Downloading the Windows 7 Beta was a little more difficult than it should have been, but I was admittedly jumping the gun a little bit. The public beta was briefly posted, only to be withdrawn because the servers couldn’t keep up with demand. (It’s now back up.) Being the impatient man that I am, I managed to find a BitTorrent link to the DVD iso. It surprises me, just a little, that more companies don’t include a .torrent whenever you have the option to download large files. I’m not sure if MS thinks that it isn’t secure, or looks amateurish, but I have to say that posting a link and then taking it down doesn’t look so good either. BitTorrent, or peer-to-peer technology in general just makes so much sense for this kind of application: that is to say, getting a large chunk of data downloaded to a large number of people quickly. (If you’re unfamiliar with peer-to-peer, it does this by breaking the file into pieces and passing the pieces around from person to person rather than everyone trying to get it from a single server.)
Windows 7, like in previous versions, allows you to install without a Product Key and enter it later, so I loaded it up right away, confident that I’d be able to get one when Microsoft reinstated the public download site. Upgrading from XP, there was no option to try to migrate my programs and settings, only a clean install was available. This didn’t bother me, but might turn off some people who’ve skipped Vista when it comes time to upgrade to Win7. Vista users, apparently, can upgrade with their programs and settings more-or-less intact. The install was very smooth, and took a little over half an hour. It had no problems setting up my hardware. In fact, the only drivers I’ve downloaded myself so far are the Dell drivers for the “advanced” features on my touchpad (aside: advanced is in scarequotes because I liked the Synaptics touchpad on my old Dell much better than the Alps one on my current D630).
The interface improvements are pleasing, and run smoothly and responsively on my laptop (Core2Duo 2GHz, 2GB RAM, Intel 965 Integrated graphics). Especially nice is the updated taskbar, which gives live thumbnail previews of the windows as you mouse over it, and the new-to-me Window Flip 3D alternative to Alt-Tab. Annoying is its insistence on changing the theme to a heavy black color every time I open something from the Control Panel.
I also BSoD’ed (the instantly familiar blue screen of death) once while watching a DVD in VLC Player. It’s nice to know that fail still comes in white text on a blue background. But other than that, it’s been a nice experience. Outlook, in particular, loads lightening-fast, and I haven’t had any issues with program or hardware incompatibility. Looking forward to giving BitLocker whole-disk encryption a go, as well as seeing what the gaming performance is like.