with it, these are my initial impressions:
1. It was nice to be able to dual-boot Windows 7, rather than have it replace my Vista install altogether, a decision I am very glad I made, which I’ll get to in a moment.
2. The included wallpapers are quite nice, especially the infamous “trippy” ones. And the ability to have the desktop images rotate in a slideshow is something that I have always wanted to have implemented. Still not included, however, is the ability to have different desktop images on each of your monitors. This is something, by the way, that is possible when using DisplayFusion, which is a very nice piece of software.
3. I’m not used to the new taskbar, but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.
4. For the moment, my internet connection is through a Netgear WG111v3 USB adapter, which didn’t work quite right even after installing the latest drivers from CD-ROM. (I like how Netgear offered to let me download the latest ones rather than install off the CD-ROM, but isn’t that rather difficult if the adapter is your only method of connecting?) But there is a nifty little up-arrow icon on the bottom right hand of the screen, that lets you take a look at all your connected devices. Windows 7 recognized that the adapter wasn’t working correctly, and right-clicking on the icon gave me the option of having Windows figure it out. Which it did. No problem. Definitely +1 on that.
5. Netflix doesn’t recognize Windows 7 as a valid operating system, and as such, you can’t stream movies. Massive fail on Netflix’s part, if you ask me, because I suspect that it’s probably just a bit of code that says, essentially (and it’ll become quite apparent that I’m not a programmer here), “IF NOT Windows Vista; Windows XP; or OS X –>THEN FAIL.” There is no reason, from everything I’ve read about Windows 7, that would make it incompatible with Netflix, because the guts of 7 are apparently the same guts as Vista, just tweaked to be more efficient. I checked online for some solutions, but if there’s a solution that makes sense to me, I don’t see it. One thing I thought about before falling asleep last night, however, is making use of the virtual XP environment to try Netflix that way. Probably won’t work, though, as it seems that is the weakest feature of the whole bunch.
6. Watching video on Hulu seemed to be slightly choppier than I had experienced through Vista. There’s no real way to quantify this, it just seemed just a tidge more jittery.
7. And, finally, somehow I have sound in Windows 7 but not in Windows Vista anymore. (I use the HDMI-out from my computer’s nVidia card to provide video and sound to one of my monitors.) Usually, a reboot solves the problem when the sound isn’t working right in Vista, but not for right now. When I have more time, I’ll play with it some.
All in all, it isn’t the life-changing experience I expected, given the fawning reaction of the geeklords on the internets. It’s nice, sure, but as I’m not terribly displeased with Vista, it’s not that big a deal to me. Maybe after a little more playing, my song will change.
What I do find compelling is what Microsoft is doing here. Vista is not a bad OS, but its reputation was slaughtered by the press. (Okay, okay, there were a lot of problems at launch, but those problems have largely been rectified.) Microsoft could have just let things stand and added improvements to Vista incrementally, as it did with XP, and left well enough alone. But facing pressures from Apple and even Linux (to a small extent, and mostly in the Netbook arena) it didn’t do that. Instead it announced a new OS, and let everyone in the world, pretty much, play with it. It’s like Christmas in May. Those who play with it seem to like it an awful lot, and will likely be willing to shell out whatever upgrade fees will apply to update their machines by the time the release candidate finally dies in June of 2010. (Actually, beginning in March, the machines running the release candidate will begin to shut down every two hours, which is going to drive people nuts.)
My only concern, and it is the concern that I think will determine whether Microsoft has really “changed,” is that we’re playing with the Ultimate edition, and it’s already been announced that the virtual XP mode won’t be available in the Home Premium flavor. What else will be stripped? Hopefully not the rotating desktops and sound themes. But we’ll see.