Windows 7 beta 1 review

Windows 7 beta 1 review

Summary: I've now had my hands on Windows 7 beta 1 build 6.1.7000.0.081212-1400 (the build that is widely expected to be made available to beta testers by Microsoft early in January) and have had some time to compose my thoughts and feelings about this latest release.

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I've now had my hands on Windows 7 beta 1 build 6.1.7000.0.081212-1400 (the build that is widely expected to be made available to beta testers by Microsoft early in January) and have had some time to compose my thoughts and feelings about this latest release.

Gallery: Windows 7 beta 1 27-12-2008-13-58-23.png

Beta 1 is very similar to M3 builds

The first thing that's striking about Windows 7 beta 1 is how similar it is to the M3 builds that I've been using since October. In fact, put builds 6801 and 7000 beta 1 side-by-side and you might be hard pressed to spot the difference (especially if you activated the Blue Badge features). This means that if you've been following Windows 7 builds then when you get your hands on the beta you'll be pretty familiar with the beta. The flip-side is that I've got fewer new things to show you! 

win7beta1sm_002.png

It's unusual not to be faced with heaps of new features with each build - it's almost as though Microsoft had a plan for Windows 7 right from the start, baked these features into the early M3 build and have since been working on refining these features. This is an interesting approach that seems to have resulted in the best beta build of an OS from Microsoft that I've ever seen (and I've seen a LOT of beta builds!). Wow!

Installation

Installing Windows 7 beta 1 is faster and simpler than installing Windows Vista or Windows XP on a system.

There are fewer steps to work through, the installation is overall much faster than for earlier Microsoft operating systems (I can get Windows 7 onto most systems in about 25 minutes, on a powerful system the install process will take less than 20 minutes), and there are fewer obstacles between the user and the OS once it's installed (for example, gone is that annoying post-install performance test).

win7beta1sm_004.png

Revamped desktop

On meeting Windows 7 for the first time the first thing that you'll notice is the revamped desktop. Let's take a quick look at some of the features:

win7beta1sm_022.png

  • New taskbar Oddly enough, the first thing that you're likely to notice about Windows 7 is also the bit that I like the least. The new revamped taskbar is visually very interesting (and certainly a lot easier to use at higher screen resolutions that the Vista or XP taskbar), but it tries to do too much and as such comes across as kludgey and counter-intuitive. One failure is that it's hard to tell the difference between apps that are running and shortcuts that have been pinned to the taskbar. It also incorporates the new Jump Lists feature which acts as a context-sensitive menu for applications. Problem is that there's very little rhyme or reason to what to expect from Jump Lists, making them awkward to use in the real world.
  • Aero Snap Aero Snap is a simple little feature that I find myself using all the time. This is a gestures driven method of organizing Windows. Drag a window to the top of the screen and the app is maximized. Drag it to the side and you get it to tile to one half of the screen. Drag the app away from the top of the screen to restore it. It's a very handy feature indeed, especially for people who work with multiple applications.
  • Aero Peek Ever wanted to see what was on your desktop without minimizing all your applications? Aero Peek is the feature for you. Mouse over the small area on the right-hand side of the taskbar and you get a glimpse of what's on your desktop, allowing you to see shortcuts and gadgets. Aero Peek is of limited usefulness though since you can't interact with anything on the desktop because as soon as you move the mouse off the Peek spot the applications all return.
  • Personalizations If you like to customize your Windows experience then you'll appreciate some of these changes. Not only does Windows 7 come with several ready-made themes that include specific background images, colors, sounds and screensavers, there are also themes that make use of a desktop slideshow to continually change the desktop image.

Next -->

Applications

Windows 7 has a far fewer applications to look at than XP and Vista. Gone are applications such as Windows Mail, Windows Messenger, Movie Maker and so on. Anyone wanting apps of this sort will need to download then via Windows Live Essentials.

win7beta1sm_039.png

Paint and Wordpad now incorporate the Ribbon UI found in Microsoft Office and seem to have received a little TLC by Microsoft programmers.

Internet Explorer 8 will be the browser that Microsoft wants you to use with Windows 7. It's far better than earlier incarnations of IE but still falls short when compared to other browsers.

