The majority of testing I’ve been doing with Windows 7 has taken place on my Unibody Macbook. Every time I install Windows on one of my OS X machines, one of the first things I do is install Mac Drive so that I can read files from my OS X partition. You can imagine my surprise when on first boot, my ‘E’ drive, also known as ‘Snow Leopard’ was visible in Windows Explorer, with every file on the partition visible.
Functionality is limited, as from what I can tell from testing, you can only read from the HFS formatted partition — whenever I try to write to it, I receive an error message telling me that I don’t have the privileges to write to the drive. Even so, being able to read from my Mac’s partition without third party software in Windows is a very nice addition to Windows 7 for us Mac users!
ISO Image Disc Support
Another useful addition to Windows 7 is out of the box support for ISO disc images. If you had an ISO file in previous versions of Windows, you needed a third party application such as MagicISO or PowerISO to mount or burn it. In Windows 7, you can burn an ISO file to a CD or DVD without any third party software at all.
Although this is a good step for Microsoft to be taking, (a lot of software distributed through MSDN is in the format) it felt to me like a half hearted attempt. A considerable number of people who use Windows 7 will be using it on a netbook that doesn’t have an optical drive built in, and a lot of people who have an ISO image they need to use might not have a blank CD or DVD lying around. I can’t help but wonder why Microsoft included support for burning ISO files, but couldn’t include support for mounting them. Don’t get me wrong, what it burns works perfectly, but I’d much rather mount an image, install whatever it is that the image contains and be able to un-mount it again without wasting a DVD or having to write over a re-writable DVD.
XP Compatibility Mode
As I mentioned in my previous section, a lot of people will be making the switch to Windows 7 straight from Windows XP, so to prevent any upgrade worries, ‘XP Compatibility Mode’ is available for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate versions. The download basically consists of 2 downloads: Windows Virtual PC — a free download from Microsoft anyway and a virtual drive pre-loaded with a fully functional version of Windows XP. Once installed, you’re presented with a folder of your virtual machines, and a separate folder containing your virtual XP applications. If you select an application from the virtual XP folder, they’ll launch like a native application in Windows 7. Performance of the virtual machine and its applications will depend on how powerful your machine is, as with any virtual environment. Microsoft recommends at least 2GB RAM to use Virtual XP. I personally am more comfortable with 4GB RAM, so that I can dedicate 2GB to the host machine, and give the Virtual machine 2GB too, but that’s down to personal preference.
Overall, I think that it’s a good improvement for Microsoft to allow users of Windows 7 to use Virtual XP, especially for business users who are using older software designed for Windows XP.