Saturday, January 10, 2009

Windows 7 Beta: Now With 15% More Aggravation

Microsoft has done something new with their new version of Windows. They are allowing people to download a beta copy of their upcoming new Windows 7 operating system. While this is likely a reaction to the tepid reception that their current operating system received, it's a refreshing and forward thinking thing for Microsoft to let people take a look at their software and play around with it before plunking down dollars for it. But this being Microsoft, the download process is full of hoops to jump.

First you have to get a Windows Live ID. Fine, Microsoft has been trying to get people to use this service as a single log-on for websites for a long time and it actually has a useful purpose as it can reduce the number of usernames and passwords that you have to remember if it catches on with a lot of websites and services. Of course, Google has pretty much the same service and it's way more popular than Windows Live (I can actually go to a lot of websites and use Google Checkout to buy things through my Google Account but have never seen a website that allows you to buy things through Windows Live) but I digress.

The real annoyance about downloading the Windows 7 Beta is that it doesn't support web browsers like Firefox or Chrome. You have to use Internet Explorer to download it and you have to install an ActiveX extension in order to download the Windows 7 Beta. Huh? I had barely gotten a third of the way through Slashdot's Windows 7 discussion before finding direct links to disk images for Windows 7 residing right on Microsoft's servers. Just out of curiosity I clicked on one of those links and it started downloading right away. Thanks Microsoft.

Interestingly enough, the direct linked download is downloading much more slowly (Firefox estimates that the download will complete in anywhere from ten to twenty hours) than the download that went through Microsoft's hoops and is downloading through an ActiveX control (the download manager installed by the control estimate that its download will complete in about two and a half hours). So there is a method to Microsoft's madness after all. Poking around the download manager a little more shows that it is making four connections to make the download. Kewl.

It looks like Microsoft is using this ActiveX control to break up the original file into pieces which it downloads through different servers, tracks them, and reassembles them on my PC. Congratulations Microsoft, you've invented Bittorrent, a technology which has been around for years and which is currently being used to pirate your software. Maybe if you had actually used this technology for allowing people to download music and video instead of for hiding your beta software behind it, you might have become the media powerhouse which Apple is today.

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