I had Windows 7 installed on my trusted Vaio SR140D laptop a couple of weekends ago and have been running it on a near constant basis since. Now after 3 weeks or so I have compiled a list of bugs and bonuses that should be helpful to the development team as well as users who are curious about this new operating system.
Overall I have to say Windows 7 has been a revelation (of the good kind that is). People say that Microsoft get things right every second release of something major, and since Windows 7 can be said to be a second coming of Vista the saying rings true. Windows 7 sees vast improvements in everything from usability to functionality to performance and puts a final nail in the coffin of most of the negatives the naysayers and Mac fanatics have been riding so hard on for the last two years.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Because I know you came for the trash talk I’m going to start with the bugs, ‘cus there are some nasty ones. My Windows 7 Bonuses article with the many reasons why Windows 7 is the best OS I have ever worked with will be up some time next week.
System Fatal Program Crashes
Yes, you read that right; system fatal program crashes. In the first week alone my computer crashed upwards of 40 times from this error. Bizarrely that number has gone down to almost zero in this last week but still, there is something horribly wrong going on here.
Although I can’t reproduce the problem at will, it is obviously related to files being written to drives, both internal and external: When saving one or multiple files from different applications, one or more of the applications will freeze, display “Not Responding” in the window header and a fade effect is applied. There is no way of turning the program off when this happens; even opening Task Manager, selecting the process and hitting Delete does not kill the application and you are left with a dead program locking up your computer. This problem is cascading so once it has occurred and you attempt to save another file from a different program, that one will also stall and so on.
But the problem doesn’t end there: Because Windows 7 is unable to terminate the application even from Task Manager, it is impossible to shut down or restart the operating system by normal means. When you try to shut it down, the Open Applications window will appear listing the stalled applications with and you are asked if you want to shut them down. But no matter what you try, the applications just won’t shut down and the computer is left in an infinite loop. At the end the only way of resolving the issue is to do a manual restart by holding down the power button for 8 seconds.
And now for the really bizarre part: As I said, this problem appears when you try to save a file. The application stalls almost immediately after the saving process has started so one would think the file was never saved, right? Wrong! For some inexplicable reason, once the computer has been restarted you will find the file that caused all the problems to begin with in the location where you saved it. And it works the way it is supposed to.
At first I thought that the problem was caused by some sort of drive writing conflict but that theory was shelved when I discovered that the files were actually written properly. My new hypotheses is that the problem is a broken communication between Windows 7 and the applications as to the writing process itself; a checksum error or something along those lines. That still wouldn’t explain why the applications stall so completely nor why Windows 7 is incapable of shutting them down, but it is a start.
The system fatal program crash has been triggered by both Windows 7 native and 3rd party applications including these ones: Windows 7 native zip extractor, IE 8, FireFox, Expression Web 2, PhotoShop CS2, Illustrator CS2, Notepad, Notepad ++, Opera and FileZilla. In the case of the zip extractor the crash occurred multiple times when I tried to drag-and-drop files out of an archive and onto my desktop. As for the browsers the crash occurred when I tried to save files from the web.
Note that the system fatal program crash only happens during write-to-disk operations. I have managed to crash several programs for other reasons but in all the other cases the program has either shut down properly on its own or been possible to shut down through the Task Manager. Also note that I have been unable to find any similar references to this specific problem anywhere else on the web. However I highly doubt the problem is caused by my computer itself – I installed Windows 7 on an empty hard drive and the computer is only or 5 months old and running perfectly – and there is no possible way I’m the only one experiencing it. And even if I was, there is a good chance someone else will run into it further down the line and since none of the conventional shut down techniques work once it rears its ugly head I foresee true panic unfolding among the Windows 7 using masses.
First Start Program Incompatibilities
The second major problem I’ve run into is a transient one: Upon first installation a lot of programs do not run properly. I’ve installed a huge pile of applications under Windows 7 and for the most part (often surprisingly) they work without a hitch. But in some cases things go badly wrong until I reboot the computer. The most recent example is when I installed Camtasia from TechSmith yesterday. Upon installation the application seems to run fine, but when I stopped my screen recording and tried to start it again, the actual recorder portion of the program stalled. A warning windows opened asking if the application terminated properly and when I said no, the recorder shut down wihtout shutting down Camtasia in the process. I am guessing this is because Camtasia actually runs several different sub-programs and the crash only occurred in the recorder sub-program. Anyway, the recorder shut down and I had to restart it. After experiencing the exact same problem 5 times in a row I restarted the computer and after that everything worked perfectly.
This problem also happened when I installed PhotoShop and Illustrator CS2, FileZilla and some other applications. The problem seems to be rooted in registry rewrites or some other element that runs in the “bottom” of the operating system and needs to be restarted to be reset. Because it is transient and is easily resolved by restarting the computer it is not a major problem like the one listed above but it is still hugely annoying.
If I’m right (and I think I am) the problem is caused by a registry rewrite or something similar that unlike Vista, Windows 7 requires a restart to apply. If that’s the case it shouldn’t be too hard to create some form of conditional operation within Windows 7 that tracks such changes and suggests that the user restarts the computer for the newly installed program to run properly.
Compatibility Mode Annoyances
As I mentioned before I am running PhotoShop and Illustrator CS2 on this computer (dont’ ask why – long story). If you’ve played with these programs under Vista you probably know that there are some crazy and annoying compatibility issues (though they are nothing like the ones in Premiere Pro CS2 which pretty much becomes nonfunctional under Vista). Fortunately the wise minds at Microsoft foresaw this problem and created something called Compatibility Mode where you can set applications to run as if they were running under older operating systems like Windows XP SP1, SP2 or even older ones like Windows 98 or 95. And this worked great. In Vista.
In Windows 7 on the other hand things get a bit annoying. Because of the Vista problems with CS2, I set PhotoShop and Illustrator to run in Compatibility Mode for XP. But when I did, Windows 7 started treating the applications as unwanted bastard step children. First off, the otherwise wonderful icons displayed in the Start menu and the new and vastely improved task par are branded with an ugly User Account Control sheild warning you that something is very wrong. Seccondly, when you open the application, a User Account Control warning appears saying that an application from an unknown publisher is trying to run on your computer and asks if you still want it to run. This is totally rediculous because if you run the same program under either Vista Compatibility Mode or without Compatibility Mode, that warning doesn’t appear. Finally, in XP Compatibility Mode the splash screen at startup is totally mangled and ends up looking like some poorly hacked knock off. This of course is purely aesthetic but it still bugs me.
Yes, I know you can turn User Account Control off etc etc but the majority of user won’t do that. And even if you did, it still wouldn’t explain why the application while running under Compatibility Mode all of a sudden becomes a potentially malicious piece of software from an unknown publisher. That’s just plain rubbish and it should be fixed.
Crazy Window Dither Effect
This last bug is one that occurred twice, but I have not been able to reproduce it since then. It is hard to describe but the screen grab above pretty much says it all: The top and bottom bars of the windows are dithered and screwed up by horizontal lines that spill out to the sides. The effect is distracting and makes it hard to work with the windows but had no actual effects on the window functionality. Click here or on the image to see the full screen grab with multiple busted windows.
This dither effect appeared during the installation of Adobe Reader and also appeared after the reboot I did to get rid of it (which is when I took the screengrab). For a while I thought this was some sort of permanent screen driver glitch but after another reboot everything was back to normal. Very weird.
That really is all there is to it. Apart from the bugs listed above, all of which should must be fixed before the final release of the new operating system, Windows 7 is running flawlessly on my laptop and I am so content with it I am considering wiping the Vista partition on the machine to free up more space for fun stuff work.