Thursday, November 06, 2008

Windows 7 Puts on a Good Show

I took Windows 7 for a quick test drive yesterday. My main goal was to see whether the performance would be so brutally bad as to make me relive my Vista experience.

For those who haven't read my Vista posts, the short version is: early Microsoft developer releases had unbearably bad performance; Microsoft made excuses ("debug build" etc.); turns out the RTM was nearly as bad. I made an honest attempt to run Vista but, as a developer, I just couldn't bear the excruciating waiting, knowing that I could be screaming along in XP. I run XP (or Server) to this day for my development.

Just the Vista-like look of the early Windows 7 bits made me anxious -- I wasn't expecting a lot. I set it up in a VMWare VM with 768 MB of RAM and no VMWare tools (= minimal video perf) in order to torture the OS. Naturally, things would be better running on the metal in a new machine designed for Win 7.

Install was very fast and seamless. I could see a difference right away in perf: even the shell in Vista runs slow, and this one was snappy. I saw the new-and-removed UAC, and I liked.

To add some more load, I installed Visual Studio 2008, which is a fairly heavy app. In addition, it was Visual Studio that had made me give up on Vista in 2007, so I thought it was fitting to try it again.

Inside Visual Studio, I opened a WPF windows project. Mucked around with the GUI editors, built, debugged ... and it cruised along nicely in the VM. Next, I set up an ASP.Net web project, and got that going in debug mode with the integrated server. Finally I started to feel some minor slowdown -- but it appeared I was running out of RAM with my 768MB VM. This was not a huge shock, since my install of Win 7 was consuming about 450MB RAM at idle, with no user apps running.

The 450MB RAM usage is a little disturbing, but, hey, even fast RAM is cheap. And my Server 2008 setup was idling at about 350MB with few services enabled, so I suppose this usage is to expected.

Overall, I was very happy with my Win 7 preview. I could see myself actually using this as my OS and not cursing all the time, which was a pleasant surprise.

The big unanswered, and unanswerable, question is: how similar will this experience be to the final RTM of Windows 7?

On one hand, Microsoft might have released this preview "stripped down" -- either to make it run better on today's hardware, or just because the additional components with which it will ship are not yet ready for public consumption. In that case, future builds might be slower.

On the other hand, still smarting from Vista, Microsoft might adjust the previews in the opposite direction -- a sort of "under-promise, over-deliver" thing -- lest anyone see a later build and say anything except "wow this is fast."

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