Microsoft Windows 7 Beta 1

Let’s get it straight. Yes, the just-released Microsoft Windows 7 Beta 1 retains much of Vista’s kernel architecture, as will the final version. That’s prompted some pundits to quip that the new OS will just be a Vista service pack. Not so. The new OS is more compact than Vista, has an updated interface, and builds in better networking capability. It also includes some cool advances, such as multi-touch support and a redesigned taskbar with movable buttons. In addition, we’re not likely to see the abundance of incompatibilities that caused such pain during the early phase of the Vista launch. That improvement is a direct result of the now-tuned Vista code in the kernel. In all, it’s an impressive, though not revolutionary, release.

The latest thinking on the final release date for Windows 7 is January 2010. The version I tested here is actually feature complete, despite the Beta 1 designation, but Microsoft plans to take its time with the OS. And the company is certainly serious about hearing from beta testers. Nearly every window in the OS has a “Send feedback” link at the top, for example. Also, by default, the current code sends data to Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program for evaluation of usage patterns and problems, though you can turn this off.
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You can put the beta on as many machines as you like, but you can’t use it for real business purposes, and it expires in August of 2009. You’ll still have to activate your installation—the company has learned its lesson about piracy. The installation process looks nearly identical to that of Windows Vista. If you have a wireless network, you’ll notice one difference, though—the beta will identify the network during setup and ask whether you want to create a “homegroup”—the new easier home networking feature I’ll discuss in a bit.
You have a choice of upgrading or doing a clean install of 32-bit or 64-bit versions, but if your existing installation is 64-bit, you can’t do an upgrade with a 32-bit version of the beta. I performed both upgrade and clean installations of the 32-bit version. Happily, the installer maintained all my applications and documents without incident—it even preserved my Web history. I put the OS on a few different machines, and the process took about half an hour on average.—Next: Interface

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January 2011
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