Normally, I don’t upgrade my OS until the new one has been out at least six months. Conventional wisdom in an industrial setting is to wait for Service Pack 1, but I don’t wait that long at home. Nevertheless, I’ve been reading about Windows 7 for a long time now, and I’m intrigued. There’s always a lot of positive buzz around the release of any new OS, and thus I tend to ignore it. What has surprised me about this OS is that almost total absence of negative chatter.
There’s also the fact that Windows 7 breaks with the usual tradition (“Andy giveth, Bill taketh away”) of demanding ever faster hardware to achieve the same level of performance. Snow Leopard does the same thing. Maybe it’s a trend; I just know that’s it’s really welcome, especially with uniprocessor performance increases just about stalled out.
So, heat seeker that I am, I had to try it out. I had a Dell M1710 laptop running 32-bit Vista Ultimate that I wasn’t using for much except applications testing. It wouldn’t bother me too much if things went south and I temporarily turned it into a doorstop, so I thought it a good candidate for testing Windows 7.
I downloaded and ran the Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor (W7UA). It said I needed SP1 installed. I ran Windows Update, and it found 68 fixes that needed to be applied. I was a little surprised, but realized that I hadn’t even powered up the laptop in months. I let it install all the fixes, and noticed that SP1 didn’t appear to be among them. I ran Windows Update again, and picked up about five more fixes. I ran it a third time, and it was happy, but I still didn’t have SP1 installation as an option.
This had happened to me before. There was some piece of software on the laptop that wasn’t compatible with SP1. Windows Update knew what it was, but it wasn’t going to tell me. I went to the Dell web site, and it offered me 50 driver updates. I suppose I could have installed them all, but that seemed like a waste of time. I vaguely remembered a Sigmatel driver that had caused this problem for me in the past on Dell computers, so I downloaded and installed a new sound driver and ran Windows Update yet again. This time it told me I could install SP1. I did.
Running W7UA again yielded a list of a two incompatible programs. An Acronis backup program headed the list. I used the program to create an ISO image of a bootable rescue disk, and made one last backup. Then I uninstalled Acronis and Acrobat Reader 7. W7UA also found 7 or 8 possibly incompatible programs, mostly drivers. I left them in place, figuring I’d use Windows update after the OS upgrade as Microsoft suggested. I did download an NVIDIA Windows 7 display driver, which was only available in beta form, and put it on the desktop.
I went to the Dell web site to see if they had some advice for me. They had a list of computers for which they certified Windows 7 compatibility, and said, very clearly, that if your computer wasn’t on the list, they didn’t recommend that you upgrade. I scanned the list. The XPS M1710 was MIA. Then I noticed a link that ticked me off: it told me to click here if I wanted to buy a computer that was compatible with Windows 7. It seemed like kind of a scam: don’t test anything but your latest machines for compatibility (my computer was a little over two years old), and scare your customers so they buy new hardware that they probably don’t need.
I did a few web searches, and found several people who had successfully performed the OS upgrade on the M1710, and a few who had had problems. I figured I’d take a chance.
I bought a shrink-wrapped Windows 7 upgrade. It came the next day. I plunked it into the DVD drive. There was no autorun screen. I brought up the file manager and couldn’t find the disk. I took it out and put it back in again, saw it in the file manager, and double clicked on the setup program, thinking that this was not an auspicious beginning.
There were a few questions from the setup program, the most meaningful one being do you want a clean install or an upgrade in place. I chose the latter. This was a test, after all; why make it easy on the OS? The setup program thought for a few seconds, and then I was treated to a beautiful anti-aliased graphic background with a progress window on it.
I’m sure most of you remember the days when OS installations started with a command-line screen, and then, about two thirds of the way though the install, the OS finally had enough of itself in place that it could put up some nice flashy windows. It was a great moment, and one that reminded me of the transition from the apes around the monolith to the rocket docking with the space station in 2001. Well, those days are gone; the Windows 7 installation starts pretty and stays pretty.
The upgrade took two and a half hours. That seems like a long time. I blame the laptop disk. It’s a 5400 rpm drive with a typically slow arm, and the installation is pretty disk-intensive.
When the installation program declared success, I made some setup choices on a couple of screens, and, without a reboot, it told me to hit Ctl-Alt-Del to log in. I did. It refused to log me in to the Windows 2008 Server domain, saying there was a credential problem. I logged in to the machine itself as administrator, and set about to upgrade the display driver, which wasn’t on my desktop any more, since I couldn’t log in as a network user. Pulling it off the server (the network itself appeared to work), all 200 MB of it, I installed it. After that, it wanted a reboot. I said OK.
Then I got to watch Windows 7 boot for the first time. It was a bit faster than Vista, but it sure didn’t take my breath away. However, this was on a laptop with a slow disk, and I’m not used to that combination. There was a nice moment while the software performed an animation, with four color firefly-like lights dancing around and coalescing into the logo. I was less than pleased when I noticed that the disk light went off during the show; did Window 7 really slow up the boot process so it could give me a thrill?
Logging in locally again, I ran Windows Update, which found six things to install, mostly security updates. I let the updater do its thing, and rebooted again as per instructions. When I logged in again, I reran Windows Update, and found one more security update. While I was installing updates, I looked at the optional ones. There were five driver updates, including one for the NVIDIA display controller. I picked all the ones but that one, since I had already updated the display driver, and clicked install. Yet another restart ensued.
Then I tried to fix the domain problem. I ran a wizard to get the computer to join the domain. It worked. When the machine rebooted (are you counting?) I logged in to the domain OK, but not to my old desktop: the OS set up a new one for me. I went back and reran the wizard, this time giving it the shorthand domain name Kasson, as opposed to the long version (home.kasson.com). One more reboot, and I was looking at the right desktop.
All in all, a pretty smooth upgrade. I’ll comment on the OS when I’ve gotten more time on it.