Windows 7 Early Complaints Focused on XP Mode, Drivers, Batteries

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2010-04-21

Windows 7 Early Complaints Focused on XP Mode, Drivers, Batteries

Microsoft made a huge bet that Windows 7 would not only erase the stigma associated with Windows Vista, but also help its own flagging revenues by impelling a massive tech refresh on the part of businesses and consumers. In the months since the operating system's October 2009 release, much of that bet seems to have paid off; although business IT spending remains anemic following a global recession, Microsoft claims that some 90 million Windows 7 licenses have been sold.

A percentage of that success could be due to a generalized need for a tech refresh. By the time Windows 7 hit store shelves, the majority of the world's PCs were using the nearly decade-old Windows XP, and many users' machines were aging into the realm of the truly silicon-geriatric. But Windows 7 also contained some features, including boosted backward compatibility with Windows XP applications and a smooth user interface, that managed to pull users in on their own merits. At the same time, though, and as with any large system, problems and kinks inevitably emerged. 

"Everything I've heard has been pretty positive," Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, wrote in an April 21 e-mail to eWEEK. "Of course, that's in the context of how bad Vista was. But Windows 7 is opening the gates for an overall corporate refresh that you could make a case is somewhat overdue."

Now that Windows 7 has been out for a few months, and  Service Pack 1 is rumored to be in the works, eWEEK thought it worth casting an eye back to see what sort of issues IT administrators encountered with the operating system during its initial stage of release, and whether solutions have been devised.

Given the amount of enterprises and SMBs (small and midsize businesses) running Windows XP, it's perhaps no surprise that many of the IT administrators' complaints centered around the lack of an upgrade path between the older operating system and Windows 7.

"Many of my associates view the lack of a direct XP to Windows 7 upgrade path as -payback' from Microsoft for customers who rejected Vista," Henry Cobb, engineer and director of Auburn University's Research Electronics Support Facility, wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK in January. "I think that this could be the single most important fix that Microsoft needs to address."

At the time, Cobb and his colleagues were still evaluating Windows 7 for deployment, and generally finding that standard Windows XP applications ported smoothly over to the new operating system. However, Cobb also found Windows 7's OS footprint to be a point of minor concern.  

"The -bloat' of the Windows 7 OS is most likely due to the number of people who are involved in the development of the code," Cobb wrote. "I'm sure this is done to speed the product out the door, but it results in code duplication as well as marginal features."

Complicating matters is the fact that Windows XP support is gradually ending, with extended support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 due to end in April 2014. In a presentation a few days before the release of Windows 7, a Gartner analyst suggested that a generalized lack of XP support from independent software vendors (ISVs) would start around the end of 2011, creating a nearer-term "danger zone" in XP application support by the end of 2012.

Concerned about Windows Vista's lack of backward compatibility for older applications and the public drubbing the company took as a result, Microsoft built Windows XP Mode into Windows 7, which runs applications within a virtualized Windows XP Service Pack 3 environment. It works with Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions, accessible via the Windows 7 task bar by right-clicking.

Some IT administrators and business owners, however, found Windows XP Mode to be slow to start up and run.

"I did set one machine up as virtual XP but [it] was slow and inaccurate," Lloyd Hudson, head of Tucson, Ariz.-based Financial Safeguards Group, wrote in a January e-mail to eWEEK. "If possible, Windows 7 needs to be more backward compatible."

Early Windows 7 Complaints


Some initial complaints also centered on a lack of drivers for certain devices. This problem seems to have been solved in many respects-Hewlett-Packard, for example, subsequently introduced Windows 7 drivers for the HP LaserJet 4100 printer series that some IT pros complained were missing-but it also seemed to be a point of contention for the first few weeks and months after Windows 7's release.

"Even the Windows 7 Ultimate hasn't got a full set of the popular HP printer, plotter and scanner drivers," wrote one IT administrator based in South Africa. "Microsoft, it seems, is not interested in a smooth transition from the old XP to the new Windows 7. Anyone hoping to make a painless -cold turkey' switch had better be very careful."

Communication with devices running on the network also proved an initially thorny issue for some.

"They have created something great," wrote another IT administrator at a major auto manufacturer, "but alienates anyone with OS's other than 7 for sharing devices.

"I tried in excess for seven hours and went to any forum I could that I thought would be helpful," that administrator continued. "I made sure that I did local loads for printer drivers and then went looking for network devices. I also tried various host/server scenarios back and forth with older to newer OS's acting as the server; still no sharing!"

In the months after the release of Windows 7, Microsoft also dealt with complaints of poor battery life for some laptops upgraded to the operating system, with a percentage of users reporting a drastically reduced charge. In a Feb. 8 posting on the Engineering Windows 7 blog, Windows President Steven Sinofsky suggested that the fault ultimately lay in the batteries themselves, not anything having to do with Windows 7.

"Every single indication we have regarding the reports we've seen are simply Windows 7 reporting the state of the battery using this new feature and we're simply seeing batteries that are not performing above the designated threshold," Sinofsky wrote. "It would stand to reason that some customers would be surprised to see this warning after upgrading a PC that was previously operating fine. Essentially the battery was degrading but it was not evident to the customer until Windows 7 made this information available."

Supposedly, Windows 7 sets a threshold of 60 percent degradation for the battery, after which it displays a "change battery" warning. Microsoft insisted to eWEEK at the time that it was unable to reproduce the reported cases where new or nearly new batteries spontaneously failed while powering laptops with Windows 7.

But that didn't stop a number of comments from users who nonetheless encountered battery issues under a very specific set of Windows 7-related circumstances.

"I have an HP dv6000 with Windows 7 now running on it. And I can tell you, for a fact, that this is an actual problem," one reader wrote in an April 11 comment on the Microsoft Watch blog. "I replaced [the laptop] battery with a brand new HP battery. Right off the factory floor, so to speak. After barely two months, my second 88800 mWh battery is down to 28890 mWh capacity. I'm a technician so of course I have tested my hardware such as the power regulation on the motherboard, made sure all my caps were still good, etc. The computer is just fine otherwise."

That one commenter continued: "So yes, Windows 7may USE more power, but that does not explain the drastic drop in battery capacity very quickly. This is clearly an issue with how Windows itself is interfacing with the battery's memory to report proper values."

Another commenter wrote: "In November, I received HP's free upgrade from Vista to Windows 7."

Rumors have circulated recently of a Service Pack for Windows 7 in the works. At the beginning of April, a purported build with a compile date of March 27, and the string "build 6.1.7601.16537.amd64fre.win7.100327-0053," leaked onto a variety of Torrent Websites. Screenshots quickly leaked onto sites such as GeekSmack, which described the download and installation process as "faster than the install process for service packs on Vista."

The release date for such a Service Pack, not to mention any issues it would specifically address, is still a matter of conjecture for anyone outside certain offices in Redmond. However, given Microsoft's focus on user feedback for its latest string of software releases, it's likely that at least a portion of current IT pro complaints will be taken into consideration.

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