I can't wait for the "easier install" of Windows 7.

As the kind people at MS want educationals to have it cheap as a treat, I thought I would try the experience for myself. I enrolled on the educational program for Vista, and that whole thing was a disaster. The DigitalRiver download system just didn't work, failing to send me a password. Eventually I got it downloaded after tech support stepped in, but then it went a bit sour trying to make a boot CD. Still, the backup media arrived through the post (the postal system used to work back then ...) and I moved on to the next disaster. It was an upgrade disc, but rather than the normal "show me the media" it demanded an existing install to upgrade. I couldn't convince it to look at my genuine XP disc, so I had to install XP from scratch to make it as clean an upgrade as possible. From forums I have looked at so far, Windows 7 will likely be just as much a misguided pain as Vista in this respect. No techie would ever advise an upgrade if you want a fast stable system. Clean install is apparently possible, but you need to have a valid copy of windows on the machine first. OK, I have the windows 7 RC of course. Computer says no. At least MS does. I have to supply them with an install of the older operating system first so it can ignore it and do a clean install of the new one. Don't think I am making this deliberately difficult. I can cope with this and giggle at it, but if you don't have experience of windows back to version 2 you might not be doing as well. The forums are full of confused people in pain, and this OS was meant to be the saviour of MS that put a smile on every techies face, as well as making people install it over their new Mac OS.

After Vista installed, I had problems getting drivers and software that worked with 64 bit, and so I moved it to a virtual machine to prod and poke as an oddity now and then. It will not be missed. It may stick around a bit for those people stuck with it though. Free upgrade you say? Anything but in reality, people have to shell out for the media at an appalling 20-35 GBP, and how many non-techies want to install an operating system themselves anyway?

This time around I have fully bitten the bullet and gone for the download. It wanted to install it's own download software, so no leaving it to my NAS to schedule it overnight. Thanks, bandwidth is really cheap and fast here in peak hours. Err, not really. So I told it to save to my NAS. Sorry, it doesn't understand that kind of thing and kept failing part of the way through with write permission errors. It clearly had write permission. I had to clear up some space to save it direct on the hard drive if I wanted it. OK, that one overnighted and left me with "setup boxes". On asking it to extract them, I got half an hour of grining and a fatal message about space. Right. So it wanted another 3GB or more on the Windows Profile drive in Local Settings/Temp. Having My Documents mapped elsewhere really didn't bother it. No options to extract it elsewhere. Fine: I'll uninstall some more stuff then and blow the download to a DVD.

Clearly there is only one setup that MS considers in partitioning schemes - all in one lump. If you have your partitions split for performance and fragmentation reasons, or optimised boot drives on small SSDs (I have one or both schemes on all my systems) then you must suffer. I try to have windows and apps on one partition, data on another and swap on a third at the minumum, sometimes across different drives for speed. This really reduces any impact of drive fragmentation and makes the system snappier all round. I must be an idiot to want speed and still install windows, as we all found in the Vista days.

Back to the paranoid installer: after giving it space on the profile drive it was happier, and ground away for 40 minutes before telling me it couldn't write to the DVD it came from - yet again the software wanted write permissions to the download directory for some other IP-protecting crack-proofing nonsense. If I wanted to bootleg it I could have got it straight off the torrents ready to install. No, I paid for it so I am down to be pirate checked and tormented. Obviously, like goverments choose soft target in people who can pay and hound them for car-related taxes and fines, MS are interested in turning the screw on anyone who has shown any intention of paying anything, at all, ever. Who else? The piraters aren't going to, already sat there with that free copy of Windows 7 running on their machines with no hassle. Well, before dying the extraction tool did leave behind a 3GB DVD style image in the temp directory of the profile, so I copied that to a DVD. At this stage it is my only option short of repurposing a machine, just to write a DVD ISO that should have been available straight at the download page. The postal strike means I will be unlikely to ever see the backup media this side of Christmas. Any delay more than 4 days from now means it will be chasing me round for the next 5 weeks redirected from city to city.

I have just tried a quick check to see if I am wasting my time even writing the disc, and the setup.exe says it is not a valid win32 application. But I want win64 anyway, so maybe it will still be fine. It would be nice if it gave a more useful message, but what can I expect this far down into farce? Linux says it is a PE executable with .net so fingers crossed. Nope, the disc doesn't even try to boot. Sigh. Apparently they want you to run it from inside an activated copy of Windows just to be sure.

UPDATE:

OK, a few days passed and the postie brought the media. I am ready for your next hurdle. No disk space allegedly, it has 22GB free and wants 24. I am sure it installed in about 10-12GB for the RC it is about to go over, but never mind, here we go deleting. Right, ready. Unable to create a new system partition. I remember this one from the Vista install. It really must have at least 100Mb on the first partition on what it counts as the first hard disk. As far as I can see it already has that, but it must be counting disks differently. OK, easiest way out here is just to unplug the SSD raid for now. It was already fully used for Linux so Win7 broke down in tears and fell at this hurdle. XP would just have ignored it and carried on.

