Is Windows 7 reliable enough to release now?

Is Windows 7 reliable enough to release now?

Summary: Based on the latest leaked builds of Windows 7, it appears that Windows 7 is entering crunch time, with a release candidate due soon. We've seen impressive performance test results, but how do these recent builds stack up in terms of reliability? I can offer anecdotal evidence. A week ago, I switched my everyday working system to build 7048. So, how’s that working out?


Earlier today, I read about the latest leaked build of Windows 7 to appear on BitTorrent. The text on the desktop suggests that build 7057 is part of the release candidate branch. With the exception of some new wallpapers and default account pictures, it appears to be mostly unchanged from build 7048, which means most of the RC changes are checked in, and it’s now crunch time in Redmond.

Adrian has already reported on the impressive performance of this build Windows 7, even compared to XP. So how does it stack up in terms of reliability? That question is much harder to answer with hard data, but I can offer anecdotal evidence. I installed Windows 7 build 7048 on a Dell XPS 420 one week ago, and after a few hours of road testing decided to begin using it as my main production system. (I’ll have some more notes on that process later.)

So how’s that working out?

Shockingly well. In fact, this system could be the poster child for how Windows 7 should behave when it’s finally released. Here, see for yourself.

System uptime is currently approaching 72 hours (that includes several overnight sessions when the system was in sleep mode). Here’s the overview from Task Manager:

Reliability Monitor notes one program crash per day on March 8, 9, and 10, one each for Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, and the Microsoft Windows Search Filter. In each case the program recovered without losing any data or affecting other apps. In the case of IE, for example, a single tab crashed and auto-recovered; if I had blinked, I might have missed it.

Update 13-Mar: Some commenters have suggested that this is an unacceptable level of reliability. I'll repeat here what I said below: Maybe "crashes" is the wrong word to use here. The "stopped working" indication in Reliability Monitor doesn't mean the program crashed and the system had to be restarted. In the case of Windows Explorer, the shell restarts automatically and the user doesn't even notice that there was a minor glitch. In the case of IE8, a web page can hang or crash a single tab, which then recovers automatically. These incidents get logged as "IE8 stopped working" but the user experience is pretty smooth and certainly not painful.

This system is running a 64-bit OS and has 4GB of memory. Right now, about two-thirds of that RAM is in use:

Note that this memory monitor includes a new Standby classification that designates memory that has been used but can be instantly discarded if another process needs it. That gives a more accurate picture of memory usage than the memory usage reported in XP and Vista, which reported only Free memory. In Windows 7, the numbers in blue at the right of the memory bar are added together and displayed as Available.

How much of a stress test have I put this machine under? Details on the next page...

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The following apps are currently running:

  • Microsoft Word 2007, with drafts of two Windows 7 Inside Out chapters open
  • Microsoft Excel 2007, with one scratch workbook open
  • Windows Live Writer, with three draft blog posts open, including this one
  • Microsoft OneNote 2007, with three notebooks open
  • Firefox 3.0.7, with seven tabs open
  • Internet Explorer 8, with 15 tabs open, including two connections to remote SharePoint servers and another connection to my Live Mesh Desktop
  • Adobe Reader, with the PDF edition of Windows Vista Inside Out, Deluxe Edition (all 1373 pages of it) open
  • FeedDemon RC2, polling 315 RSS feeds every 30 minutes
  • Microsoft Outlook 2007, connected to my Exchange Server (2000 miles away) via HTTPS
  • Witty Twitter client (ClickOnce version)
  • Windows Live Messenger
  • Windows Live Mail, connected to three news servers
  • Windows Live Mesh, currently syncing 1293 MB of data among a handful of machines
  • SnagIt screen capture utility and SnagIt Editor, which are on my list of 10 favorite Windows programs of all time
  • ClipMate Clipboard utility, another of my 10 fave Windows apps
  • Windows Live Sync (keeping IE Favorites in sync across multiple machines)
  • Remote Desktop with one open session to another PC running Windows Vista

In addition, I currently have open at least a half-dozen Windows Explorer windows, a couple of desktop gadgets, and Resource Monitor. A number of Media Center processes are running in the background as well.

That’s a hefty workload, but I haven’t noticed any slowdowns when switching between apps or opening new apps.

On this installation, I didn’t have to download or install any hardware drivers from Dell’s web site. All devices were recognized by the Windows 7 installer and this system is using only drivers from the Windows installation media or Windows Update. That in itself is a remarkable accomplishment.

