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Aug 2009

Part 1: My First 7 days with Windows 7

Let's go right to the punchline: Overall; positive.

Okay, now let's get to what's great, what's not and what's just weird.

Actually, before we do that, let's start off with my new hardware. If you know me, you know I love to do demos. I do demos left and right in my training courses, at WinConnections and TechEd, and other sundry events.

And, of course, I need to use a laptop lug around and do that. My laptop of choice has always been Dell. I've been a Dell man, since, well, Dell Laptops had TRACKBALLS in them, and not touchpads.

Yes, _that_ long.

Now, for the first time ever I went Lenovo. Honestly, the new Dell E series just seemed too "humongo" for me. The whole package, including the power supply just looked too.. Bulky.

Yep, that was my "very technical reason" for not getting another Dell. I'm sure they're great inside, but their aesthetics (at least compared to my Dell D620) was not an improvement (to me, anyway.) So, I got a Lenovo T500. The name alone makes me feel like I'm perpetually the star in my own personal Terminator film. I bought it cheap from the "Lenovo outlet store." It has a T9600 Core2Duo processor on board, and I fitted it myself with (oh drool!) 8GB RAM and 500GB hard drive @ 7200RPM (killer!)

Then I waited to get my hot little hands on Windows 7. I was in the beta program, so I got a "free key" to use when the beta ended.

Last Thursday night, I installed Windows 7, 64-Bit edition on my new monster laptop.

Before that, I had previously went to Lenovo's website and downloaded ANYTHING associated with the T500 + Vista. That is to say, since all Vista drivers are "upward" compatbile to Windows 7, having them "at the ready" seemed to be a good idea. I put them on an external USB disk.

My first 24 hours wasn't great. I installed Windows 7. I took all the updates. Then I installed all the T500 / Vista drivers. I rebooted when necessary. Finally, when I installed the video driver software, Windows 7 just hung and hung and hung and hung at the "Please wait" page.

Arrrgh. And this was AFTER I had already activated Windows 7 (Stupid, Stupid, Moskowitz.)

Well, I knew I could boot to Safe Mode and hack and slash my way out of this. But the more I thought about it.. why was I installing drivers for something that was, well, working already?

So I didn't.

I re-formatted and re-installed Windows 7. In my experience, more manufacturer software equals slower and more unstable machine. Said another way, if I can "get away with" the drivers that are included as part of Windows 7, I should have a faster and more stable system overall ... instead of having to know exactly WHICH drivers and in WHAT ORDER I should be installing them.

So that's what I did. I loaded Windows 7, I took all of Windows' updates (it had several driver updates for my system.) There were two devices Windows didn't have "built in drivers" for, and I did, indeed, install those from the Lenovo website. And that was it. I was done.

That being said, it wasn't totally a bed of roses.

This T500 system has this newfangled idea of having TWO video chips instead of just one. Let's call these two chips the "Good one" and the "Awesome one." Honestly, I don't ever, ever need the "Awesome one." I don't play games, so I don't need "awesomeness." "Awesome graphics" don't make my demos any faster, and honestly, that's all I care about for this machine.

This newfangled idea of two chips sounds great, but for me it just wasn't working perfectly with my total re-install. Every time I closed the lid and re-opened it, it thought my laptop display was "Display 2." All the stuff I was working on just disappeared.

You could say: "Well, Moskowitz, if you installed the drivers from Lenovo, you wouldn't be having this problem." Except, remember .. when I did install the drivers, that's exactly when the machine went into "mega hang" mode.

So, I needed a Plan B.

To fix this, I adjusted the T500's bios to say "Kill the Awesome chip. Only let me use the Good chip." And magically, all my troubles went away.

I'm sure, really, really sure, this is because I didn't choose to install Lenovo's "mega video driver" or something for the secondary video driver chips.

But I'm okay with that. I honestly need my laptop to do EXACTLY two things: display on the panel when I want to, and display outward on the VGA port for projecting when I want to.

Nothing fancy. So, no "awesome chip settings with crazy drivers" for me, thank you very much.

