Speed and compatibility
Microsoft set out to make sure that Windows 7 wouldn't have the same issues with hardware compatibility that Windows Vista had, and the company said that all hardware that works with Windows Vista should also work with Windows 7.
It appears that even in this beta version, that goal has been met. Windows 7 immediately recognized all the components of my Dell Inspiron E1505 without a hitch -- something that early versions of Vista had serious problems with, particularly when it came to wireless networking adapters.
And while the prebeta version of Windows 7 had problems connecting to my Linksys wireless router, this new beta version immediately recognized the router and connected to it without a problem.
I found no software problems either. Windows 7 ran every piece of software I threw at it, including not just obvious programs such as Microsoft Office, but lesser-used ones as well, such as Windows Live Sync. In addition, several antivirus applications are already compatible with Windows 7, including AVG and Kaspersky. I've been running the free version of AVG without problems.
I did, however, find an oddball problem that most likely affects very few people in the world -- and perhaps only me. I installed Windows 7 on a dual-boot machine, in which the C: drive boots to XP and the J: drive boots to Windows 7. Unaccountably, when I boot into Windows 7, Windows 7 shows the J: drive as if it were a C: drive. And the real C: drive is invisible -- it simply doesn't show up in Windows 7 at all, and I have no access to it. However, when I boot to XP, I can see both the C: and J: drives. If anyone has a solution for this, I'd appreciate hearing it -- there's a lot of disk space going to waste.
Beta operating systems typically run slower than the shipping version, but Beta 1 of Windows 7 is already surprisingly fast. It appears to be clearly faster than Vista, without delays associated with displaying menu items or boxes, launching programs, or doing other tasks.
The bottom line
This first beta of Windows 7 is a polished piece of work, with few apparent kinks to be worked out. Windows 7 is much further along at this beta stage than Windows Vista was at a similar point. In Vista's Beta 1 stage, the user interface was still being tweaked, the operating system was sluggish, and there were many hardware incompatibilities. Not so with Windows 7. Because so little has changed between the prebeta and beta versions of Windows 7, don't be surprised if Windows 7 is on a fast track to release.
That being said, the new task bar is somewhat confusing to use at first. After you live with it for a while, you get used to it doing double duty as a task launcher and windows manager. Still, it wouldn't surprise me if Microsoft tweaked it in future beta versions.
Given the beta's stability and speed, you can safely download it and use this on a test machine. As with any beta of an operating system, though, you shouldn't use it on a production machine.