One of the most common themes that runs through nearly every review I’ve read so far of Windows 7 is its impressive stability. Most of those experiences are based on the public beta, which was locked down in December. The version I’m using here has two more months of development behind it and feels extremely polished.

As always, the cardinal rule for anyone repeating this test is: YMMV. One week's usage on one PC isn't enough data to write a review (although that won't stop a lot of wannabe Windows geeks with blogs). I don’t pretend that this sort of performance and reliability will be guaranteed on other hardware. Paul Thurrott, for one, isn’t having such a great time, calling build 7048 “incredibly unstable.” But his experience is not typical, based on the positive consensus I'm gathering from other reports. (If you've got any anecdoatal evidence of your own to share, please feel free to do so in the Talkback section below.)

Recently, I’ve read several calls for Microsoft to “release Windows 7 now.” That’s not going to happen. And despite this very positive personal experience I agree that Microsoft and its customers are best served by another few months of development and refinement. Not to tweak the interface or add new features, but rather to add that last round (or two or three or even 10) of incremental improvements in quality, reliability, and performance.

Seemingly small bug fixes at this point can have a tremendous impact on overall reliability and prevent crashes or performance glitches for Windows users. Those experiences translate directly into satisfied customers and good word-of-mouth reviews. If you assume that Windows 7 will sell over 100 million copies in its first year, even a 1% improvement in quality means a million people will have a good experience like the one I describe here rather than a bad one. And how many of those million people have blogs? Microsoft needs every one of those voices if Windows 7 is to erase the negative buzz of Windows Vista.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • Share your hands-on experiences here

    Have you installed build 7048 or later? How's it working out for you? Leave your hands-on impressions below.

    Also, did you know you can subscribe to this blog via e-mail? Just hit this link and fill in your details:

    <strong><a href="">Subscribe to Ed Bott's Microsoft Report via e-mail</a></strong>
    Ed Bott
    • Outstanding

      I've been running 7 v 7048 on my media center server that distributes video via 360's and a couple DMA2200's and it runs great. Streaming HD video over the home network works great and I just ditched two Comcast Tivo's as a result. The last will go when I can get a cable card PC with 7. The improvements to media playback are worth every penny.
    • Question about these leaked builds....

      Are these not illegal to download and run?
      • No

        Nothing in the license agreement prohibits anyone from running these for evaluation purposes or discussing features and experiences.
        Ed Bott
        • Gotcha...

          I was finding it more and more disturbing to see the leaked builds being promoted thinking that they were illegal. I guess the work "leaked" did it.
          • ....

            <font color=#808080><em>"<font color=#000000>I was finding it</font> more and more disturbing to see the leaked builds being promoted thinking that they were <font color=#000000>illegal</font>."</em></font>

            <font color=#808080>"While the good <font color=#000000>folks at ZDNet are still racing to catch-up</font>, <a href="" target="_blank">some others</a> have been working with Windows 7 <em>'leaked'</em> build 7048 for a while and have been posting more timely (and more accurate) accounts of the changes between it and earlier post-Beta builds..."</font>

            It's not <em>'illegal'</em> if everyone is doing it in daylight w/o being prosecuted.

            The word <em>'leaked'</em> is marketing. ;)

          • "The word 'leaked' is marketing."

            I pretty much took it that way the more I saw the "leaked" builds being promoted.
          • The only "violation"...

   this case, might have to do with the NDA the guy who leaked it signed...
        • Yes and No!

          It was illegal under the terms of a NDA for the original leaket to place the code in the public domain. It is also illegal for those people under NDA to discuss the build. It is not however illegal under the EULA for others to try the software under it's provisions.
          • That could use some explaining

            "It was illegal under the terms of a NDA for the original leaket to place the code in the public domain... It is not however illegal under the EULA for others to try the software under it's provisions."

            I am somewhat curious as to how it's not against the EULA for end users to try a leaked build of Windows 7. My understanding of the law--such as it is--is that it is not legal to knowingly benefit from criminal acts.
            Third of Five
        • download

          Where can I download this version
      • no

        Chances are microsoft are unoffically releasing the beta builds themseles via p2p. its what they did with vista if i remember correctly
    • Win 7

      Just for the heck of it, I've been running 7048
      on an old 2.4Ghz P4, with 2gig Ram. Not a
      single crash that I am aware of as a normal
      user (haven't really had time to drill down and
      check, or install benchmark utilities). And
      fast... not sluggish at all. I hated Vista, and
      switched back to XP. But so far, Win7 rocks.
      • Win7 is great

        I've thoroughly tested Win7 and find it to be a great OS that is significantly better than XP while being just as fast. That said, I'd like to put that in perspective.

