It’s been a whole three days that I’ve been using Windows 7 so that makes me an expert. (Just kidding!) However, since I was able to grab my copy before Microsoft faced server death, thank you MSDN Subscription, it’s given me a whole weekend to actually use the operating system in a real world developer setting. As I’ve already written, the absolute best part is that for my Lenovo T60 Tablet, all the drivers came as part of the Windows 7 install. I know I sound like a broken record but the true path to a stable computer is avoiding any drivers from your computer manufacturer.

Obviously, the new taskbar is getting all the attention, and some like Keith Hill, really don’t care for it at all. My feeling is there are some good parts and a few not so great parts. On the good side, I can finally officially rearrange the icons/tabs in the order I work. The quick Window previews are very nice as well. The only problem with them is that I feel they are too slow to pop up. I’ll keep poking through the registry to see if there’s a time setting that will make them nearly instantaneous.

Most applications work well with the preview display, but the Live Messenger 2009 has very strange extra “ghost” window displayed showing a grayed out something that is really annoying. If you try to close it, Messenger wants to shut down. I suspect this is a Messenger “feature” (I’d call it a showstopper bug).

I certainly hope that other programs do not attempt to show their own ghost items in the preview, as it will quickly become annoying. As Microsoft has finally truly cleaned up the notification icon problem with Windows 7, I’d hate programs to start showing extra crap in previews other than the actual windows I have open.

The only other change I’d like to see to the taskbar is that the tile widths get a smaller, especially those “pinned” to the taskbar. They seem to take up more space than they need horizontally. While I know that’s because of the new touch capabilities in Windows 7, I don’t like to pay the width tax when I don’t have that on my machine. I feel that the display icons displayed should be square if no touch equipment is present and the current rectangle if it is. Treat touch just like the Tablet PC features. You get the Tablet Input Panel (TIP) if you have a pen, otherwise you don’t.

Speaking of the TIP, I can’t gush enough about it! I haven’t even done any training and I’m getting even better recognition than I did on a completely trained Vista TIP. What you can’t see through a static picture of the TIP is the fantastically improved editing capabilities. Prior to Windows 7, even a complete Tablet PC proponent like me had to admit that other than the scratch out gesture, it was nearly impossible to insert, split, or join words. Not any more! Windows 7 is going to sell a ton of Tablet PCs. The absolute most important addition to the TIP is actually a subtraction: the recognition engine barely uses any CPU where Vista’s ate too much. I’ve been writing this blog entry on battery and the CPU has yet to go over 5%.

As a software developer, I need more programs on the machine than most and I spent a day and a half just installing the 126 items to do my job. Seemingly half were done by Visual Studio 2008. The good news was that except for one program, everything went without a hitch. Because everything I need to install is a .ISO downloaded from my MSDN Subscription account my life saving program is SlySoft’s fantastic, and free, Virtual Clone Drive. It worked great for me on Windows 7. The one program I had trouble with was Microsoft’s LiveMesh. It kept screwing up the Aero theme and cranking to 100% CPU utilization. Once I uninstalled it, everything was fine.

Another program on Windows 7 I love is the new Magnifier. Press WIN+= twice and you’re live zooming the screen. If you keep pressing WIN+= you’ll magnify more. To zoom back out, press WIN+-. If you’d prefer a lens to follow the mouse, like the Intellipoint mouse drivers, you can do that as well. When using the full screen zooming, I found it best to have the tracking follow the mouse, keyboard and insertion point. That way it will work great for demos.

I’ll still be using Mark Russinovich’s ZoomIt at the same time, but it’s nice to have the operating system supporting accessibility in such a natural form.

As nice as the new Magnifier is, it has two small quirks that I think need to be fixed before final release. The first is an option to keep it’s icon out of the taskbar. The second is that the Magnifier control window is a little schizophrenic. When you’re using the machine, it shows as an on top magnifying glass.

It’s very unobtrusive and exactly what it should do. Since the magnifier window is always on top, you’ll probably move it to an out of the way location so you don’t accidentally hit it with the mouse. The problem comes in when coming back from a UAC prompt, the magnifier moves back to its original position. I’m sure that’s because of accessibility reasons, but to be a good citizen, there should be an option to disable the movement. As I said, they were small problems.

Explorer has gone through a facelift. The first thing that had me scratching my head was “where are all my folders?” The navigation pane defaults to hiding folders, which every version of Explorer and its grandparent, File Manager has always shown. Additionally, the automatic expansion introduced in Visa, which I liked, is also off by default. Fortunately, you can turn both of those on back on by hitting the Tools, Folder Options menu.

The new Libraries feature is extremely nice. One of my major complaints was that the My Documents folder was the dumping ground of every application wanting to stick in a folder called “My Crap.” Add in the problems of applications storing state information in My Documents, there only real name you could call that area was “Everyone else’s stuff.” I have a folder called Documents in My Documents just so I knew where my real files were. I know I should have trusted the desktop search, but on Vista I could find things a lot faster than the search many times. By the way, that’s not true in Windows 7.

When I installed Windows 7 and joined my machine to the domain, it added my entire “Everyone else’s stuff” folder as I have My Document redirection set up on the machine, to the Documents library. A quick trip to the Documents library preferences, I deleted that directory and changed to my sub folder and now Documents truly contains just my files I care about. It’s about time!

One addiction I have is to the WIN+E key to open Explorer windows. The problem with Windows 7 is that once you’ve hit WIN+E, it does not open a new Explorer window just brings the previously opened on to the foreground, which is extremely frustrating to me. Say you want to compare the contents of two directories. On Vista, I’d type WIN+E twice and have to move one Explorer window out of the way to do the compare. Now I do a WIN+E to get the first Explorer window, a WIN+LEFT ARROW to move it over to fill the left side of the screen, a WIN+E for the second, remember that WIN+E is broken and immediately start cussing. Microsoft has to fix this before release.

Since I’m venting a little, I’ll mention something else I find annoyingly broken, tab completion of directories in PowerShell V2. This may be fixed in CTP3, but its cause me all sorts of grief in CTP2. On PowerShell V1, if you type C:Program<tab> that expands to “c:Program Files” (notice the automatic quotes around the directory name with a space). In CTP2, the expansion is without the quotes, which is severely broken. Please just let that be a bug in CTP2. Does anyone know if it’s safe to put CTP3 on a Windows 7 box?  Edit 1/12/2009: Turns out this was a problem between PowerTab .98 and PowerShell V2. Whew, problem averted!

One last tip about Windows 7 is for developers. When the applications you’re working on crash, you want to debug right then, not wait the ten minutes for Windows Error Reporting to send the information about the crash. On Vista, running WERCON.EXE got you right to the link to change the crash options. Windows 7 hides it a bit deeper. Start Control Panel and click the following links System and SecurityAction CenterChange Action Center SettingsProblem Report settings. In the Problems Reports and Solutions dialog, select Each time a problem occurs, ask me before checking for solutions like the following:

For a beta, Windows 7 is quite solid. I’ve had a couple of Explorer hangs where I’ve had to hold the power button down to get the machine restarted. Of course, I’m having all sorts of trouble duplicating that problem to get the report to Microsoft. Over all, I’m very glad I took the plunge for Windows 7; the biggest feature of all is that it definitely does feel faster than Vista on the exact same hardware.