So, it is October and Windows 7 is scheduled to launch later this month (10/22). Rumor has it that Windows 7 is the best operating system that Microsoft has ever produced. Other folks joke that given the low quality of the other operating systems that Microsoft has produced, it wouldn’t take much to produce the best one yet. Regardless of the statements and the hype, I’m excited to get a look at this new OS. Why? Mainly because I’m running Windows Vista at home on my media center pc and it is fraught with problems. Given that Windows 7 is “The Best Ever OS” it’s got to be better than Vista, right? Lets hope so.
I am fortunate to have been selected by Microsoft to host a Windows 7 Launch Party. Microsoft teamed with House Party to promote their new operating system by throwing Tupperware(TM) like parties all over the US. What this means for me is a free copy of Windows 7 Ultimate that I can use during my party to show off some of the new and improved features of Windows 7. After the party, I just get to keep the OS and continue to use it. I’m really looking to Windows 7 for the enhancements to the Media Center application. As I mentioned before, I use my pc as a media center computer running my television. It receives the television stations, plays my DVD/blu-ray disks and provides my web access as well.
Some of the problems I’ve encountered with the Vista version of Media Center is that it will fail to identify and update the television guide properly. It also has a tendency to stop recognizing one of my television tuner cards in the pc. Of course, you don’t know that any of these things have happened until the point that you expect something to record and find that it didn’t. Other issues with Media Center on Windows Vista include problems with the “Internet TV” option not playing, the window not refreshing properly, jumpiness in the display and other minor things that tend to drive you crazy over time.
As I said, I am looking forward to the new release and my Windows 7 launch party. I’ll post an update once I get it and start using the new OS. If you are ready to get your copy of Windows 7 now, you can pre-order it on Amazon here.
10/13/2009 – It has arrived and I got it installed last night. My first impressions? Here are a few. First, it is important to note that I haven’t had much of a chance to play around with it too much yet. I rushed to get it installed and the critical applications back up and running. The ultimate version which I received allows you to perform an upgrade from Windows Vista or to perform a full new install. I originally opted to do an upgrade which should have prevented me from losing all of my installed applications and data. When I started that, the Setup instructed me to uninstall a few apps that wouldn’t be compatible with Windows 7. These apps were the ATI applications that drive my video and TV Tuner boards installed in the machine. I started to worry a bit! The setup also told me that some functionality was going to be disable. I’m not really sure why, but that is what it told me. So, then I opted for doing a full new install. Yes, reinstalling all of my applications is a pain, but it is good to get a fresh start sometimes too. My PC has been suffering from left overs (applications that get installed, used once or twice and then get forgotten). This was a chance to clear all of those out and only get the software on there that I need.
The full install, true to its word, wiped out all of my existing data and applications (make sure you have a backup before starting). It took a decent amount of time to get fully through the installation before I was actually able to start playing around (over 1 hr). I got nervous when I started up the Windows Media Center to take a look at the new features and found that neither of my TV Tuner cards were recognized or working. I did some searching for drivers on my manufacturer’s website but without any success. No Windows 7 drivers were listed. I then tried the Windows Vista drivers, and while they installed, they didn’t allow Win 7 to see or use my tuners. Ready to give up, I tried what Windows recommended from the start, which was to run the Windows Update. This has never worked for me in the past when related to hardware issues. However, much to my surprise, the windows updated identified that I needed ATI drivers, downloaded and installed then and everything was up and running after the 15 minute update!!! I was a happy guy!
My quick thoughts on the new OS…
- I like the new task bar that only shows icons instead of the full application name. However, my wife’s first comments were, “I don’t know that those icons mean.” I think this will grow on her once she starts using it.
- Some of the most prevalent and annoying issues in Media Center look to be resolved. The Internet TV was quick and responsive. The guide actually shows meaningful channel numbers and the content for the alternate stations (11.2, 11.3, etc) is accurate instead of just repeating what was on the primary channel.
- The desktop themes and backgrounds are entertaining. This is certainly not a necessity, but I did find myself spending 15 minutes going through the different themes and backgrounds saying, “Oh, that’s neat.” or “Hey, look at this!”.
I still have a good bit of customizing to do to get things back to where I want them, but overall, I’m fairly impressed with the new OS. I’ll continue to provide updates as I go.
Day two and I’ve gotten a chance to play around a bit more. So far, no major problems. I’ve been going through and reinstalling software on the machine, which means I’ve had to do a lot of reboots. I seem to recall a few years back Microsoft promised to reduce the number of reboots required with the Vista OS. I have yet to see that happen so much and it looks like it is still required with Windows 7.
Playing in Windows Media Center, the program is 50 times better than it was in the Vista version. Channels show up properly, the jumping appears to be gone, more information is available for TV stations and programs and the menus are aligned a bit more logically. One strange thing that I’ve noticed is that for the Internet TV, series (such as Arrested Development) are actually arranged in episodes and acts. So instead of just seeing episode 1, 2, 3, etc. You see episode 1 – act 1, episode 1 – act 2, episode 1 – act 3. Each episode usually contains 3 acts. I watched an episode last night and had to start each act individually. So to watch one episode of Arrested Development, I had to start act 1. Then when that finished, I had to start act 2, and then into act 3. I also ran into one episode where an act was missing. Maybe I’m missing something, but that appeared to be the only way to view the episodes. I can see how this could be handy if you need to start in the middle of an episode, but if you are just looking to watch the entire episode, it is a bit annoying.
Last night I continued to play around with the new Windows 7 OS. On my computer, I have an attached external USB drive. I use this drive to store all of my critical files because it supports a RAID1 configuration. Since this is where all of my data is, I share the drive out in order to access and update the information from my laptop via the network. Last night I setup this drive and the sharing. When doing this on Windows Vista, I found myself stumbling to try to understand Vista’s security and how to enable other pc’s to access and update. It became a series of trial and error to get everything working. Once it was working, I wasn’t convinced that it was as secure as I wanted it, but I was afraid to change any additional settings. This wasn’t the case at all with Windows 7. Yes, Windows 7 still offers just as much security as Vista, but the process was much smoother. After indicating that I wanted to Share the drive, Windows 7 told me that I had to enable some advanced sharing options and it pointed me right to them. The wording and explanations provided were clear and understandable. I think this is where Vista failed before. It seemed to be the same process, but Vista wouldn’t point you to the advanced sharing options and it wouldn’t clearly explain the effect of the changes. You had to make the changes, but it wouldn’t tell you that, almost as if it was afraid someone might actually turn sharing on and create a security problem. When I started setting up the shared drive and the various shared folders on it, I was finished within 15 minutes. Best yet, when I went to the other pc and laptop that make use of this connection, there were no changes that I had to do to them. They just picked up the new shares just like they always have. The Windows 7 upgrade was completely transparent to those computers.
Since I have the shared drive running off of this computer, I want to make sure that the computer stays available at all times. By default, after installing Windows 7, the computer was set to go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity. This is something that my computer has never been happy with. With Vista, I couldn’t get it to wake back up. I’d press the Power button, and it would appear to start back up, but I’d end up with a black display. I’d then have to hold the power button in and then restart a second time. With Windows 7, it started right back up, as it is supposed to. However, since I don’t want the pc to sleep, I went into the Control Panel and the power management options and disabled it. Everything is working as expected now and the PC won’t go into sleep mode.