Seventh time’s the charm

Hello blogosphere. Did you miss me? I’ve missed you too.

It’s been a long month or so since I’ve written last, and since I wrote last I’ve had some ideas on stuff to write about: the Indians and their acquisition of Kerry Wood, a wrap-up to 2008, the ridiculousness of both the current government and the incoming administration… but I’ve always kind of lost interest, found something better to do, rather than writing. However, on Wednesday I downloaded the Windows 7 beta from MSDN, and tonight finally had some time to play around with it a bit. In short, Windows 7 is polished enough that it could be sold today, and is probably the most revolutionary version of Windows since Windows 95.

Installation
I decided to install the beta on a separate partition on my hard drive and triple-boot it with my Fedora 10 and Windows Vista installs. A couple reasons for doing this: a) I wanted to see how well it did with hardware recognition, and b) I wanted to see real performance, not virtualized.

The install was smooth, and for the most part like Windows Vista except for a much cooler boot logo. After the install, the initial setup screen is shown, where you pick the name of your computer, your username, etc. An odd thing I noticed while choosing a password was that a password was optional, but a hint was not: you have to have a password hint. After setting those things up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the next screen which enabled me to select my wireless network right from that setup screen. It’s a small touch, but it felt like I got running a lot faster with that embedded in setup. I was also asked to setup a HomeGroup, which I assume is like a workgroup only a little more modern, so I did that and finished setup.

First impressions
Logging into Windows 7 the first time, I noticed that my resolution was correct and it had even picked up my dual monitors correctly. There was no sound, but I was able to install sound drivers without a reboot by using Windows Update a bit later. The background is a little fish stuck in some ocean. It’s a nice image, but I’d check out the other themes available. I’m using the one of the snowy mountain (it seems appropriate this weekend).

I set up IE8, which was much better than I remember it being when I tested it earlier this summer on my Vista install. Instead of directing you to a website to set up your initial settings, there are now a series of dialog boxes which are much easier and faster. Still, the first place I went to in IE8 was www.google.com/chrome. I’m willing to give IE8 a second shot, but Chrome is my browser right now.

I ran Windows Update and found only a few updates, only hardware driver installs. They installed quickly (much quicker than Vista and instantaneous compared to XP) and did not require a reboot.

Windows Media Player was nice too. They’ve seperated the Now Playing and the Library screens, so for someone like me who doesn’t like all the UI chrome and just wants the video, the Now Playing screen that is simply a title bar and video, with controls when you hover over the video is a nice improvement. I was able to install DivX and watched a How I Met Your Mother episode with no problems. Another nice touch is that the “Keep player on top of other windows” has been replaced with “Keep Now Playing on top of other windows”, because no one in their right mind wants to see their library all the time.

I also liked the “Peek” feature, which just shows your desktop and outlines of the windows so you can see your gadgets (which are largely unchanged from Vista, as far as I can tell). I played around with the docking a little bit too – it’s a nice feature that I’ll get used to.

Conclusion
So say what you want, Mac fanboys or Microsoft haters: they’re working on a product that has a ton of potential. This is what Vista was supposed to be, and I’m really looking forward to what Microsoft has in store for the final release.

Windows 7: A modular approach

I posted yesterday about how I installed Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista. I imagine that any of you reading this know that Windows Vista will eventually be retired, just as XP was before Vista and 2000 was before XP. The internal working name for the next version of Windows is Windows 7, which is set to be released sometime in 2010 (there was talk of 2009, but thankfully Microsoft looks like they’re going to delay it long enough to get it right).

Obviously, I’m not writing an encyclopedia here, so why am I writing this post? Because multiple sources are speculating that Windows 7 will be module-based. A module-based OS will be familiar to those of you that have used a fairly modern version of Linux like Ubuntu or Fedora, which uses something called “packages” to customize an installation and add software if needed. The idea is that this way, users get what they want and nothing that they don’t want, and can add features later.

Windows has actually had “modules” of some sort for some time, albeit not visible to the user. In Windows Server 2003, something called “roles” was introduced. Users could specify what roles a given server would fill, and then the proper software would be installed. Roles became a bigger part of Server 2008; when you install Server 2008 only the core stuff is installed and then you pick stuff to add.

But for the consumer versions of Windows, which obviously have to cater to the lesser users, the concept of modules and roles has been mostly avoided (except maybe the “Add/Remove Windows Components” dialog box). Evidently this is set to change in Windows 7.

Let me just say that if this is done right, a modular Windows 7 is a fantastic idea. Most of the complaints with Vista is that the operating system is too bloated, comes with too much bloatware and is too expensive. With a modular implementation, all of these problems could be erased.

Here’s what I envision: you log in to a Windows Live site, and click around until you get to a page that lets you purchase a copy of Windows 7. Here, you have a few options. You can choose from a few pre-set module configurations that are perhaps a tad discounted, or you can choose to customize your copy of Windows 7. Also, you’d be able to have the box/disc shipped to your house for an additional fee or simply download an ISO image.

Under customization, you’d be able to select which components you want, with only a minimal core of modules that are required (kernel, networking, a “module manager”, etc.). Some modules would cost money (perhaps like Windows Movie Maker or Windows Media Center), while others would be free but optional (like IE). Once you’re done making your selections, an automated validation bot would go through your selections and make sure everything looked okay, perhaps make recommendations, and then send your selections to a server that would generate the ISO you need. I imagine creating an ISO would take a bit of time (even if it was done dynamically), so you would be directed to an optional registration page, and then you’d be provided with a link to download the ISO and a key. At any time in the future, you’d be able to return to this Live website to make changes to that ISO (and pay the difference if needed), order copies of the CD (with the same key), and most importantly, see your validation key. Once you install the OS, the “module manager” available within Windows would keep track of which modules are installed and allow you to purchase more if needed.

Now where it would really get interesting is if Dell and HP built something into their websites to allow you to customize your Windows OEM installation from there, so that way if you didn’t want some of the bloatware Dell and HP provide, you could simply choose to leave it out.

So why is that better? Overall, everything could be cheaper: only pay for what you want! I think things could be easier too, even for the mere mortals, because instead of buying a copy of Office 2010 or whatever, we could simply package it with our Windows ISO for a lower price because it is in a bundle.

I hope this is how things work out for Windows 7, but hopefully this post has enlightened those of you in the dark as to how powerful a modular OS can be. To 2010!