Windows 7 64 bit experiences, my current software stack and that pesky CSC folder

Recently, like many others, I have been through the process of installing various releases of Windows 7, from the Beta, through RC1 and finally the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version. I decided to take the plunge and install 64 bit on my Dell D620 and everything went really well, no driver issues or any other hiccups. Had to do a manual download of a driver for my old(ish) Epson scanner, but it still installed straight off first time. RC1 needed a bit of manual intervention to get the NVidia drivers working for some reason (Beta and RTM both just worked, strangely), and it was a bit temperamental with docking and undocking while running, but RTM seems to have cleared this up, and is now way more stable than Vista ever was at doing this (I used to get a full system lock about 1 time in 10).

I did as advised by Microsoft and did this as a clean install every time, rather than doing a hack to allow me to run an in-place upgrade. Thanks to James O’Neill’s blog article I did this from a bootable USB drive, and this was lightning fast since I also recently upgraded my hard drive to a 120GB OCZ Vertex SSD.

Applications, applications, applications

A bit of a pain re-installing applications again each time round, but it does mean I have a nice shortlist of the apps and utilities that I actually need and use regularly enough to merit an install. Without being an exhaustive list, the apps that made the grade every time, in approximately the order they got installed are:

  • Office 2007 + sp2 and Office 2003 (for feature comparison when writing training courses), and 2010 Technical Preview on the last time round too. Because I am installing multiple Office versions I can only use 32 bit across the board for these, so no experience with 64 bit version of Office 2010 yet. All of these 32 bit apps run just fine (a common misconception seems to be that if your favourite apps only come in 32 bit flavours you can’t choose 64 bit Windows, but a feature called Windows on Windows takes care of this quite happily, just as it did for previous editions of Windows since 2000)
  • Firefox (3.5.2 this time round)
  • Foxit PDF Reader, as I have mentioned before, I much prefer the responsiveness of this over Adobe’s Acrobat Reader. I do wish it would stop nagging me about paid-for upgrades under the disguise of it’s auto-update feature. Oh well, musn’t grumble too much about free software I guess. FoxitPDF Preview handler from Tim Heuer makes PDF previews available directly in Outlook without opening the attachment.
  • FastStone Image Viewer – FREE image viewing, editing, organising, browsing, screen capturing software. Brilliant piece of software which I use all the time for my digital photo library, really quick and easy to use for browsing thumbnails, organising, and editing tasks such as cropping and resizing, including doing this in batches. Highly configurable, easily replaced Office Photo Editor and Paint Shop Pro browser which I used to use for these sorts of jobs. (I still use Jasc PSP for actual image creation and editing, eg creating banners and icons)
  • Visio 2007 and 2010 TP
  • Notepad++ FREE text editing software. Simple to use tabbed interface, supports loads of different coding languages (eg colouring keywords, matching braces and tags, creating expand/collapse sections). I find it a great way to edit javascript for CRM customisations, HTML and CSS for my website, and XML for hacking around in Office documents, templates and themes.
  • Zoomit utility to zoom in on portions of the screen while presenting, demoing or projecting for any reason. Version 4 now allows you to actually use the machine at the same time on Windows Vista and 7 (previous versions worked like a kind of screen capture you could move around, but you could not click anything, which meant it was really hard to show things like menus, or URL’s as you typed them). Using “live” mode means you can’t also draw on the screen – the mouse is either the real live mouse or it is used for drawing, you can’t mix and match.
  • Windows Live Writer – essential for writing the blog, so much more efficient than the web interface (no offence to WordPress, the interface is OK but WLW blows it to bits, especially for someone like me who uses loadsof keyboard shortcuts to get things done). Only annoying thing is there is no separate offline install for this, you have to download the launcher for the Live Essentials collection, then do a custom install and choose the bits you want (just Writer, in my case, no toolbars, no photo editing software – why would I want SQL to be running on my laptop just to organise my photo library?)
  • Microsoft Expression Web. Although I hand code most of the things for my website, it’s convenient to have tools like global search and replace, and a built-in FTP tool to upload changes (although I’ve been using FireFTP a lot recently while I did not have Expression Web re-installed)

Things I still need to get round to installing and trying include Camtasia Studio so I can start to record and edit training videos (and maybe upload some shorter ones as tips), Dynamics CRM client for Outlook (might need to wait for the updated release expected later this year for this to work with 2010, but I’m going to try the current client first), and Paint Shop Pro (didn’t get round to it on RTM yet; it was fine on RC1).

