I have Windows 7 beta up and running, albeit with questionable stability. Here's the rundown.
The system: HP slimline s7410n: Celeron M 1.7GHz, 1GB RAM, intel 915GV chipset, intel GMA900 integrated graphic, realtek integrated sound, 250GB hard-drive, DVD burner, running XP SP3. A pretty low end system. Its performance with XP is not that great, yet it has the Vista capable sticker on it. It would be a great system to test Windows 7, which is supposedly more optimized to run on low end systems compared to Vista.
First of all, why does Microsoft still use DVD installation? That's so, 2001. LOL. More and more PCs and laptops, especially netbooks, are sold without an optical drive. Luckily, it's quite easy preparing the Windows 7 install disc into a USB flash drive, as long as you have a Vista machine. The basic instruction of making a bootable USB drive can be found here. After that, simply copy the content of the ISO into the USB drive.
Installation of Windows 7 is pretty straight forward. A lot of the setup screens and process have been simplified to make the whole process feel simpler and faster. I have never done a clean Vista install, but I would think the experience is similar. With win2k/XP, when booting from the install disc, I was greeted with text based screens, starting with the loading of several drivers. In windows 7, all I saw was a bar at the bottom and a simple description. Sometimes it can be unnerving though, simply waiting for the bar to move without any hint of what's going on. After that, instead of a text based setup, the rest of the installation is run under a Windows GUI environment (Windows Preinstallation Environment to be exact). No more forgetting to press F6 in the beginning of setup to load some drivers as the GUI will allow you to load necessary drivers manually. The rest of the setup is just like installing a Windows program. All have simple point and click UI, with very few user questions. On the other hand, Windows 7 setup forced me to provide a hint for my password, weird. Networking setup couldn't be simpler, as I was only given 3 options: Home networking, Office, or Public. These presets automatically setup (or skip) necessary file sharing, etc.
The whole installation was fairly quick (mind you I used a USB flash drive instead of a DVD), with I think 2 reboots. Then that's it, I was greeted with a very fancy and more attractive Windows "loading" screen, and the log-in screen is pretty much the same as Vista's, with blue background. Somewhere in between, Windows 7 ask a vague question about what I thought what setting of Automatic Updates I would want. But from the description, it seems to involved other settings, probably also related to the UAC. I picked the second option. I wish MS put a better descriptions for this. Logging in, everything looks exactly like Vista, except for the new task bar. I noticed that I didn't hear any startup chimes. That's right, Windows 7 failed to detect and install the audio driver. Also, screen res is only set at 1024x768. I checked Device Manager, and Windows 7 only had the default VGA driver. On the new system tray, there is a flag icon for the new "Activity Center." I guess this is the new Security Center, telling me that I don't have anti-virus, I need to run Defender, etc. All the warnings can be disabled easily. Oh, and guess what, no UAC pop up yet. In Vista, UAC will pop up anytime I access anything in Control Panel. This is much better. Then I noticed the network connectivity icon. As with Vista, the default is a static icon. I prefer the animated blinking icons like in older windows as that is a better quick diagnosis tool to see if there's a current data transfer or not. For some reason, I couldn't find a way to show this in Windows 7. Bummer.
I ran Windows Update next. Voila, there's a driver for the intel chipset integrated driver. Installed, restarted, and now the GMA900 is detected properly. However, still stuck in Windows Basic theme, no aero. Still no sound. I was interested to see the performance index of this PC, but it was not available. I ran the assessment tool, and Windows 7 crashed for the first time. It crashed when the tool is running Windows Media decoding performance. I thought maybe it's because I don't have a sound driver yet. HP doesn't provide a Vista driver for the realtek integrated audio. The HP motherboard is actually made by Asus, so I went to Asus website and download the Vista audio driver for a different motherboard with the same chipset. Rebooted, then I hear the familiar Vista chime. Sound works in general, but realtek's control panel applet doesn't seem to work properly. Alas, Windows Performance assessment tool still hard crashed Windows.
Now that I have sound, I want to test video playback and as MS said Windows 7 comes with divx/H.264 support built-in. Alas, anytime I tried playing videos on Windows Media Player, it hard crashed Windows. So much for that. I installed VLC, and the videos are played just fine.
At this point, I feel the performance is not any slower than XP, which is a good thing. Despite the low-end config, the desktop seems to load faster after logging in. The PC was pretty slow already at startup when it was running XP. Loading Control Panel seems to lag a bit. Disabling some animation effects definitely improves overall feel of the OS. I decided to plug in an 512MB USB flash drive to enable ready boost, and things seems to be snappier even more. Loading control panel doesn't lag anymore.
I installed Firefox with a bunch of add-ons. It runs fine so far. I did leave the machine idle for a while, and when I came back, there's a constant of disk activity, but the mouse & keyboard were not responsive. Another hard crash.
Tweaking the system takes time as things are not in the same place as XP. Personalization setting is better as now Windows 7 allow complete theme selections, not just colors. Alas, without Aero, I don't see any difference except for the different wallpaper. As expected, most things are the same as Vista. The new task bar is the most glaring change. I'm not sure if it works though. I'm having a hard time differentiating active apps and shortcuts. Maybe it works better with Aero, but the least MS should do is add a dot on the active apps like OS X.
Other than Firefox and VLC, the next software I installed was the Windows Home Server connector software. It installed fine, and Windows 7 is detected as Vista by Windows Home Server. I'm sure this will be updated once Windows 7 ships.
Quick recap about Windows 7 beta:
-Installation is faster and more streamlined
-Most things are the same as Vista, so for those that are already bitching about Vista, too bad
-Performance on my low end config doesn't seem to be any slower than XP with certain things like logging in actually feels faster. I haven't installed any anti-virus, which I expect would put a hit in performance.
-GMA900 sux. Intel decided not to release aero-supporting driver. Without Aero, a lot of the UI features of Windows 7 is not available.
-I suspect the crashes is due to the video and/or audio driver. Still, it's annoying, and shouldn't crash the whole OS.
Contrary to what people are hoping, Windows 7 is Vista SE, not XP. Sooner or later, people have to start learning the way things are in Vista/7. Annoying, yes. Like I already stated, devices that are not supported in Vista won't magically work in 7. Should you wait for Windows 7? If you're buying a netbook or a fairly low-end PC, yes. Windows 7 is more optimized and would run a bit better on lesser hardware. On the other hand, if you're buying a mid to high-end PC, there's not much difference between Vista and 7. I would still recommend a similar hardware ocnfiguration for 7 as with Vista though, meaning dual-core, 2GB RAM, DX9 GPU with 128MB video memory. After saying that, for basic tasks, 1GB RAM seems to run 7 okay. I just hope MS doesn't fool consumers like the Vista capable sticker. Many GPUs won't be able to run Aero. I just hope this will push more and more PCs away from using the really old and sucky intel GMA950.
To close, Aero is the main focus for eye candy in Vista and 7. However, the basic theme does have a tiny yet neat eye candy.