A Game in the Life of Windows 7

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Windows 7 Home Premium

Back from the store on a storm-drizzled Thursday, I'm installing the 64-bit versions of the Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade as I type this--not without a sense of irony--on a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard. I've had the Windows 7 Release Candidate on my desktop (build 7100) since last May. I've been using this latest-gen 15-inch MacBook Pro for the past month. So it goes for those of us who gauge our geek-fluency in proportion to our collection of computer genotypes.

Despite the sense one has of déjà vu watching the installer flash "Expanding Windows files," and "Setup is starting services," on through to "Completing installation," I'm actually a little excited. It's here. No more fitful waiting or wondering whether the glitch you're experiencing, e.g. "Internet Explorer has stopped responding," is beta-related. The early words are kind, kinder than I'd expected. That's good news for all, considering how long it's been since we've had a version of Windows to crow about or this broadly acclaimed in the bargain.

Just navigating around, the interface seems more responsive. Don't trust me--see our performance tests for the science--but that's the sense you have opening Control Panel and fiddling in the Device Manager, copying files and running driver updates and antivirus utility installs. I still have mixed feelings about Aero's default visual settings. It's pretty, but the fade animations introduce an odd sense of delay opening or switching between windows. You can turn this off under "Visual Effects" in the performance settings without disabling the rest of Aero's 3D finery.

Why Home Premium? Speaking as a guy who uses Windows to game exclusively, I won't miss Windows XP Mode, or Domain Join, or automatic backups in the "Professional" version. I can't say I care about BitLocker drive encryption or the option to brush up on my French, Thai, or Latvian (of 35 language alternatives) in the "Ultimate" version. If you need any of those things, knock yourself out, but if you're a gamer, Home Premium covers the essentials.

A few things still bug me--longstanding general Windows gripes overlooked (or perhaps just grudgingly tolerated) by reviewers. I started to install AOL's Instant Messenger, for instance, and changed my mind before clicking the "install" button, yet there's now a folder called AIM6 under Program Files (x86) with an empty "Install" text file. Hate the way sloppy (intentionally or otherwise) applications leave this sort of detritus behind? I do. Care to wager what a registry scan on 'AIM' or 'AOL' turns up? Can't these companies be bothered to clean up after themselves after 15 years of 'Program Files' and the registry?

There's still a bit of tomfoolery going on during game installs, too. Installing a Steam game, I clicked the box to put a shortcut on the Start Menu, expecting I'd see one under Windows 7's Games box as well. The Game box? You know, the one-stop shortcut shop off the Start Menu designed to end perusing tree-like menus cluttered with nested folders and application links? Instead, I get a shortcut under 'Steam' on the Start Menu and zilch in the Games view. I thought the point of these OS upgrades was to un-clutter.

Anyway. I'm off to put this thing through its paces and blow out my half-terabye hard drive installing everything on the shelf, just to see. Things may be looking down for PC gaming, but who can say where we'll be in a year or three? If Windows 7 carries forward at the rate it's been pre-selling, maybe it'll finally rouse publishers from their console-soused stupor to give this magnificent platform the support it deserves.

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