Windows Media Player is also vastly improved, but as with IE, you'll either use it or have a third-party app that you use instead.

Media Center sees a few new tweaks, most noticeably a "Getting Started" feature aimed at new users.

Hardware and software compatibility

Microsoft does seem to have kept to its word when it claimed that what worked for Vista should work for Windows 7. I have run across some software issues (which I believe are related to UAC - User Account Control - changes in Windows 7) but since developers haven't yet seen a beta these sorts of issues are to be expected and I'm sure most will be fixed within weeks of beta 1 being officially released.

win7beta1sm_039.png

I've had no noteworthy issues relating to hardware, although drivers that officially support Windows 7 are still a while off so I've been sticking with Microsoft drivers. I expect hardware vendors to start getting Windows 7 drivers out soon after the official release of Windows 7.

Microsoft demoed some cool stuff at PDC relating to Device Stage, but I've not yet come across anything that kicks it into life.

win7beta1sm_050.png

If you do run into problems with Windows 7 then you get access to the new Troubleshooter that attempts to diagnose and fix problems. It's not perfect, but it's a darn sight better than any troubleshooter previously shipped with Windows.

Closing thoughts

I like Windows 7, a lot. Microsoft seems to have put a lot of effort into developing a core operating system that is free from the pointless frills of the likes of XP and Vista. The OS is solid and fast and based on what I've seen so far I'd have no problems in rolling out beta 1 and using it daily.

I am concerned about the new taskbar. I hope that Microsoft is receiving constructive feedback on this feature and working to improve it for the release candidate version of Windows 7. The new taskbar isn't a deal-breaker for me, but I do feel that it's the least refined part of Windows 7.

I can't wait until the official release of Windows 7 beta 1 so that you folks out there can tell me what you think of it.

[UPDATE: Paul Thurrott offers some adice to Microsoft on tweaking the taskbar by changing the default settings. I agree with him, the tweaked taskbar is a lot better.

Default:

win7taskbartweak1_-sm.png 

Customized:

win7taskbartweak2_-sm.png 

Much better.]

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Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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237 comments
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  • Registry?

    It is my understanding that Windows 7 still uses the Registry.
    The feature of Windows that I most despise.
    If this is true, then what is the point of Windows 7 ?
    davebarnes
    • Backwards Compatability

      You can't maintain near 99% backwards compatability and remove the registry. You'd have near 1% compatability, if that.

      The POINT of Windows 7 is a minor point release. Fix issues from prior NT series releases (XP, 2003, Vista, 2008), implement newer technologies (USB 3.0, Bluetooth 2.1), some new features, and a key feature... modularization. Splitting the kernal into modules that are independant and therefore use less resouces when features aren't installed or aren't running.
      timber2008
      • There is another way to achieve backward compatibility

        It is to build a virtualisation layer acting in a completely transparent way for the users.
        Unfortunately, i don't think that Microsoft will use such solution until at least Windows 8 which is supposed to be the first 64 bits only Windows client O.S.
        I think that Microsoft should have used this solution with Vista and remove once for all the registry from the system.
        Alas Windows team was not visionnary enough or lacked the freedom to do so.
        timiteh
        • Really????

          "Windows 8 which is supposed to be the first 64 bits only Windows client O.S."
          WELL IT'S ABOUT TIME!!!!
          They should have made Vista a 64bit only OS
          (Cause anyone who wanted to use it had to buy a new comp that was almost guaranteed to be 64bit, and if they did buy a new one, then they already had one that was!)
          co-eddy
          • Really

            Well, the problem with Microsoft is that they want people to upgrade ,even when their hardware is not up to the task, and to please their partners hardware ,even when the hardware they wich to sell is underpowered,like Intel IGP.
            Because of that there have been the 32 bits version of Vista and there will be the 32 bits of Windows 7.
            Because of this there has been the whole Vista capable fiasco.
            I personnaly see only one reason to have a 32 bits version of Windows 7:
            A Windows 7 netbook edition
            timiteh
      • RE: Windows 7 beta 1 review

        @timber2008
        Thank God for W7. After the nightmare that was Vista this OS is a real breath of fresh air. It brings MS out of the dark ages and right up the OSX.
        <a rel="dofollow" title="Cannabis Seeds" href="http://original-ssc.com/">cannabis seed</a>
        Cannabis Seed
    • So what specifically do you despise...