Offline folders and the CSC cache

The biggest pain for me was actually rebuilding my offline files every time, although of course this is true of any bare-metal install, nothing to do with Windows 7 or 64 bit. I use this extensively so I hardly ever have to think whether I have a file with me from my server or not, pretty much everything I need is there all the time, and kept in synch silently and invisibly – offline files and folders were massively improved from XP to Vista, and Windows 7 continues to perform well on this feature. When I am offline it shows the available space of my network drives which have synched files as the same as the space on my local drive, which makes sense, as this is the most stuff I could put in any one of them. No change there, but something I had never noticed in Vista and believe to be new to Windows 7 is that the file system for these drives is shown as “CSC-Cache” to indicate this is where those items are actually going to get saved, and it has no information about the file system of the offline fileserver at the moment.

A word of warning incidentally – if you do install a later release of Windows from bootable media without formatting your drive, it will prompt you to point out that it has detected a previous version (eg RC rather than RTM) and this will not work after you install. Great, go ahead, yes please. But, although that old version won’t be bootable it is still on your hard disk, shoved into a directory called windows.old. Well, actually, that’s not just your old windows directory, it’s the whole of the contents of the hard drive.

In a way this is good – it means you have access to things like your old documents (including draft blog posts!), program settings (especially useful for things like Firefox where you can just copy your old profile straight across). However, it also means you have a whole bloated load of stuff like all those installed applications in programs and programs(x86), which in my case is about 3.2 GB of stuff just in those two directories (on a machine I only ran as RC1 for a few months – 3 concurrent versions of MS Office are responsible for nearly half of that). The other thing to watch out for is that inside the windows.old\windows folder is the old CSC cache (unless you moved the CSC folder to another drive or location). So, if you are like me and use offline files a lot, this could be pretty big and you will want to nuke it sooner rather than later. You may need to take ownership of this in order to delete it since it is a system folder, so I’m pretty sure even your local admin account does not have the rights out of the box.

One thing I did notice about the CSC cache folder in Windows 7 though, is that the contents have proper filenames and are now arranged in a way that reflects the source folder structure, rather than the horrible flat, anonymous renamed mess that previous versions had. If you are doing recovery of a failed machine, this might come in handy to find files which have been edited offline and have at least some hope of getting them back into the main file store.

What about running 64 bit Windows on an older machine?

Also got RTM installed on my old Sony Vaio after XP died for no good reason (and a rebuild was overdue after about four years). This was not 64 bit capable, so I went 32 bit and everything fine but the drivers for the old video card have not been detected so it’s running at 1024 x 768 on a 1280 x 768 widescreen at the moment. Annoying, and the laptop predates Vista release, so there’s nothing on Sony’s site. I need to try to figure out exactly what the chipset is and get an OEM driver for it, assuming there is a Vista driver out there somewhere, otherwise I may get very stuck.

Next one I want to try is a really old Toshiba I have kicking around. ‘Hackerman’ reports getting Windows 7 to run on a Pentium II 266 with only 96MB RAM so maybe there is some hope. I don’t expect much out of it, but maybe it will be one for my pre-school kids to play around on.

Can I run 64 bit on my PC?

SecurAble from GRC is a very nice simple utility you can use to find out if your PC or laptop is capable of running 64 bit editions, as well as checking for hardware DEP and virtualisation. It simply runs with no install (so you can do this from a USB drive, for example). Needs admin rights, but behaves properly with UAC on Vista and Windows 7 so you can just give it credentials when it ask for them. Run it and see the very simply presented results – three boxes with yes or no in them).

If 64 bit is an option for you, my advice would be “go for it”, forget the gripes people had for 64 bit XP. If you have really old peripherals you might want to check for drivers first  before going through the install twice, of course.

Anyone had any good or bad experience with Windows 7 you want to share? How about 64 bit (including previous versions)?

One Response to Windows 7 64 bit experiences, my current software stack and that pesky CSC folder

  1. frank pleunis says:

    How do I get rid of windows.old?

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