Saturday, August 22, 2009

Windows 7 - Nothing to Write Home About

A few of my co-workers had been playing around with Windows 7 for the past few months, so I finally bit the bullet myself and upgraded one of my machines to the RTM code, specifically the 32-bit Ultimate version. Before the install I had to make the always difficult choice of performing a fresh install or upgrading from my current OS (Vista Ultimate). I decided on the latter, because I was feeling lazy and didn't want to bother with figuring out all the apps that needed to be re-installed, configuring them correct post-install, etc. This actually turned out to be a mistake, which I will talk more about in a second. I was also disappointed to discover that there was no option to upgrade directly to the 64-bit version of Windows 7 from my 32-bit Vista, although I guess in putting on my techie hat and thinking about this more I have to admit it would be a difficult process for Microsoft to pull off.

The actual upgrade process itself is easily the most straightforward and hassle-free upgrade that Microsoft has ever come up with for any of its operating systems, so congratulations are in order here. Once the upgrade begins you're asked just a minimal amount of questions and once the process gets going it's pretty much hands-off until it completes. One of the really nice things it does right at the beginning of the process is take inventory of all your applications and tells you which ones it thinks has known issues and what the workarounds might be, along with other warnings. For example, even though iTunes is compatible with Windows 7 it reminded me that I should deauthorize my machine from iTunes before the upgrade and reauthorize it afterwards. I've often forgotten to do this, so that was a great reminder!

Anyway, I began the upgrade around 11pm and things were chugging along pretty well, but at around midnight or so I hit upon what I thought was a major snag. The upgrade was in the final step, which was titled something like "transferring program files and settings". The progress bar had gotten "stuck" at 42%, and didn't move at all for the next hour and a half or so, though you could still hear constant disk activity on my machine. Feeling a bit panicked I did a bunch of Google searches on the problem and found that a number of other users had come across the same issue. Some of them decided to just abandon the process and reboot their machines...fortunately, the install process detects this and restores the prior OS properly, according to the reports I read. Others claimed that the upgrade will actually complete given enough time and patience. Since it was nearly 2am by now and I was getting sleepy, I decided to take the "hope and pray" approach and went to bed.

Fortunately, when I got up the next morning my prayers were answered and the install completed successfully - all I needed to perform was one final reboot. So now this begs the question...Is Windows 7 really worth the upgrade? I would have to say that generally speaking the answer is no. Probably the biggest benefit I've seen so far is that fact that the OS loads a fair amount quicker and generally speaking apps seem to be more responsive when compared to running under Vista. It seems like Microsoft devoted much of its efforts to streamlining the OS and making it less resource intensive. Outside of the performance improvements I think the other changes are relatively minor and are mainly UI tweaks...In fact, I can't even think of a single "must have" feature that the OS provides. Check out Engadget's Windows 7 review for more specifics on all the new features.

The other problem I ran into is that several of my applications no longer worked correctly post-upgrade. These were mainly shareware-type applications that installed their own device drivers, and for the most part all it took was a simple uninstall/reinstall for the app to begin working correctly again. Some apps require being run in "compatibility mode" in order to work correctly, and Windows 7 provides a nice wizard to help you select which mode to run in. I only have one application, Acronis TruImage, that doesn't run 100% correctly.

In conclusion, here are my recommendations for those of you considering the upgrade:
  • If you are already running Vista and are happy with its performance, stick with it unless you just need to have the latest and greatest.
  • If you're stuck on XP and haven't upgraded to Vista because of its stiff hardware requirements and/or were concerned about performance, Windows 7 might be the ticket here.
  • If you do decided to upgrade, do so by performing a fresh install. Even though you'll have to hassle with reinstalling your applications, I think at the end of the day it will be less time consuming for you.