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Windows 7 after the dust settled

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It’s been a little more than a week since the full retail release of Windows 7, and while most readers of this site have likely been running it since the first beta was released publicly in the spring, there were still a few surprises for me when I installed my final retail copies, so I thought it would be worth looking back now that the dust has settled.

MACHINES

I had two machines in line for Windows 7 upgrades:

  • A Compaq desktop running an AMD Athlon dual core with 3GBs of RAM. This is my media center machine with a dual-tuner Hauppauge HVR-1600 and a dual-tuner Aver-Media Combo G2. It also has a NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT.
  • A HP laptop also with a AMD processor. This machine is at least three years old and had grown exceedingly slow in Vista. We’re talking boot times greater than 7 minutes and shut down around that same mark.

INSTALLS

The first machine to get the Windows 7 treatment was my media center PC. I had been running the RTM already on this machine, but once I got my retail copy for my Windows 7 House Party I installed the 64-bit Ultimate version.

I did an upgrade from the Vista partition. Rather than an “in-place” upgrade, I did a custom install and wiped the whole thing for a fresh install. I spent several days backing up pictures, recorded TV and other important settings before going ahead with the install. I also deleted the partition that had Windows 7 RTM on it.

All told, the upgrade took a couple hours, but certainly could have been done quicker had I not been chasing a 10-month old around the basement while the install was running. No problems or hiccups during the install. The same could be said for the laptop, my wife’s work machine. The install took a bit longer, not quite twice as long but close. Again, I did a custom install in order to get a fresh copy on the machine.

(Note: When I say custom install, I don’t mean using the double install trick to do a clean install, but choosing “Custom Install” from the install options.)

Post-Install – Media Center Machine

The first thing I noticed when I finished the install was that my hard drive space was cut in half. After a brief moment of panic, I remembered that when you do this type of install, Windows creates a Windows.old folder with all of your old content in it. Turns out I didn’t need to spend the time backing everything up, because it was all still there. Can’t hurt to be safe though. This made replacing my pictures, music and recorded TV much easier. One I moved things around, I was able to delete the Windows.old folder and reclaim some disk space.

Wither photo wall. We'll miss you.

Wither photo wall? We’ll miss you.

My first big issue with the retail version was the removal of the photo wall from extenders like the Xbox 360. My wife especially loved the photo wall effect while listening to music on our main TV. This did hurt WAF a bit. I still can’t find out why it was removed. Some people tell me it’s been gone for a while, but I confirmed on a friend’s machine that was still running RTM that it was there. There were a few small bugs with it, but certainly nothing that struck me as a deal-breaker. Hopefully it’s out for tweaking and will be replaced at sometime.

The only other new issue is that I can’t seem to record two HD shows at the same time without one of the recordings suffering from severe stutter and frame loss. There could be several reasons for this: new driver issues for the tuner cards, 3GB of RAM not being enough now that I’m running 64-bit, or simply issues with my cable signal.

I bring up the signal issues because my CW station (channel 20.1 in Detroit) now displays a “signal scrambled” error message when I try to watch it. Additionally, Comcast has begun changing all its analog stations to digital recently, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that switch was causing some issues. More testing is needed before I can pinpoint the issue, but currently it’s only been on ABC on Thursdays.

Outside those two issues, I’ve had no other problems on this machine.

Post-install – Laptop

Things were a bit different on my wife’s laptop. Windows chose to install a USB mouse driver for the laptop’s touchpad, leading to a couple of frustrating days of random cursor jumping before I installed a new driver thanks to some tips from friends on Twitter (@edbott, I’m talking to you).

The other main issue was the lack of an email client with Windows 7. I knew ahead of time that this was the case, and honestly never thought it would be an issue. What I failed to recognize was that Windows Mail, which my wife was using in Vista, was not available for download for Windows 7. Windows Live Mail was the solution Microsoft offered as part of its Live Essentials package.

Since I exported and backed up all her messages from Vista in Windows mail format, I had to install Live Mail (which I had no interest in using), import the messages, and then export them to exchange format in order to import them into Outlook 2007. This was a pretty big headache for my wife. She had gotten pretty used to Windows Mail and is still getting used to Outlook and all its extra features.

Those two problems led to this Twitter post from my wife: “can’t even type a twitter status. my computer has made me cry 3 times in 1 hour. i hate windows 7.”

Other issues included Windows failing to find a driver for the video card on initial install. It took a round of Windows Update for that to happen and the stock photo viewer in Windows 7 not having the editing features that my wife had grown used to in Vista. A trip to the Live Essentials download page fixed that, but the new viewer has some bloat on it that more gets in the way than anything.

Things have gotten much better since the Twitter post, but she’s still having to get used to doing things a bit different than she had been used to. Who would have thunk it, someone who had gotten used to Vista and liked it! Much like my desktop I backed everything up ahead of time even though I knew the Windows.old folder would be created. Can’t hurt to be safe, especially on your wife’s computer! I’ve since deleted that folder on this machine as well.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I think the process went pretty well. A bit more preparation on my part for the laptop would have saved me some time, and the loss of the photo wall was pretty disappointing. I’m liking the media streaming features in Windows Media Player 12, allowing me to listen to all my music on my home machine from work or potentially watch recorded TV while on the road. And I’ve still never gotten the “play-to” feature working in my house.

In the end, I’m not sure how much more Microsoft could have done to make the process run any better though. What’s your experience been like? Let us know in the comments.

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