Windows 7 beta: first impressions


A while ago, I recieved an email from Microsoft inviting me to collect a copy of the Windows 7 beta, so fired up Safari on my MacBook Pro… to see the website get stuck. Not a good start!

Switching to Firefox soon solved things, and after I’d signed into with my Windows Live ID, I was given a CD key (hint: keep pressing refresh on that page and you’ll get more…) and shortly afterwards I was presented with a Java applet download manager (though there was no readily available explanation as to why this was necessary).

After a pretty speedy transfer of the 2gb ISO image, I fired up VMware Fusion, created a Vista VM, and set the installer running. It was done in under 30 mins, a massive improvement over Vista’s tortuous install proceedure and even shaving time off XP’s install process. The boot process post-install, I might add, is also WAY faster than Vista, and about as fast as a clean XP install… though I’d imagine that’d slow down over time, as per most Windows installs.

Once the install was done I made a snapshot in VMware incase I broke things (which I indeed did).

Next up: VMware Tools. There aren’t any in VMware Fusion for Windows 7 yet, so I tried the Vista version, as I’d set the VM up as a Vista VM. Installing the tools was a relatively easy, but pointless move. Weird visual glitches on boot, and no real performance gain, so I reverted back to the snapshot.

My main interest with Windows 7 is by far Windows Media Center. It’s about all I really use Windows for at home, these days (except the odd Windows-only app, or the odd bit of Windows compatibility testing). So, I plugged in one of my USB DVB-T receivers (a Terratec Cinergy T2). It made the “new hardware” bleep-bloop noise… and then bluescreened. Damn. It automatically rebooted, and when it came back, things got a bit weird. When I tried to set up Windows Media Center, the “analyzing your TV device” stage took over an hour. I eventually gave up, and unplugged the USB cable, and it all snapped back into life. I tried repeating this a few times, but it seems that this device just doesn’t work with Windows 7 yet. It took months to get stable Vista drivers for it, so I’d imagine I’m in for a long wait for this to get stable, unless it’s due to VMware being thrown into the mix as well. I’ll try it on real hardware soon.

I tried my other DVB-T reciever, a Hauppauge WinTV HVR-900H. This didn’t bluescreen, though I did have to go and download the drivers from Hauppauge’s site myself. Once I’d gotten it installed it scanned for channels, found them (including the MHEG-only channels, looks like MHEG support from the OEM-only TV Pack update for Vista Media Center is included as standard), but when I went to watch, it refused to play video, complaining about missing files. I must add at this point that this probably isn’t a Windows Media Center issue, but more likely a VMware issue — Windows Media Center does throw the “your graphics card isn’t good enough” warning when you start it up, but I was ignoring this hoping it’d let me watch TV anyway. VMware’s Vista tools didn’t fix this either.

So, I guess the next real test as far as I’m concerned is to try this on some real hardware, rather than a VMware Fusion virtual machine. When I do, I’ll post about it here, of course.

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