Windows 7 Install Weekend

I spent part of the weekend installing Windows 7 on some computers at home, now that the RTM is available from MSDN. Overall it went very well.

One computer is an HP Pavilion system I bought at Costco a few years ago, and of course didn’t come with drivers for a lot of the built-in hardware, but Windows 7 just found most of it. It didn’t find the audio driver, so I had to hunt one down. My usual trick worked here: Going into the control panel, device manager, finding the device with the yellow triangle next to it, going into properties and finding some sort of hardware ID that I could google for. That gets me the name of the device (in this case it was an AC97 chipset), and then I can google for that.

The second computer is a bit older and I had the same sound driver problem there. I used the same trick for the second computer, which had SoundMax audio. Found an XP sound driver which worked fine.

I have yet to find a driver that didn’t work on Windows 7. This will make the process of upgrading to Windows 7 relatively painless for most people. I hope they are confident enough in the driver model they introduced in Vista that they can stick with it for a few more major OS revisions, as it really cuts down on the headaches.

I switched most of my home computing to the Mac a few years ago, and this doesn’t signal a switch back. This is all hardware I bought before I bought my Mac. But using Windows 7 reminded me of some of the things in Windows that I really miss on the Mac.

The biggest one is UNC paths. Being able to reference \\server\share\somefile and have it just work is a killer feature. I can point any Windows app at \\server\music and it can find my MP3 collection. With the Mac, I have to make sure it’s mounted. If I take the Mac to work, when I get there a little dialog tells me my Music share is gone, and when I get back home, it doesn’t automatically reconnect. There are tools to make this happen, and I’ve tried some, but still this just works better on Windows.

And Windows 7 has this great home network feature called Homegroup. This lets you essentially merge your pictures, music, videos and other folders (“libraries”) with those of another user. Any files you drop into a homegroup library live on your computer, but show up for everyone else in the homegroup as if they were on their computer. I didn’t play with it much but I love the promise of it.

Apple could do a much better job with home networking. They’ve got the Airport Extreme base station which takes care of backups (beautifully, I might add) and the Apple TV, but sharing photos and music between users at home (the killer app for a home network) is still just not very easy or reliable. And it doesn’t look like this is getting any better with Snow Leopard.