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Windows 7 Installation: Dream Or Dud?

During the past week, I've been experimenting with Windows 7 on a newly built desktop system. The installation and initial configuration process alone is quite a contrast compared to my experiences with XP and Vista. Most of it is for the better.
During the past week, I've been experimenting with Windows 7 on a newly built desktop system. The installation and initial configuration process alone is quite a contrast compared to my experiences with XP and Vista. Most of it is for the better.If you haven't installed Windows since the days of XP, you'll find that things are much easier now. With XP it's a real pain if the drivers aren't on the Windows CD. In many cases you had to create a floppy disk that has the drivers, or create a special Windows install CD that contains the drivers you need. Windows 7 (and Vista) accept a separate CD with drivers, so there's no need for a floppy drive or a lot of advance preparation.

This system is far from plain-vanilla hardware. It has an Intel flash drive as its primary "hard disk" and a hardware RAID-1 (mirrored) drive array as its second disk. The motherboard's built-in BIOS takes care of the RAID configuration, which often means that Windows needs special drivers before setup can even see the drives. Not so this time. Windows 7 saw the drives and had no problem using them. I'll admit to a bit of "cheating" when it comes to compatible hardware. Rather than choosing bleeding-edge components, I bought ones that had been shipping for at least six months. I also went for big names like Intel for the system chipset and NVidia for the graphics. That improves the chances there will be some in-box driver for the hardware.

Post-setup configuration was pretty straightforward. There are certain things that I always do after setup, such as telling Explorer not to hide file extensions or system files. I also reduce the amount of space taken up by System Restore; backups are good, but I don't want them taking up fifteen to twenty percent of a drive. I also turn off the Aero Glass transparency; burriness behind title bars and borders drives me crazy. The majority of settings haven't moved since Vista, but if you're coming over from XP it will take a while to find where they've hidden everything.

One little glitch happened after I got things set up. As a final step I went over to Windows Update and selected two optional driver updates. One of them was for the motherboard's built-in network port. After installing the driver, the network setup stopped working completely. After a driver rollback and reboot I got things working properly again. An average user might not know how to do that. it would be helpful if the Windows Update status not only showed you what had been installed, but let you back it out directly from that dialog as well. Oh well, Microsoft needs to save something for Windows 8.

Overall, it seems that Microsoft has done a pretty good job and Windows 7 really is about ready for prime time. At least that's my take. Has anyone else tried the release candidate? What do you think?

Editor's Choice
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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing