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Living with Windows 7 release candidate

CNET News' Ina Fried has been using Windows 7 for some time, but for the past week she mothballed her home Mac and Windows XP work PC, putting her faith in Microsoft's latest.

The first few hours with Windows 7 release candidate were a bit rocky for CNET News' Ina Fried, given that none of the windows appeared to have a close or minimize button. But once that glitch resolved itself, it has been smooth sailing. Ina Fried/CNET

I've been living with Windows 7 for some time now. Indeed, I've been using it since the first public release last fall.

At work, it has been my main machine for several months and I frequently bring it home and take it on the road. However, I have relied on my CNET-issued Windows XP machine for a number of key tasks, such as using the desktop version of Outlook and when I needed to access the Internet using a Sprint modem. (Our newsroom USB modem didn't work with the beta of Windows 7.)

With the release candidate (download), I was finally able to take the complete plunge. Since Tuesday, I have been using nothing else--at work and at home.

And I must say, despite one hiccup that I'll get to in a minute, Windows 7 is shaping up quite well. There's a lot to like about Windows 7 for those using Windows XP or Windows Vista.

Because Microsoft was urging people not to upgrade directly from Windows 7 beta to the release candidate, my first step, like many folks, was backing up the data on the beta version. I chose to try out Microsoft's Windows Easy Transfer to see if it lived up to its name.

For me, the hardest part was finding an external hard drive to borrow to hold the 14GB file that Windows Easy Transfer created. Once I managed to do that, the software lived up to its name. It moved the data, somewhat slowly, but effortlessly off my machine. After I installed the release candidate, it moved the data back. Again, the process was slow, but required no work on my end.

The result was a machine that looked very much like the setup I had created with the beta--minus all my applications, of course. Windows Easy Transfer migrates data and settings, but not Windows programs themselves.

Well, there was one other thing missing. After upgrading to the release candidate, all of the standard windows showed up without the usual close, expand, and minimize boxes. The boxes were actually there, but not visible.

The glitch affected windows created by the Windows Explorer shell and Office, but not programs with their own menu design, such as Yahoo Messenger or iTunes.

A few restarts did not fix the bug, and I left the office with the close box showing up intermittently.

On Wednesday, I went with Windows 7 alone--not by choice, but because I forgot the power cord for my XP laptop, which I had also brought with me. I had it as a backup, but was able to make it through the day using only the Windows 7 box to take notes at a health care conference and then for live coverage of Steve Ballmer's speech at Stanford.

As I went to leave the speech, I shut down Windows 7, as opposed to putting it to sleep. Having seen the shield next to the shut down logo, I should have known that I was due for a delay. As it was shutting down, Windows 7 installed a whopping 28 updates. That slowed my commute home by a good 15 minutes, but one of those updates was probably the driver that fixed the window issue. The close box has been showing up ever since.

And really, that has been my only complaint. So far, the release candidate is an even happier version of the operating system I had already grown to appreciate in beta form. It does all the important stuff--it let me write this blog, use Twitter, and play games on Facebook.

Windows 7 isn't a major change from Vista. It's just better in all the ways that really matter day in and day out.

There are two things I like about 7 in particular. First, it is much faster to start up, go to sleep, and shut down. The second is the improved taskbar, which makes it very easy to manage through lots and lots of open windows and programs.

But for me, who uses a computer for a good half of the day, that's a lot.