      ...about the registry?

      Seriously. Comments like yours are pointless unless you state what the issue is.
      Sleeper Service
      • Perhaps he is talking of the Windows rot ?

        The Windows rot is certainly the main disadvantage of having the registry as a core feature of Windows.
        I have personnaly have much less troubles with Windows rot since i use Vista but i can't deny that this problem still exits.
        timiteh
        • What Windows rot?

          Seriously? Never had it on Vista.
          Sleeper Service
          • Ya need to use it a little bit

            just letting the screensaver run isn't enough. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Yes seriously

            I have used at least 3 desktop and 4 laptops with Vista and there is definitevily a Windows rot for most of them.
            It is not as bad as with XP but it is still there.
            timiteh
          • So use CCleaner...

            ...problem solved.
            Sleeper Service
          • Use an alternative O/S that just works.

            Problem solved.
            fr0thy2
          • I already use it

            :)
            timiteh
          • Please detail this "rot" and how it negatively affects Windows.

            Enough with the vagueness. Details please. How does the registry "rot"? Please provide numbers to support your claim.
            ye
          • That simple

            We currently have 2 desktop PC at home:
            The main PC is not affected by this "rot" but it has a Q6600 CPU and 4 GB of RAM and tons of hard disk space whom most is free thanks to strong the policy management policy i put on it and a 1 TB external hard disk connected to it for multimedia storage and backups.This one has always been lightning fast.

            The second PC is a P4 with 1 GB of RAM which is slower that it was once i install SP1 on it.
            By that time it was fast and very responsive.
            Now it is clearly slower and less responsive.
            It is not incredibly slow but it is not fast enough either.And lags for things which should be lightning fast ,represents something i strongly dislike.
            Assuming that the only significant change has been the insane amount of applications installed and uninstalled, the most obvious reason for this slowdown is the infamous Windows rot.

            We also use 4 laptops at home.
            I will consider 2 Acer of exactly the same model.
            They were bought together,came with the same O.S,Vista Home Premium, and were upgraded to SP1 the same day.
            One,my mom laptop, has been as fast and as responsive since it has been updated to SP1.
            The second,my younger brother laptop, is becoming clearly slower and less responsive.
            My mom uses her laptop only for office task and barely install or uninstall application.
            My younger brother ,on the other hand, has been installing and uninstalling applications at a frightening rate and has been using for laptop for anything he has been able to ,besides gaming and video editing.

            All the slow downed PC get a bit faster after cleaning session with CCleaner so if you think of something else than Windows rot which could slow them down then let me know.
            timiteh
          • @timiteh: I saw no details.

            When I say details I want to see performance data to back up the slow down. Things like "Clearly slower and less responsive" are meaningless. How much slower? How much longer does it take to retrieve a value from the registry now compared to when Windows was first installed? How much longer to write a value? How much larger is the registry now compared to when the system was new?
            ye
          • Well

            The kind of benchmarks you ask to ,would show close to nothing in term of both responsiveness and overall speed of the O.S from the end user point of view.

            However when we use the 2 laptops for exactly the same thing my brother laptops tends to lag when my mom laptops almost doesn't lag at all.
            Without other applications launched and with almost exactly the same services running,IE can need several seconds to open on my laptops brother while it opens almost instantaneously on my mom laptops.
            The same is true for MS office applications and Windows media player.
            As they are the only similar applications installed on both laptops and frequently used, this mean that from the end user point of view my brother laptops is slower than my mom laptop.
            timiteh
          • @timiteh: The benchmarks I ask for would support your claim.

            [i]However when we use the 2 laptops for exactly the same thing my brother laptops tends to lag when my mom laptops almost doesn't lag at all.[/i]

            Which could be explained by any number of reasons that are not Windows "rot" related.
            ye
          • Don't be lazy.... Google it!

            It's well documented and you've never used a Windows system for any length of time if you haven't experienced it.
            awasson@...