Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Windows 7 RC, One Month In

A month ago, not long after the RC was released, I wiped my ol’ Server 2003R2 notebook (yes), and installed Win7 x64. Time to try a consumer OS on the machine again, finally go 64-bit, and jump without a net (I had a big client demo coming up and decided it would be sink-or-swim with 7).

First, a word about this laptop. Bought in the holiday sale period of ‘07 just for client demos and occasional web surfing, it would take a whole new, um, “lower end” category of Microsoft “Shopper” commercials to capture the spirit of this baby: for $299 I got a mobile Celeron (1.6 GHz, one core, no HT) and 512MB of RAM. Billed as “Vista Basic Ready,” it was being discontinued due to … not really being Vista Basic Ready. Well, duh. I had given up on Vista after my 3.6GHz desktop choked on it, so I put another GB in the laptop and loaded Server 2003R2 (using unofficial XP drivers I grabbed off the net).

So … Windows 7.

Upon install, all of the hardware was supported perfectly, which isn’t a huge surprise since 7 uses Vista-era drivers and this hardware ensemble was originally targeted for Vista.

Except for a compatibility issue with AVG Anti-Virus (which I’ve written about before), it has worked almost perfectly with everything I’ve thrown at it – ranging from Office and Visual Studio 2008 to Alfresco Enterprise (yes, a Java server app), Google Earth, and Ruby. Overall performance has been excellent and better than I would have expected. No, I wouldn’t play games on this machine, and the 5400-rpm hard drive can be a drag just as it is on most laptops.

The two big negatives I’ve seen are as follows and will hopefully be fixed by RTM time.

First, there is a well-documented issue with WiFi. On a cold boot, Windows does just what you want it to do with the WiFi. But, after waking from sleep or hibernate, or trying to switch networks a few times, it just cannot seem to sort itself out. Most of the time you are forced to reboot to get a working connection. This bug is all over Microsoft’s Win 7 feedback forums, I’m just too lazy to look up a link right now. So hopefully it will get a fix.

Second, the integration with other default browsers (I use Chrome) is broken in a bunch of places. Many of the cases where the shell is called to supply a browser to a specific URL do not work (e.g., menu options in twhirl, connections to the web from Office Live). In addition, Windows doesn’t want to associate local .html (or .htm) files with Chrome. Sometimes I can get these things fixed, but then they revert (perhaps partly a result of Chrome’s auto-updates).

These cases all work fine on XP and don’t require in-process loading (suggesting it’s not a x86/x64 issue). It’s inconvenient, and the anti-trust folks will be back after Microsoft if they don’t make other browsers first-class citizens soon. So this bug should get squashed.

Aside from those two admittedly very annoying issues, this is a really solid, fast, and elegant operating system. How serious is the “Microsoft tax” issue on OEM PCs? I don’t know, but if I do pay such an implicit tax on a new machine, I’ll be a heck of a lot happier if I can get a Win 7 license out of the deal and not a Vista license for my trouble.


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