I have a tendency to be a bit behind the curve on some things.  For example, just last week I finally got a chance to load up Windows 7 for the first time.  My initial impression after a few days:  Wow.  No really . . .  WOW

I decided to sacrifice my Vista Ultimate box for the test.  Being a glutton for punishment, I did try an in-place upgrade of Windows Vista Ultimate (x86) to Windows 7.  The upgrade took an exceptionally long time, and ended up hanging on the last stage of the install as it was bringing back in my settings from my Vista installation.  I let it sit for 3hrs at that spot, noticing that the file count was not changing.  At that point, I cancelled the process and decided to do a clean install.  Since this is beta code of Windows 7, I’m not overly concerned about the upgrade failing.

First impression with the clean install was that it completed much faster than I remember a clean install of Windows Vista taking. 

So the install finished, I tweaked my SBS 2008 to allow me to connect Windows 7 using SBS 2008’s connect computer wizard, and joined to the domain.  I noticed that the SBS connect computer wizard was unable to rename the Windows 7 PC – again, being beta code I’m not overly concerned – especially since all other aspects of the wizard completed successfully and joined the machine to the domain.

I installed my normal applications: the Trend WFBS client, Office 2007 Ultimate, Peachtree 2008 Complete, Quicken 2007 Deluxe, Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Pro, Firefox, Windows Live utilities (Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, & Writer), and my Zune application.  All of them installed and have so far worked flawlessly.  The only issue I have encountered is with accessing AutoTask via IE8 in Windows 7 – the sub-toobar in the main application doesn’t fully display, and a toolbar in a few of the grid lists doesn’t display properly – Luckily AutoTask is still usable despite this.  The Windows 7 beta build that I’m running (7000) does not include the final IE8 bits, and IE8 has some unique features only available in Windows 7, so it’s not surprising that an extensive web application such as AutoTask might have a few unexpected behaviors in a beta browser on a beta OS 

So the big question in my mind before installing Windows 7 was how was it going to perform?  Especially since my test machine is about 3 years old and has modest specs: 

  • Single-core Intel P4 processor @ 3.6 GHz
  • 120 GB 7200 RPM SATA HDD
  • nVidia GeForce FX 5500 AGP video
  • 1GB DDR RAM @ 400 mHz

Yes – you read that right.  I was running Vista Ultimate on a PC with only 1GB RAM.  I told you I was a glutton for punishment . . .    And I’ll be honest – Vista ran decently on this box after some tweaking.  Startup & login was slow.  I couldn’t run the Windows Sidebar without the experience being painfully slow.  And even then, if I got multiple applications open, the system would slow down noticeably.  It wasn’t un-usable, but the various wait times were definitely noticeable.

So how does Windows 7 compare?  Wow.  Windows 7 running on the same box is noticeably faster than Vista was.  Obviously the Windows Sidebar is gone in Windows 7, with gadgets being directly integrated into the desktop.  I’m running several gadgets in Windows 7, and my usual contingent of multiple applications, and the performance is noticeably better.  Quite honestly, performance and responsiveness feels on par (if not a bit better) than XP Pro on this hardware.  Obviously this is anecdotal – and I haven’t done any sort of benchmark testing – just user impression.  Now admittedly there are a few spots where there is a noticeable delay – primarily opening Control Panel, and the Uninstall Program window.  It does seem faster than Vista, but not as fast as the rest of the Windows 7 experience.

After several days, I find that I’m quickly adapting to the changes in Windows 7:

  • Customizable power button on the Start Menu.  OK, this was a big annoyance for me in Vista.  I never Shut Down my machines – I normally lock or log off.  Now we can set the default action of the power button on the start menu.  Yay!
  • Quick Launch is gone:  Well, only sort of.  The separate Quick Launch toolbar is gone, but we have the ability to pin items to the taskbar, which effecitvely gives us the same functionality of launching applications.  The difference with pinning items to the taskbar is that the pinned items are not only shortcuts to launch those applications, but once launched the pinned item is the application on the taskbar. 
  • Aero Peek:   When similar application windows are grouped on the taskbar, you can hover your mouse of the application group on the taskbar and see previews of each window in the application group.  BUT – if you hover over one of the previews, you can peek at that window – effectively all windows minimize to only show you the window you are peeking.  Move your mouse away and you go right back to whatever active window you were working in.  This ROCKS – being able to reference other applications / windows without clicking and without losing your cursor / focus in your current application.  Another added bonus – if you have IE open with multiple tabs, you can actually peek at each individual tab – not just the current active tab in each IE window.  NICE!
  • Show Desktop:  Now instead of separate shortcut on the Quick Launch – we get a little slice to the far right of the task bar, just to the right of the clock.  Not only does this give us better utilization of the taskbar real estate, but we can also peek the desktop by hovering over this slice as well.  This is great when I want a quick glance at my calendar or weather gadgets.
  • Jump Lists.   After only a few days, I’m wondering how I ever lived without jump lists . . .   For example, the built-in Documents jump list can be customized to include multiple folders.  I’m using folder redirection to my SBS, and I also have my user share on the SBS as well.  When I open the documents jump list, it now shows me contents of both my redirected My Documents and my user share on my SBS – all in one view.
  • Taskbar context menus:  Right-clicking on certain items in the taskbar gives you access to relevant items.  For example, right-click on the Windows Explorer item, and you get a jump list showing your recent places.  You can also pin folders / jump lists to this jump list to quick & easy access to common places.  Also, right-clicking on the Internet Explorer taskbar item presents you with a jump list showing recent browsing history.

So far, the only hiccup I have ran in to is that for some reason I can’t seem to create a network location pointing to a SharePoint site or library.  This isn’t a show stopper to prevent me from using Windows 7 – but something I’d like to figure out.  Overall, my experience with Windows 7 has been positive enough that I decided to try loading Windows 7 on my trusty 4 year old Acer TravelMate C310 laptop as well.  I had tried running Vista on this machine previously – but reverted back to XP shortly thereafter.  With a mobile processor and 1 GB RAM, Vista just wasn’t usable on that machine – and I couldn’t get the Aero display to work with the built-in graphics.  I did a clean install of Windows 7 on the laptop this weekend and again – WOW.  The performance matches XP on the same hardware.  The bulk of the hardware devices were detected automatically (although I did have to install Vista drivers for the Bluetooth adapter, card reader, and Intel 2200 b/g wireless adapter) – but that went off without a hitch.  And surprisingly – the Aero display works as well!

I’ve also found blog posts here & here explaining some additional functionality, improvements, & usability enhancements that are coming with the RC release. 

To summarize – I find that I’m actually excited about Windows 7 – in a way I wasn’t excited about Vista.  Not only that, but I can see myself easily recommending this upgrade to clients still holding on to Windows XP . . .