Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fun with Windows (XP and 7).

Well, this morning right after checking my mail, I was logging on to my work VPN and found out that remote desktop would not open. Odd, I thought, but I was running north of 3GB of RAM and had not rebooted in over 6 months. So I figured I just needed to clear the air a bit, so to speak. Down went the various programs as I closed them, including Explorer.exe, which has an annoying memory leak in XP (at least when TortoiseSVN is present). Then tried to reopen Explorer.exe through Task Manager -- no go. Huh, that's odd, and not a good sign, I though. Time for a reboot for real, then.

The OS comes back up to a black screen, with a mouse cursor, and then just sits there blinking the hard drive light at me. Lovely. But I've had much more dire situations than this in the past, such as when a production server does something similar because of an extra bit of charge in the SCSI card. So I try all the usual tricks -- powering down and waiting 30+ seconds, running Last Known Good at least 1 more time than I had previously booted, then getting more concerned and trying to load Safe Mode (with the same result), then getting really concerned and deciding to do a Repair Install off of my slipstreamed XP SP2 disk... with the same result on reboot.

Oh, fun. What caused this? I have no idea. My hard disk and everything else seems to be okay. But it was clearly time for a reinstall. I've got an MSDN subscription, so I figured I'd install the Windows 7 64 RTM instead of just going back to XP 32. I have Vista 32 on a secondary tower that I use for testing with AI War, but I hadn't yet taken a look at Win7 directly. I'd heard good things from people I knew, though, and also felt like I couldn't stay on XP forever.

So, two hours later (the MS connection is really slow, even though my connection is really fast). I decided to just install Windows 7 onto the same single 500GB partition that I'd used for XP and all my data (gasp, I know). The install process for Windows 7 was slower than I expected, taking over an hour and half if I'm not mistaken (at least an hour) on my Q6600 quad. Hmm. Not off to too good a start.

Once the OS boots up, the first thing that I do is disable Aero (which is slow as well as nonfunctionally ugly in my opinion), returning to the Windows Classic theme. I also play around with the new taskbar a bit, returning it to something more like what I'm used to using (four rows tall, with autohide on). The quick launch bar is gone, but the new application pinning works really well. I decide to turn off the large icons and re-enable the text display (and turn off grouping). Perfect, it's now just about like what I prefer, and in some ways is a little bit better (I no longer have to install a little widget to allow me to drag around taskbar entries, for instance).

The next thing I notice is that explorer needs to reconfiguration to be a little more like what I like. Of course, the next next thing I notice is how insanely awesome the new Libraries feature is. How incredibly handy. By now I'm also marveling at how fast the (non-Aero) desktop experience is. It's about as fast as Windows XP, and tons faster than Vista, on this particular machine. The memory usage is higher, but since all 4GB of my RAM now actually registers with the OS (since I was on 32bit before, it capped out at around 3.3GB usable), it works out around the same anyway.

No problems with drivers, and all of the software that I have to install (including Visual Studio 2008) installs amazingly, blazingly fast. Huh. I've installed various versions of those pieces of software many times, on many machines, on several OSes over the years, and none of them ever installed even 1/8th as fast as it did on my machine here. Again, huh. That's pretty cool.

The rest of the software is similarly speedy and uneventful so far, and I'm down to only half a dozen more programs that I need to install, most of them noncritical for my daily work. I have noticed a few other changes, such as those to network places (meh), calculator (meh), remote desktop (wow!), windows find (wow!), IE8 (a hearty blah), picture viewer (pretty nice), and others. And the drivers seem pretty great for all my hardware, graphics card excepted.

In all this set me back around a day, though fortunately it was a day where I had a lot of meetings anyway so I could just do those on my other PC while the installs were running. So, not nearly as bad as some reinstalls I've had to do in the past. I find myself pleasantly pleased and surprised with Windows 7, too. It's not amazing in most respects so far as I can tell, but it's modern and unobtrusive, which is really what I was looking for. I always loved XP (and 2000 before it), after getting excited about (and burned by)about ME. But XP was starting to feel sort of dated, in areas that Win7 addresses. Simple usability improvements, like the taskbar, the dragging of windows to one side of the screen, the better truetype calibration and monitor sizing, the libraries, etc.

The sum of a hundred tiny improvements, which basic users may never even see, make me really happy with Win7.

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