Considering the Windows 7 Beta Download

Windows 1.0 welcome screen
Windows 1.0 welcome screen
Windows 7 Jump Lists
Windows 7 Jump Lists

My quarter century covering information technology pretty much mirrors the evolution of Microsoft Windows. In my 16-years at PC Week (now eWeek) mostly as news editor, I oversaw coverage with the some fabulous Microsoft reporters (Paul Sherer now at Oglivy, Mike Moeller now at Xerox, Mary Jo Foley still writing about Windows at CBS CNet and Amy Cortese freelancing I think) starting with buggy, clunky and slow Windows 1.0 in 1985 (see pic – where has the time gone?!).

Windows 2.0, Windows/386, Windows 3.0 and 3.1, Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95, Windows 98,  Windows Millennium, Windows CE, Windows NT and Windows XP – we covered them all.

So it is with this perspective, I start to investigate the latest version, Windows 7. First, I know little about it, having focused on design engineering and healthcare IT for the past seven years. But after covering those topics, I realized how much I miss covering information technology and in particular, the one saving grace in this otherwise horrid economy,  consumer electronics.

There are plenty of places to go and learn about every feature in  Windows 7 now in the beta testing. If you need its  new features examined from every angle, I recommend CNet, IDG’s myriad web sites or tracking the work of The Wall Street Journal’s Walter S. Mossberg. Let the lab wonks rip it apart if that’s what rings your bell.

My goal is to learn a bit more about Windows 7 as a mere mortal, i.e. an everyday user. Here’s what I have learned just by visiting Microsoft’s web site: its central focus seems to be correcting the complexity and ills of previous versions. Microsoft has avoided its bad habit of throwing in the kitchen sink of features and applications, focusing instead on ease or use, convenience, polishing what’s there  and responding to user feedback. At least, that is my interpretation of what they are saying. I have yet to investigate whether it’ll be compatible with my previous stuff  and that will be a key in determining if I EVER move off XP.

My question now is whether should I download the beta version, having skipped Vista and having remained with XP (hey, it works!).  The answer for the moment is no.

The warning “It can be glitchy—so don’t use a PC you need every day” was enough to scare me away. What’s different about past beta downloads is that this time, Microsoft also advises taking a pass on the download unless you have “some technical skills.” Microsoft used to urge everyone and their grandmother to try the beta and some like me ended up screwing up their everyday PC in the process.

It’s not that I don’t have the technical skills such as creating a recovery disk, but the remark “technical skills” also mean downloading the beta will eat up time and be a bumpy ride. Unless testing out buggy software is your job or deep passion, it’s probably best to skip it. To Microsoft’s credit, they’re quite up front about the rigors of taking the Windows 7 beta ride.

I do have a few spare PCs discarded by my computer-consumptive college-aged kids that might allow me to give it a shot.  I’ll have to decide by Feb. 10 because that’s when the public beta closes.

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