Vista is the Windows version to bypass – like Windows Mistake Edition (ME) was. The combination of Microsoft having to pull employees off of Vista to help write XP Service Pack 2 and discovering that the XP code base was unusable (Vista was written from scratch) meant that MS released a typical first effort in Vista – not bad, but the second version (Windows 7) based on the first code was far superior.

If your Vista computer is slow, try the Win7 beta on it – it’ll be faster. It’s still available from Microsoft as of February 2, 2009 (or you can try a torrent):

Minimum recommended requirements are:
* 1 GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor
* 1 GB of system memory
* 16 GB of available disk space
* Support for DirectX 9 graphics with 128 MB memory (to enable the Aero theme)
* DVD-R/W Drive
* Internet access (to download the Beta and get updates)

I went to a Windows 7 install fest held in the Vancouver, B.C. area on January 17, 2009 and installed the Ultimate beta build 7000 on the laptop I’m composing this post on. Specs: Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop (second from the bottom of the line when I ordered it in Nov. 2007), AMD 64 Athlon X2 TK-55 (1.8 GHz/512KB cache), 1 GB DDR2 533 MHz RAM, 120 GB HD, ATI RADEON Xpress 1150 with 256 MB HyperMemory. I’m dual booting with Windows XP Home on C: (the original and my primary OS) and Win7 on the D: partition. Windows 7 is very good on this computer – almost as good as XP.

The install went smoothly, and Win7 had drivers for everything except the video card, and that was downloaded when I visited Windows Update. At the install fest I also installed Avira AntiVir Personal Edition Classic antivirus, GoogleTalk, and Railroad Tycoon II Platinum (gotta have that game!). All those apps work OK (the AV updates properly, GoogleTalk chat and voice works, I could start RRT II) but I haven’t tried an AV scan or playing a game in RRT II yet. One oddity was that Win7 didn’t assign a drive letter to the WinXP partition – I had to assign it in Disk Manager (I gave it B: as Win7 – like Vista – calls the system partition C:).

I first tried Office XP before eventually installing Office 2003 (I didn’t have access to my Office 2003 CDs at the time). I wanted to get Outlook working so I could use the same .pst file as in WinXP which has Office 2003 Professional. I had some oddities which I believe were related to file and folder permissions. I could not create a new .pst file in the default folder in Outlook XP (I didn’t have sufficient rights) and I couldn’t open a .pst file that was in the root of the Win7 partition (again, insufficient rights). I got it working by renaming the .pst file in the default Outlook folder location and then putting my .pst file there.

It would receive mail to my .pst file but couldn’t send (it might have been damaged – I had a bit of trouble with it in WinXP the previous week and performed a repair January 24). After the repair I didn’t try it again in Outlook XP on Win7).

I attended a Q & A with some Microsoft folks on Monday Jan. 19 that was put on by VANTUG (the local MS user group with ties to MS) and found out that the permissions between XP and Win7 are different even if the user account in both OSes is a member of the Administrators group. I got my Office 2003 CDs back and uninstalled Office XP and installed Office 2003 (the oldest version of Office that’s supported on Win7) and updated it at Microsoft Update.

I gave my user account (which is an Administrator account) the rights to the .pst file and the folder it was in as well as Outlook’s default folder for the .pst file but am unsure if this cured the issue I had in Outlook XP, if the installation of Office 2003 fixed it, or even if there was an issue with Outlook 2003 opening my .pst file. Office seems to work OK – at least Outlook, Word, and Front Page are fine. I haven’t tried Excel.

I’m very impressed by the speed of Win7 and the quality of the beta – both are far better than the Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 I tried in 2007. I have turned off most of the Aero effects as I prefer plainer window title bars, Taskbar, etc. This computer’s Windows Experience was 3.0 overall and ratings for components were: processor 4.2, RAM 3.9, graphics 3.0, gaming graphics 3.2, and HD 5.1. I’m going to play with it some more and try to use it as much as possible – that’s why I wanted Outlook working (otherwise I’d only use Win7 for games – there’s a mahjong game with it that’s addictive).

Dislikes: I don’t like that the Quick Launch toolbar has been dropped (instead, you can pin an app to the Taskbar – it’s not the same). I don’t like the double height Taskbar and changed it right away. Maybe that makes sense on a 17 or 19 inch monitor, but not on a 15.4 inch laptop screen. I couldn’t find where to make the Desktop icons smaller at first – Google told me to hold the CTRL (Control) key down while moving the mouse’s wheel would change their size. I don’t like that the equivalent of the Show Desktop button is on the very right side of the Taskbar and I can’t find a way to move it beside the Start button/orb where I and my muscle memory are used to having it. I don’t like that Windows Mail has been dropped – but with lots of people using web mail or mail on their phones/PDAs I guess that it makes sense.

Vista RC1 on my previous laptop was bog slow and took between 7 – 10 minutes for the hard drive to stop working after booting. I hated it and rarely used it but I’m considering using Win7 as my primary OS.