        My two desktops (work and home) have uptimes of around thirty days and use 275-300MB with no applications running. Normal use floats around 400-800MB. The is maybe one application crash a week. These systems? The most recent versions of Debian (home) and Ubuntu (work).
    • I just installed 7048

      on the 8th of march on a machine I am using as
      my main computer (my other one broke :o( ) and
      it has been running 7 since October 2008. I did
      the upgrade way and I had 1 minor incident when
      my sound wasn't working. I am not sure what
      happened and I didn't have to reinstall the
      drivers but I got it working. I have had
      CThelper crash once (didn't know it happened
      until I opened Reliability Monitor)otherwise
      nothing since Oct 2008. I am very impressed
      with 7 as is. I have an Athlon 64X2 4400 with 3
      G 400mghz ram.
    • Windows 7 build 7057 - Portables

      A lot of the portable programs that I use did't work under Windows 7, so I continu using XP.
    • Windows 7 very stable. No BSOD's in any version I've used.

      I had Windows 7 Beta Build 7000 since its January release and just recently have been working with Build 7057. Not once in the entire 3 months that I've used Windows 7 have I ever experienced a BSOD. My brother is testing the beta on 2003/2004 Dell Optiplex MidTower on a single core Pentium 4 processor. Very similar to the Administration machines installed in Dallas ISD schools. So far, Windows 7 Beta build 7000 not only runs very well on 2003 Pentium 4 based hardware, it has not crashed ever.

      I've heard of some install crashes, but I've never heard of a legitimate install that has crashed. I suspect many of the people bashing Windows 7 claiming BSOD's have never used Windows 7, are fanboys of Macs or Linux, or are passing along heresay and innuendo. Now there were some reported instabilities in 7048, I've not heard of build 7048 crashing.

      Windows 7 will be a big success for Microsoft.

      I have to agree with others? WTH is up with the love affair with XP? XP was good, but became very troublesome from after 2002. XP requires tons of patching, constantly having to maintenance/upkeep it, and a general pain. I'm glad we're almost done with XP. Anyone holding on to it must be a fool. Anyone who can use XP can easily transition to Vista or 7 in 24 hours. All you have to do is quit trying to use Vista or 7 like XP. XP was never the end all or be all of Windows computing. Its sad that folks just can't learn to move on. Change is inevitable and it cannot be stopped.

      If you want to stay on an 8 year old OS designed for platforms 3 CPU generations ago, I just do not get the logic. Learn to change and grow up with the rest of PC users. We're in the 64 bit multi-core era. Windows was designed for the Pentium 3 and 4 era. All that Vista and 7 are is a variation of XP. If you can't change to it, thats more of a mental issue and not an OS issue. Seriously folks, lets move on here. I liked XP back in the day, but I switched in 2007 and have never looked back.
      Solid Jedi Knight
  • "Incredibly unstable" ...

    Hmmm ... that seems like an awfully blanket statement from PT ... I've got 7048 on four systems and 7057 on another two and I've not had any problems. In fact, I feel like refreshing my NC10 netbook which has Beta 1 on it with a later build because they're noticably faster and feel more robust.

    Then again .. I have a feeling that RC is not that far away :)
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Paul Thurrott is a joke

      Don't know why anyone would listen to his self-aggrandizing crap.
      • What about this guy ?

        <strong><a href=";jsessionid=DOOH5LVI25VAWQSNDLOSKHSCJUNN2JVN" target="_blank">"Living With Windows 7: Better, But Still Vista"</a></strong>

        <font color=#808080>"I've spent the last few months relying on Windows 7 as my primary computing platform for my home office. Like many former Vista users, I'm happy I made the transition. But <font color=#000000>Windows XP diehards may be harder to convince</font>.
        <font color=#000000>The plainer XP, on the other hand, still feels crisper, more precise.</font>
        Even with Windows 7's improvements, <font color=#000000>I still <strong>don't see many compelling reasons to upgrade</strong> existing machines from XP</font>."</font>