PREVIEW: Windows 7 Beta

Windows Vista Logo Or should I say Vista 1.5? Because that’s really all that Windows 7 is at this point. In the court of public opinion, Vista was (and still is) DOA. Vista’s inception rightfully deserved such contempt. However, what’s Microsoft to do to show the public that they’ve made more-than-average progress on most people’s gripes about the OS? Apparently, ditch the Vista brand entirely.

So let’s get this out of the way in case you don’t like long-winded speeches: Yes, Windows 7 is what Vista should have been on day one. Yes, Windows 7 is an attempt to make people forget about Vista even though it really is Vista. Yes, the changes in Windows 7 are mostly cosmetic. If it a program or piece of hardware hasn’t been fixed in Vista by now, no, Windows 7 will not magically fix it for you.

Now, on to the experience…

I don’t know if Microsoft has fixed anything yet, but the official downloading methodology was broken when I attempted to start the beta testing process proper. I never got a download link nor a product key and an email didn’t show up until two days later. I had to use the direct download links for the 32-bit version and the 64-bit version, and pick from the following list of Product Keys:

7XRCQ-RPY28-YY9P8-R6HD8-84GH3
RFFTV-J6K7W-MHBQJ-XYMMJ-Q8DCH
482XP-6J9WR-4JXT3-VBPP6-FQF4M
D9RHV-JG8XC-C77H2-3YF6D-RYRJ9
JYDV8-H8VXG-74RPT-6BJPB-X42V4
4HJRK-X6Q28-HWRFY-WDYHJ-K8HDH
QXV7B-K78W2-QGPR6-9FWH9-KGMM7
6JKV2-QPB8H-RQ893-FW7TM-PBJ73
GG4MQ-MGK72-HVXFW-KHCRF-KW6KY
TQ32R-WFBDM-GFHD2-QGVMH-3P9GC

Much thanks to Slashdot’s article Windows 7 Beta Release To Public After Delay, and not a great start for Microsoft. BTW, you have until January 24 before Microsoft closes the first public beta.

The desktop has undergone some minor tweaks, most notably at first is the the task bar which happens to rip off Mac OS X’s dock and improve upon it at the same time. Instead of rectangular buttons with an icon and program name, all we get now are icons. However, if you have more than one window open under the same program, hovering the mouse over the icon will give you a pop-up preview off all windows that program has open, allowing you to restore that window or bring it to the foreground.

You’ll also have the ability to auto-size your windows by dragging them to the top of the desktop (maximize) or dragging them to the far left or far right (resize to fit that half of the screen). This is a great little tweak for when you’re moving files, working on a web page, or maybe looking up some instructions on how to use a program on the Internet.

If a program keeps an MRU (most recently used) list, and that program gets pinned to the most common programs part of the start menu, Windows 7 will now give you a “jump list” — a menu of files/places to open with that program. However, if you’re the paranoid type you probably have a program that clears out MRU entries from the registry and thus this feature will be of little use to you.

Users now have some control over UAC through the GUI and no longer have to resort to secpol.msc, which was available in Vista Ultimate only. Although out-of-box UAC still nags a bit while logged in as user that is part of the Administrators group, you can turn these off without affecting other users.

Windows Live Messenger, Photo Gallery, Mail, Writer, Movie Maker, and the ilk are no NOT part of the standard installation. Microsoft will make these available for download separately. Now if we could only get Windows with IE and Media Player as optional components, that would be great.

Device Stage is something worth mentioning even though I had no devices that took advantage of it. Microsoft plans on providing a single place within which you can interact with compatible devices. No longer will you have separate programs to manage your hardware devices. That is, when your hardware company updates its drivers/software to take advantage of it. A neat, long-overdue concept that just going to take a long time before it’s implemented across the board.

As for the rest….it’s still Vista. There’s still some tweaks here and there that I haven’t covered, but Windows 7 really is nothing more than an effort by Microsoft to make people take a second look at Vista. Which isn’t such a bad thing, except for the cash flow they already got from Vista. If you were looking for some magnum opus to change your mind about Windows, this isn’t it. If you were merely waiting out Vista in the hopes that Microsoft would fix some problems, you’ll like Windows 7.