A tale of two Windows installs

CNET News' Ina Fried set up two Windows machines over the weekend--one with Windows 7, the other, with the seven-year-old Windows XP.

CNET News' Ina Fried installed Windows twice this weekend. On one machine, she installed the beta of Windows 7. But on the other, an old machine she was giving to a friend, she "downgraded" the machine from Vista to Windows XP. Ina Fried/CNET News

This weekend, I loaded fresh copies of Windows onto two PCs.

Like many people, I downloaded the Windows 7 Beta and installed it. But that wasn't the only PC task I had over the weekend.

I had an old PC I used for my early Vista testing that my partner was complaining had begun to gather dust. So, I offered the machine to a friend of mine that had only a very old PC. I gave her the option of XP or Vista and she quickly proclaimed, "Oh, XP, definitely."

And, of course, therein lies Microsoft's challenge with Vista, a challenge that hasn't abated despite ads such as the Mojave campaign that Microsoft has run in an effort to convince PC users that Vista has gotten a bad rap.

Had my friend been interested, I would have happily explained the pros and cons of each operating system, at least as I see things. But, she wasn't looking for that. She'd heard enough about Vista.

I've been writing about people "downgrading" to XP for a long time now , but this is the first time I've actually gone through the process myself.

The technical maneuver was fairly simple. Vista itself didn't want to let my make the move, but it was no problem once I rebooted with a Windows XP disk. I decided to do a clean install, as opposed to using the recovery disks. It was a consumer Compaq machine I bought in late 2005 and it came loaded with a ton of "crapware."

First, though, I unplugged the PC's Ethernet cable, knowing full well that putting an unprotected Windows XP machine on to the Internet is akin to pushing a baby carriage in the street to see if there is traffic.

I connected the computer back up only after I had loaded Service Pack 2 and security software. That's a precaution I might not take were I installing Vista, or even Windows 7. Not that I wouldn't run security software, I just wouldn't worry about connecting it to the Internet for a few minutes unprotected.

Anyway, within a few hours, I was done. The Compaq machine was zippier as an XP machine than it had been as a Vista computer. It was a low-end Vista machine to be sure--512MB of memory and an integrated graphics card.

As for the Windows 7 machine, it's a loaner Lenovo X300 from Microsoft. I will be using it as my main machine for the next little while, testing it out both at work as well as playing with some of its consumer features.

The install itself, an upgrade installation from the pre-beta build I had been running, was quick and painless. I found the machine as I'd left it, but now with all of the eye candy that was missing from the version given out in October.

On Monday, I decided to give Windows Media Center a whirl. I took a Hauppauge WinTV tuner out of the box, plugged it in. Without bothering to look at a manual, I started clicking on menu options.

In just a few minutes, I had Sesame Street up and running in high definition. I clicked record and Windows 7 started burning Elmo's giggly face to my hard drive. As I tried to annoy my co-workers by playing the furry red monster back while it was still recording, though, I managed to crash my graphics driver. It got locked in a loop, eventually prompting a blue screen of death.

That said, after a reboot, Windows 7 was back and zippy as ever. Elmo has been recording the whole time I have been writing this piece without a hitch. Nonetheless, Microsoft suggested I do a clean install of Windows 7, as opposed to the upgrade from the pre-beta, so I am doing that as well.

As for Windows 7, I am a big fan so far. I really enjoy using the new taskbar to move between a whole host of open windows.

As my real-world desktop all too clearly indicates, I don't like keeping things organized. So I'm a big fan of anything that lets me navigate, rather than clean up, my mess. Particularly handy is the button in the bottom right-hand corner that lets me make all the windows disappear from the screen.

Over the coming days, I'll be installing more software, connecting the machine to various networks and otherwise putting it through it's paces. And of course, I'll be letting folks know what I find out. In the mean time, feel free to share your own experiences below, or drop me a note.

Elmo learns to ride a tricycle as CNET News' Ina Fried learns the ins and outs of Media Center in Windows 7. Ina Fried/CNET News

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