So, how is my overall experience with Windows 7 compared to Windows Vista? Well, my biggest problem with Windows Vista was that it was slow. Yes, lots of people complained about it being slow, but I tried to take an empirical approach and learn WHY my experience with Vista was slow.

For me, personally, I learned the "slow culprit" was the "Windows Search" service. On my previous laptop, the D620, where I tried to run Vista, every time I ran Filemon / Procmon, I could see it. Spinning it's wheels, doing it's thing -- ALL THE TIME and slowing me down.

As for Windows 7, I'm sad to say, that my initial experience is the same in this particular regard. Windows 7 still appears to (at least with my files) churn and churn and churn.

Maybe I haven't given it a fair shake. It's true, I didn't let it "settle in for three days" before getting frustrated and turning it off. I do have 60GB of "data" for it to pour over. So, in fairness, I'm going away next weekend, and I'm planning on turning ON the search service BEFORE I LEAVE, and see what happens when I return.

But for now, I have uninstalled the Windows 7 search feature, and you also (oddly) seem to need
to DISABLE the search service to really kill it (according to my Procmon traces.)

Here's the payoff though: Man, is this lappy fast! Right now, I'm really happy with the speed. Applications pop. Demos snap. Everything is like a crisp clean spring morning. Between a new processor, new OS, the 64-bits, 8GB of RAM and a 7200 RPM HD, darn tootin' this thing better fly.

Here are some miscellaneous notes about my first 7 days, in no particular order:

- I have a wacky wacky "Cannon" all-in-one printer, fax, scanner thing. And that driver was included in Windows 7. And, it even shows me the "ink levels" while printing; just like the driver I previously needed to download from Cannon then hand-install on XP. Neat.

- I'm pretty "keyboard centric." So about 1000 times a day, I type the following key sequence when working on XP: Ctl-Esc, R, cmd, enter. In XP, this would open the Start menu, R would hit the Run command, and CMD would get me to a command prompt. Now on Win 7, the same sequence makes NOTHING happen, because (even though I've put RUN back on the Start menu) there's no keyboard shortcut for 'R'un. gRRRR.

- I have ONE piece of hardware that, darn it, I cannot use, and man, I'm disappointed. It's a USB-connected phone system that's voice activated and hooks into Outlook. It just crashes every time it runs. Just flat out crashes. Can't really get to the bottom of this. If anyone else has this device, it's called ArialPhone, and I'd love to hear if it's working for anyone out there on Win 7 or even Vista. (PS: Even "XP compatibility mode" likely won't get me out of this one; unless I want to run a copy of Outlook *INSIDE* that fake XP machine, which I don't.)

- I have two other Outlook plug-ins which worked great on XP, but won't do their magic on Windows 7. Oddly, two *OTHER* Outlook plug-ins are working swimmingly. So, I don't know where the problem is. Still hacking on this one.

- The Beta for the App-V client 4.6 is out, and includes 64-bit support. Honestly, the thing seems ROCK SOLID to me, but my understanding is that it's planned to be Beta for a while before it goes gold. AppV Applications in cache seem to run WAY WAY faster than they did in AppV 4.5. It took me about an hour to convert all my existing 4.5 sequenced apps to 4.6.

- My wife walked behind me to see what I was working on. And it was my Windows 7 desktop. She saw the huge, huge icons that Windows 7 defaults with and asked "Are you in safe mode?" I can totally see her confusion, as Windows 7, in my opinion, looks totally bizzare with those big honkin' icons. The fix? While on the desktop, hold down Control and use the scroll wheel of your mouse to adjust. Kooky.

- Lots of people seem to be all "gaga" about the new taskbar. Honestly, I don't love the "mixed metaphor" of applications running and applications' icons all jumbled together. I've reset it act a little more like XP did, and I'm a little saner now.

But, all around, 95% of my applications are working. Everything that's "broken" seems to be revolved around Outlook in some way. Everything else is working great. So, I'm not sure if I can blame Windows or what here. Regardless, I'll get to the bottom of these and shake out my final bugs.

But in short, my first week -- pretty solid after getting thru the bumps. I do have that "last mile" to push through, and I'll keep you posted as things progress.



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