Right, after the total tantrums the install started. Why I couldn't have had an environment to deal with little problems like this I dont know - most Linux distros have a Live Install CD that runs the OS and lets you do any disk massaging necessary. Microsoft have something similar in Win PE, but choose not to let it loose on the install. Look! I got a windows 7 install! At least until I reconnect the SSD anyway. Next was the inevitable downloading firefox and Opera, no ballot screen as yet. And antivirus adding itself to the browser on top of Microsoft checking the same links. Updates that will no doubt break the working devices that it is updating, and no doubt the next few weeks religiously looking out for new critical updates. Still, never mind.

I did hear an unxepected comment from a user who has had Win 7 for months - she didn't like it. To her, it just wasn't as good as XP on her other machine. To me, too much has been changed for the sake of it. I don't like the new taskbar, it acts differently to the old ones - click on an icon to find out what is hidden under that icon, then click again to get to it. Fab. Then I can't just click that again to minimise it anymore. Double Fabbo. I am used to a taskbar that lists what I have running at a glance, with one click in and out. In KDE I can allow individual programs to group under one icon, or have the instances broken out all with a right click. Internet explorer 8 is missing its menus, as is the new trend. So that just makes it harder in day to day use, and when I want to tweak things. It wanted to run me through a wizard to Bing itself. I let it do what whatever it wanted, as Firefox will be the default with Google.

It doesn't like icons being on the desktop. What else is the Desktop for? I am not convinced by widgets and dross being parked there, but quite like my links and want them back. Even to My Computer. I get the feeling they are forcing random change on users who just don't want it. It is not a big innovation to stop people doing what they like to do. Even KDE4 lets you put things back on the desktop if you want to. Am I meant to fight my way through the evolving menu instead for the top 10 things I most click on? I already KNOW what they are and put shortcuts in fixed places on my desktop. I have programs and links to data in columns right down it for different taks. I think that works for me, having done it that way for years, and I really can't see what they think they are offering instead. We only just got back to something near the functionality of Program Manager, now they want to take it away again. I love trying out new things, but I don't like Win 7 so far. Maybe because it just doesn't feel new - I have used OS X and KDE for years, this doesnt seem to offer anything more. But what about Libraries you say. They used to be called symbolic links and have been there from the dark old days of Unix I say.

Every feature in the super thick "Ultimate Windows 7" books seems to be old to me. Maybe if you have been using XP for a long time you might like the challenge of having everything moved about, so you can play "find the network settings" like I just had to. I was a bit disappointed when I got there and it wouldn't let me have a static local IP on top of my DHCP internet address though, but that is just a quirk of my network choices.

UPDATE 2:

A few weeks on and I have found something that Windows 7 does better than previous versions: it makes a pretty desktop on the TV when you want to use iPlayer properly. I took the opportunity to see what openSUSE 11.2 looked like at the same time, and they had defaulted the fonts to some nasty retro looking thing that was quite nasty at low res (1366x768). I have to say I hadn't noticed only using it on 1680x1050 resolotion normally.

Does Win7 have any other advantages? Err. Still thinking ... Hopefully there was some underlying good reason to even bother with an improved Vista, not sure though. The money that no doubt went into this, spent in any other way, could probably have brought world peace or something. Well, maybe not unless they invested it into clean energy. No, the thing is it is nice looking, but the pro users are probably going to be back to Classic theme shortly in which case it will be a heavier, slower Win2000 lookalike.

Everyone seems to be falling for the same thing here in desktop land (see the next rant on desktops) and I am not sure we either want it, will use it, or even need it. The general public are not computer fans for the sake of it like us old guys were back in the 80s/90s. They get used to how a tool does its job, whether that is a desktop or full OS. They know what works, how to work it, what they want and how they want to do it. No computer company has been at this point before, where the vast majority of its users are not interested in what they do. The eyecandy is meant to attract them in, but they just don't care.

It really is quite hopeless: computers are ugly, noisy nuisances, and normal people don't want them in their lives. I don't want a media computer in my living room because the TV is there for me to relax, I say no to tech support instead of watching something while all the rest of the family are complaining that you messed up their night because something wanted to run a chkdsk instead of booting instantly and recording their appearance on the news. No thanks Bill. The phones are coming up, the games consoles are becoming media centres, the stuff all over normal life is filling in the gaps really quickly, and the computer probably isn't going to win this one. Its useful bits will get embedded, and every attempt to be interesting or new or fresh really had better be damn good, because only a significant leap in function will be tolerated. I don't see any recent full desktop OS from anyone as achieving this.