Vista's installer was a reaching improvement over Windows XP and the old keyboard only DOS shell. Will Windows 7 follow in its footsteps or take a step back?

As an IT engineer, I find myself evaluating products for deployment in the work environment. Such was the way we evaluated Vista some years ago now, and came to the conclusion that while it was nice, it would cause more headaches than it would fix. At the time we were still transitioning to dual core systems and Windows XP. As of writing this I still have some Windows 2000 users in the environment to remove before any plan to implement Vista or Windows 7 could be put in motion.

The machine I'm doing the initial evaluation on is an HP NC6400 laptop. This is the lowest performing dual core system in the environment and should be representative of what we would see in actual usage.

Right off the bat, I have to say that Microsoft's installer is faster than XP's was, but so was Vista. My major complaint here is that its not specific on what its doing, at least with the XP installer it was broken down a little better as to what its doing at any given time. With Windows 7 all I see is it sitting on "Completing installation..." for quite a while. Total time from booting from the CD to actually being able to use the thing comes down to 22 minutes. This was slightly faster than my experience with Vista but no much. As usual we see the familiar stream of restarts during setup. I'm hoping Microsoft will someday be able to run the install and have one single reboot, but that seems a long way off right now.

During the post-prep setup it prompts you for the usual date/time settings, CD key, and username/password. Something new this time around is that it asks you to join a wireless network as part of this post-prep process. I'm using a standard Intel ABG network card in this laptop so YMMV with less widely used manufacturers. One major complaint right now is that when punching in the WEP/WPA key to join the wireless network, it doesn't hash the characters. That's right, your password is freely visible to anyone standing next to you. Considering XP, and Vista never had this issue when joining a wireless network before, I wonder how Microsoft could have missed such a simple rule of password fields.

After you finish joining the wireless network, it asks you where you are, just as Vista did. Depending on which you pick though you will be presented with a different screen. For the sake of argument I opted to select Home, so I could get a look at this new "Homegroup" feature thats supposed to offer domain-esque functionality while not having to stand up a Domain Controller at home.

The next screen presents me with a series of check boxes which asks me what I would like to share with my "homegroup". Options are Pictures, Music, Videos, Printers, and Documents. All except Documents are checked by default. On the right side you will be presented with a case sensitive password, that you need to write down. This "homegroup" password must be entered into every machine that wants to join your "homegroup". For the sake of example, the password it assigned to my homegroup is "Qq64z3bb5d".

Now that the post-prep is completed, the first thing I see is "Windows 7 Ultimate" at the bottom of the screen, so it appears we will be graced with the Windows 7 flavor extravaganza much the same way Vista did. Immediately we see the new icon based task bar, and an urgent message from Windows. The urgent message tells me to go get an antivirus program. The next thing I notice is that Windows 7 is starting to download and install updates (I did connect to that wireless network during initial setup remember?). The start menu is exactly the same one we remember from Vista, with the minor difference that the shut down button is actually a shutdown button and we don't need to click the arrow to shut the machine down. I absolutely hated the default shutdown option in Vista was hibernate, so +1 for bringing back the good old shutdown. Like Vista however if you want it to default to something else, you can customize it in the power management panel.

So far Windows 7's initial setup is a minor improvement over Vista, and the ability to connect to your home network right out of the box during post-prep setup is a nice feature, but they lose points for not hashing the password entry box. They make points back with having a real password that would be hard to brute force for the Homegroup feature. Keep an eye out for first impressions in the near future.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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