Windows 7 RC install experience

Since a number of people have been connecting to my blog via my last post on installing Windows 7 into a VMWare image, I thought since the Windows7 RC is now available, I'd update my experiences with installing it.

I downloaded the Windows7 RC ISO image (a freakishly hideous name containing every character on my US keyboard, plus a few in Klingon, I think.... if you can stand it, the full name of the ISO is 7100.0.090421-1700_x86fre_client_en-us_Retail_Ultimate-GRC1CULFRER_EN_DVD) from the Microsoft CONNECT website, not bothering with any of the other images (x64, ia64, and a "server" image I've not explored yet), using Microsoft's File Transfer Manager. (I know, I know, somebody's going to complain again about the ISOs not being available via a straight HTTP download or Torrent, but this is just an RC release, folks, and this is ostensibly to Microsoft-friendly customers who already have the FTM utility installed.) Took about 3+ hours to download on my home connection... or so it claimed. I went to bed after starting it last night. It was done when I woke up. What more do you want from me?

I created a new VMWare image, as a "Windows Vista" VM with 1GB RAM, a 60GB IDE hard disk (by default Fusion wants to create a 40 GB SCSI disk, but IDE seems to play nicer with the early betas of Microsoft OS'es, and I made it all one file rather than Fusion's default "Split into 2GB files" option), with the experimental 3D graphics turned on, battery status turned off, and (this is HUGE) the "Allow your Mac to open applications in the virtual machine" option turned OFF. Can't repeat this enough, for ANY VMWare VM containing Windows inside of it, turn off that option—leaving it on sucks up HUGE amounts of CPU time. (It's barely documented, and only determined Googling found that this was what was rendering my VMWare Fusion 2 images all but unusable.)

I attached the ISO to the VMWare CD and turned the thing loose. It takes a while, but so long as the ISO file and the VMWare VMDK disk file are on separate drives, the perf isn't too bad—roughly twenty minutes later (or, as I measure things, one randomly-generated map game of Pax Galaxia later), the image had installed all the core files on the VM disk, restarted itself, finished the installation, and restarted itself again. (I have no idea why Win7 wants to reboot itself twice during the install—if I remember the Vista installs correctly, it only restarts once). As I write this, I'm starting at the "Setup is preparing your computer for first use" screen with the funky Cylon-like flashing bar underneath the text (I'm serious, it really looks like the graphic artists at Microsoft are paying homage to BSG during that Setup screen). Whoops, I take it back—got through that screen rather quickly, and now we're into the username/password/product key stage. Plug that in, set the Update policy, the date and time, the network defaults (Public Location for all my VMs, just because), and.... "Welcome".

There's no Step Four. Although, according to Windows Update, there's already an update for Windows7 that should be downloaded and installed. *grin* Actually, it seems like the driver it installed was for the VMWare virtual sound device, which normally doesn't kick in until I install the VMWare Tools. It tells me that this is an "Unsupported Creative Sound Device", however, so maybe it's an older driver. *shrug* Not sure, don't care, because my next step is....

Install the VMWare Tools. I install VMWare Tools in the image, after the Update is complete. (No restart was required, so why not?) Actually, let me rephrase that—I tried to install the VMWare tools, but when I selected it from the Fusion menu bar... nothing happened. Hmm. OK, let's do the restart and see what happens. VM shuts down quickly enough (no having to wait for updates to finish, which was somewhat annoying with Vista), and when I restart, it seems to restart quickly enough (again, no obvious updates to be installed), so I get to a working desktop (640x480, how did we ever think this was reasonable?!?), and try the Install VMWare Tools option from the Fusion menubar again. It thinks for a bit, and the cursor flashes to the "pointer-with-CD" icon for a second before flashing back, but after a few seconds, the "What do you want to do?" (Autoplay) menu pops up as if I'd slipped the CD into the drive, so all looks good. Go through the UAC "Continue/Cancel" dialog (see below), choose "Complete" for the VMWare Tools install options, and let 'er rip. Disks spin, lights flicker, and a "VMWare Shared Tools" network folder shows up on the Win7 desktop, indicating that it's suddenly discovered the Shared Folder (to my MacOS user account) is there. But now we're back to the Windows-display-exercise program, which leads me to believe that it's the VMWare driver that's doing the exercise, not Windows itself. (VMWare? Anybody listening and care to comment?)

And now I'm into Win7 desktop customization steps, things like display sizing and desktop icon selection, background image, and all that other jazz that you probably don't care about. (If you do, then I'm a bit worried about you—be an individual! Choose your own settings!) All in all, pretty flawless and smooth.

Thoughts on the process:

  • It feels like we're getting away from the "minimal install" process that Vista tried to create. For a while, there was a meme that said that installing Windows was too hard for the average person, and Microsoft promised to reduce the number of steps it had to go through to install the OS. Take the date/time screen, for example: it picked up the defaults from the underlying (virtual) hardware, why not just assume those and skip that step? Users can always change it later.
  • I still have to set a Administrator password. I know that Microsoft is trying to find that sweet-spot balance between "too secure" and "unsecure" for desktop operating systems, but I have to hand it to the Ubuntu folks here—the "passwordless root" idea that they use is pretty slick. MacOS uses it (for the most part) in places, as well. I like the balance that approach achieves: it forces the user to enter "superuser" mode to do something sensitive, but it isn't challenging for a password (unless the superuser installs one) every time.
  • It's not going through display-screen calesthenics on each startup with this build. My previous Win7 image, every time I restart the VM, goes through every possible video/monitor size combination before settling in on the resolution I established in the last session. That was a bit disconcerting, until I realized that it's Windows trying to get some exercise in to be less overweight. *grin*
  • What, no PowerShell installed by default? Either it's not there, or it's buried pretty deeply. Command Prompt (cmd.exe) is right where it's always been, under Accessories, but no PowerShell.... Whoops, no, I take it back, it's in a folder underneath Accessories, forcing one more click to get to it. Hey Microsoft: do me a favor and pin that guy to the Start Menu. Make it easy for me to use, if you really want me to believe that this is supposed to replace Command Prompt someday.
  • On that note, though, the PowerShell "ISE" (Interactive Scripting Environment) is an interesting and new toy to play with.
  • "Pin to Taskbar" is an interesting option that I'm going to have to play around with. Not being a huge MacOS Dock fan (which is pretty clearly the inspiration for the new Taskbar), I'm not sure how well I'll like the new "it's the QuickLaunch and the Taskbar combined" idea.

Overall, I'm looking forward to putting a few things into this image (VS 2008, VS 2010, Office, and so on) and seeing how it reacts. As always, your mileage may vary, no implied warranties with this blog post, blah blah blah, but if you do anything with the Windows OS, you really should get hold of the RC (build 7100) and put it into a Virtual PC, VMWare, VirtualBox, Xen or some other virtualized box to play with. Like it or not, it's entirely reasonable to believe that Windows7 is going to win a few folks back from the Vista "less-than-I-expected" crowd.

As always, caveat emptor, and feel free to comment....