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Ari's laptop came with Windows Vista and it's been a big pain in the ass all along. It had so many problems that it wouldn't take Microsoft's updates. Now that Microsoft shipped me a release version of Windows 7, I decided to give it a try and fix up Ari's laptop at the same time, since a re-install was due anyway.
The Upgrade Process
First off, I backed up all of Ari's stuff, expecting to have to reformat the drive. I booted with the Windows 7 dvd and tried to "upgrade" -- but it said I couldn't do that. I had to insert the dvd while the old OS was running. When I tried that, it said I couldn't upgrade from Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Professional. Ok, it was worth a try. I booted to the DVD again and started the fresh install process.
Once started, the install went pretty quickly. Some nice surprises, as well. It renamed the old "Windows" directory to "Windows.OLD", but it also moved the old "Program Files" and "Documents and Settings" folders there as well. This resulted in a very clean new install of Windows 7, but with all the old data still available. Once I set up the new User account, I was able to move all the existing data from the old user account so I didn't have to restore from backup. After figuring out how to view hidden files (more on that later), I was even able to move over the settings files for Pidgin, and the profile folder for Firefox. Once I was done re-installing software, I removed the entire Windows.Old directory -- with all the old software and un-needed profile settings.
RESULT: Overall, most people should be able to "Upgrade", but remember that if you're not going from a compatible version of Vista to a similar version of Windows 7, you'll end up having to re-install your software and that is time consuming, and sometimes difficult with all the licensing. Power users may be able to retain some settings and files but it requires some knowledge to get right.
The initial install left me with a few missing drivers - in particular the laptop's ATI video card. Once the laptop was on the net, however, I was able to select the devices in the device manager and Windows 7 was able to find and download those drivers from the Microsoft site. It was, however, extremely slow. When attempting to get drivers for our HP Photosmart printer, I first went to HP's driver site. Their Vista drivers will not install as they don't recognize Windows 7 as a supported OS. The HP site has a statement saying Windows 7 comes out on October 22nd, and HP is not providing drivers for any test versions. After October 22nd, they'll announce drivers as they become ready. After a bit of poking around, however, I found a chart that showed which drivers were to be supported and how. The chart showed that the drivers I needed were to be bundled with Windows 7. After seeing that, I set about manually installing the network printer port then selecting the HP driver I needed specifically. It worked, and the problem was resolved.
RESULT: Overall, driver support is good -- but if you're doing this yourself, you probably want to either get drivers ahead of time, or be pretty good at knowing how to go back and replace them after an install.
What it's like to use
The important part now - how is it to use. This is the best news, if you're a PC person and not a Mac person. Windows 7 is what Vista should have been. It feels well integrated and organized. The controls are styled clearly and fairly well labeled. Cryptic icon-only buttons for things like shut down are replaced with more meaningful icons and text. Most important, the crazy, disconnected, chaotic feel of Vista's myriad components never quite seeming to know what the others were doing is gone. That's all good news.
What I did find troublesome was that Windows 7 is still very obviously derived from Vista, in how it "Protects You" from yourself. If you're not content to simply let Windows 7 decide everything -- if you want to be able to manage and change program settings in their hidden configuration folders -- you'll find yourself having to do a bit of work beating the operating system into submission. I suspect 90% of users will never run into this, but for those of us who prefer to customize things, who prefer to fix our own problems -- it's going to take some getting used to.
The UI is very nice to look at and feels reasonably snappy. TCP/IP networking is much better optimized so no more adjustments to the receive window size or the mtu discovery settings every time you're on a new network. The desktop gadgets, while still minimal, are quite functional and there are a lot of neat little UI enhancements I haven't had time to play with yet. I don't much like the way the start menu works, though you can actually use it much more like "Launchy" instead and that works ok.
RESULT: Overall, it's a winner so far. It will take some getting used to. Things aren't where they were in XP and some of the more advanced configuration changes you may want to make will be buried a bit deeper. As an operating system to carry Windows users to new machines, however, it looks like Windows 7 is going to do just fine.
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