Summary: We're going to be testing Windows 7 beta with a high-end Core i7-965 PC, as well as a midrange Athlon X2 5000+ system. But before that Tom gives us his first impressions of the new beta!
Microsoft released the beta for Windows 7 over the weekend, the latest version of their ubiquitous operating system. Windows 7 is being built on the same architecture that is in Vista, albeit improved for greater security, performance, and support. Next week we will have a more in-depth performance preview of 7, but for now we thought we’d give you some rough impressions of what we’ve noticed so far.
We’ve actually installed it on two different systems of somewhat disparate architecture; a high-end Core i7 965 PC and a more mid-range Athlon X2 5000+ PC. Installation on both systems went fairly fast, averaging roughly 30-40 minutes between the two. We were surprised by the almost complete lack of prompts; in fact, Windows 7 only prompts you for information 5 times, depending on your setup. This makes installation a breeze and we had no problems getting both our systems up and running with minimal interaction. The final installation footprint at this time is roughly 18GB’s, so that makes it just a little bit larger than the default of Vista Ultimate.
Once we got to the desktop, we did the traditional thing of checking the device manager to see what still needed drivers and, much to our surprise, every hardware device was already installed! Even on Vista you would be expected to install drivers for a sound card, but the Windows 7 beta apparently has a decently sized driver database that accommodates a lot of the current hardware out there. We still updated our drivers if possible to the latest beta releases from NVIDIA and ATI, but it’s reassuring to know that our internet worked out of the box.
Another thing we noticed right off the bat is the UAC, or lack of it we should say. If you’ve used Vista, you know that the UAC prompts you for everything from installing programs to changing networking settings. Anything that involves changing a system setting, regardless of whether it is minor or major, usually warrants a corresponding prompt from the UAC. It’s like your parents calling your dorm room every 10 minutes after dropping you off at college, even though they’re barely off campus. Look, Microsoft, we understand you want to help, but we don’t think changing our homepage requires 2 prompts and a confirmation; you have to trust us at least a little bit.
As in Vista, the UAC can be disabled fairly simply and most users ended up doing just that. Still, it nice to know that Microsoft has listened to consumer complaints and toned down its pervasiveness a bit. It’s important to remember that the idea behind the UAC is a good one, to keep uninformed users from accidently installing malware on their systems. It’s just that its implementation needed some work and has apparently got it this time around.
Windows networking has been re-worked somewhat too and now includes a troubleshooting tool to help detect network connectivity problems. Now, when you change any network settings, Windows will automatically run the utility which we assume runs a series of basic ping and DNS tests to determine that everything is functioning properly. This should help alleviate the need for command prompts running ping requests and Internet Explorer windows when attempting to troubleshoot a networking problem.
Gadgets have also been re-tooled, as the Sidebar from Vista is gone and instead, gadgets are docked directly on the desktop. The gadgets also appear to use fewer resources, further demonstrating Windows 7’s supposed superior resource management.
Windows 7's interface overall is fairly similar to Vista, although the task bar has been re-worked somewhat. Now the system tray icons can be grouped together to keep the clutter down, while there are 3 default quick launch icons: Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player. The Show Desktop button has been moved all the way to the right of the clock by the system tray, which assures it is easily within reach and doesn’t get lost amongst your other quick launch icons. The default icon size is pretty big as Microsoft seems to have taken higher desktop resolution into consideration. Not a whole lot has been changed so far however, so if you didn’t like Vista’s interface, chances are you will not like Windows 7 either.
This is just a preview of what’s to come with Windows 7 and we promise to have some performance numbers for you as soon as we can. For now though, the main thing to take away is that overall usable performance seems to be snappier and boot times a little bit better than Vista. The interface is tweaked for better functionality, while the UAC has been toned down a bit, although it can still be a pain to deal with. One thing we have to mention is the default desktop resolutions.
By default, Windows 7 did not allow us to set our LCD’s native resolution of 1680 x 1050. First, we had to go into the screen resolution panel and click on Detect display. Otherwise, we were only allowed to select a few ‘safe’ resolutions. We assume this is Microsoft’s attempt at keeping users from running an unsafe resolution. Although it took a little bit of tweaking to get things visually correct, we won’t fault Microsoft for trying to ensure their large scale beta test didn’t turn into a large scale lawsuit aimed at replacing damaged monitors. Take a look at the Windows 7 gallery and let us know what you’d like us to test with the latest OS from Microsoft!
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