As of recent days, Windows 7 builds seem to be popping up everywhere from within Microsoft headquarters. This is no surprise — after all, we are close to a public RC (release candidate) build, which will hopefully come in April.
The recent installment of Windows 7, at least the one which Tech net subscribers received, is build 7057. I have reviewed build 7048 in the past — So I will not go into detail on what has changed in preparation for the Release candidate, but I encourage all to go back and read that review in order to see a complete RC picture.
This time around, I focused on doing tests (benchmarks as they are called) of this build with various applications. Microsoft has strived to correct a lot of the issues found in Windows Vista — and application compatibility was one lacking area that Operating System missed. There have been many efforts in making Windows 7 as compatible as can be — including programs which could run in Windows XP but were unable to in Windows Vista. Since Windows 7 is built on the foundations of Windows Vista, applications which could run previously should be compatible and functional.
After installing this build, I was determined to “test” this theory and see, the truth: How compatible is Windows 7 with various applications?
I again delved back to downloading the various accessibility products on the Blind and Low Vision market. These included Screen Readers as well as a few low-vision products. So what were my results in terms of accessibility?
Jaws for Windows:
As I have mentioned in my 7048 review (another reason to read it!), JAWS and other screen readers lack the ability of reading text which is located above links in Windows when a user tabs around the dialog. Windows 7 has become a link-filled world, with the control panel no longer containing a list view option and many applications using links to interact with the user.
In general, JAWS 10.0.512 functions well with Windows 7. At times, the “mirror display driver”, which interfaces with my system’s video card, does click out and this requires me to re-install the product completely (remove and reinstall process). JAWS will not read many windows without it’s mirror display drivers present.
As for the latest update of the 10 release, I’d recommend that you not install it just yet. On my system, which contains an AI Radian x1400 video card, JAWS will only detect half of your screen. This means that if you were to try to use the JAWS cursor, you would only be able to perceive half of your screen’s contents. The first half, to be exact — not the status lines.
The open-source screen reading alternative, Non Visual Desktop Access, has a few “quirks” with Windows 7. One of these is in regards to the Start Menu, where NVDA becomes unresponsive and lags extremely when scrolling the menu. The calculator and other Windows applications work well with the 0.5 P3.2 release of the software. As I have mentioned in my build 6956 review of 7, the advantage of NVDA is the use of only Standard Windows APIs or implementations in reading the screen. This means that during ribbon controls, which are present in applications such as Wordpad, tutor messages on what the control does can be read properly.
Nothing has changed in Window-eyes since my last attempts of testing it with Windows 7. Although it, too, lacks the ability to properly recognize the new ribbon interfaces (the first screen reader being JAWS), the video intercepting is not bad or unstable. For the past 3 days of testing, I have never received errors with the interception of graphics.
Judging from these results, Windows 7 retained most of it’s compatibility throughout it’s build process. This comes in no surprise, as the underpinnings of the OS have not been altered much since Vista. However, there are a few applications worth noting which will not function on Windows 7.
No more mounting Virtual images! : driver changes
For those readers who enjoy mounting a .iso image file (typically containing the contents of a full DVD or CD), you will not be able to use Demon Tools or the popular Alcohol 120% Virtual mounting software. Windows 7 refuses to install the drivers, and consequently you receive the “setup needs to restart your computer” statement all the time. Of course, you could restart a billion times (I dare anyone to try that!), but in no way will you install these products. Instead, I recommend that you use a free alternative, known as virtual clone drive. Virtual Clone Drive offers less supports in terms of what images you can mount, but for now that is the best solution for at least installing software from an iso image.
Sound recording (directly from a soundcard input):
I am a radio DJ, , and my job requires me to stream audio directly from my soundcard. In Windows XP, the Recording Control served as the main tool and venue towards accomplishing this goal. However, since the release of Vista, the Volume Control is no longer present. Instead, one must go through control panel into sound and select the recording tab. Here, if you press the application menu, you will find an option “show disabled devices”. Checking this will add a few more items to the list of sound recording hardware on your system. The shoutcast DSP Winamp plug-in, which is what I use to broadcast with, automatically enables the Stereo mix. Clicking set as default allows me to again stream my soundcard into my show just as before.
In Vista, my “stereo mix” option, which is what I use to directly record sound from my card, was not present even if I ran the shoutcast plug-in. Although this process is the same for Vista Users– 7 seems to provide more support in allowing the presence of this option.
DirectX games (for the blind)
The visually impaired play games too! Accept that our gaming products feature very little to no graphics. Instead, they use and rely on DirectX Sound to produce intended audio and realistic 3D surroundings.
It has been reported to me in the past that Windows 7 is the system which will lack DirectX Sound support. I wanted to confirm or reject this statement by testing several audio games.
To my (and I’m sure, many others) satisfaction, Windows 7 works well with even the most recent and oldest of releases and titles. Games like Entombed and Pinball xtreme work well, while others such as Mysteries of the Ancients from USA Games do not. However, judging from these tests, Windows 7 still contains Direct Sound, and I have not seen any articles on this issue or forum posts.
Build 7057 changes: More branding
This release includes more wallpapers, as well as new user account pictures. It also seems that Microsoft Paint now has a recovery feature, where you can recover your last drawing in case your computer crashes.
This is a very useful feature, and I am positive that we will see it surface in other applications as well. Seeing that the ribbon interface from Office has now made it into Windows — I am sure that the file recovery/autosave features will as well!
Bugs: Squash them!
There are a few bugs to note which have come up in this build. Well. One bug to report, rather. This is an issue where notepad opens up on every startup with a desktop.ini file. This is because a desktop.ini is present in the windows startup menu folder (found in the start menu). A simple way of solving this problem is by erasing the desktop.ini file from your startup folder found in C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart Menu\Programs\Startup.
Testing this build of Windows 7 in depth reassured me and gave confidence on what Windows 7 really is. Although certain features are missed greatly (such as the classic start menu not being present anymore) , overall there are more good than bad to this Operating System.
Microsoft’s goal is to finally show the world that they can make something comprable to Windows XP, and in my opinion, this goal is well-met so far. The image (installation DVD) of Windows 7 build 7057 is 2.5 GB, while the .wim file containing expandable setup files is 2.21 GB. To recap: The .wim image for Vista was 2.24 GB (without sp1), and with SP1 it rose to 2.35 GB. Windows 7 has already shrunk itself well below the normal Vista footprint, and it seems that every build will continue to incorporate more cleaning and optimizing. After 7 is released, Windows Vista will be abandoned at record speeds, and many will talk of it just as Windows ME is being spoken of in negative terms.