By Harry McCracken
Sixteen questions (and answers!) on the new, almost-finished version of Microsoft’s next OS.
Windows 7 is hereâ€“sort of. Yes, Microsoft still isn’t talking about when it’ll ship the final versionâ€“all evidence suggests itâ€™ll be sometime this Fallâ€“but the company is unleashing the Windows 7 Release Candidate today. Itâ€™s a free, all-but-final version of the operating system, and itâ€™ll work until March 1st, 2010 before Microsoft forces you to uninstall it or overwrite it with a paid-for copy of the final edition. In short, if youâ€™re itching to give Windows 7 a try, you can.
Iâ€™ve been using Windows 7 in various prerelease incarnations since last October, and for the more part, Iâ€™ve liked what Iâ€™ve seen. (So did most of the Technologizer community members who took our survey on the beta.) For the past few days Iâ€™ve been running the Release Candidateâ€“mostly on an Asus EeePC 1000HE, and to a lesser extent on a Dell XPS M1330 laptop. (Full disclosure: The latter machine was loaned to me by Microsoft for Windows 7 testing.)
Iâ€™ll be writing about this beta a lot in the coming monthsâ€“right up until the time that I get my hands on a version of W7 thatâ€™s even closer to being ready to roll. After the jump, some questions and answers about the Release Candidate and Windows 7 in general.
1. So should I use this Release Candidate?
The usual caveat applies, at least officially: Donâ€™t use pre-release software for mission-critical work. You might break a PC thatâ€™s working well, or discover that some of your applications are incompatible only after youâ€™ve installed W7. That said, Iâ€™ve preferred prerelease versions of Windows 7 to Windows Vista for months nowâ€“even though itâ€™s an unfinished product, itâ€™s run faster and more smoothly on every computer Iâ€™ve put it on than theoretically time-tested Vista.
Iâ€™ve also had good luck with compatibilityâ€“Iâ€™ve installed Microsoft Office 2007, Google Chrome, Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop, and other applications, and theyâ€™ve all run just fine. My Verizon USB EVDO modem works, too. Even Symantecâ€™s Norton 360 security suite didnâ€™t completely chokeâ€“security suites arenâ€™t really supposed to work on new versions of Windowsâ€“although I did get an error message about an incompatible heuristics driver. (Symantec says itâ€™s finishing up work on a Win 7-friendly version of the product.)
The biggest glitch Iâ€™ve encountered so far: My HP OfficeJet Pro 7500 doesnâ€™t seem to want to install, even when I use W7â€™s compatbility feature to attempt to fool the HP installer into thinking that itâ€™s in Windows Vista. Iâ€™m not done troubleshooting it, thoughâ€“and come to think of it, getting it to work with my Mac was also a struggle.
In short, I donâ€™t think you have to be foolhardy or even particularly brave to take Windows 7 for a test drive. I would, however, recommend installing it alongside your current version of Windows rather than an top of it. Youâ€™ll have no choice if youâ€™ve got Windows XPâ€“W7 doesnâ€™t support XP upgrades. But even on a machine that currently runs Vista, I wouldnâ€™t advise overwriting a shipping OS with a prerelease one. Itâ€™s simply safer to keep your old OS on hand in case anything goes wrong.
[This post is excerpted with Harry’s permission from his Technologizer blog.]