Test Drive Windows 7 Online with Virtual Labs

Did you miss out on the Windows 7 public beta and want to try it out before you actually make the leap and upgrade? Maybe you want to learn how to deploy new features in a business environment. Here’s how you can test drive Windows 7 directly from your browser.

Whether you manage 10,000 desktops or simply manage your own laptop, it’s usually best to test out a new OS before installing it.  If you’re upgrading from Windows XP you may find many things unfamiliar.  Microsoft has setup a special Windows 7 Test Drive website with resources to help IT professionals test and deploy Windows 7 in their workplaces.  This is a great resource to try out Windows 7 from the comfort of your browser, and look at some of the new features without even installing it.

Please note that the online version is not nearly as responsive as a full standard install of Windows 7.  It also does not run the full Aero interface or desktop effects, and may refresh slowly depending on your Internet connection.  So don’t judge Windows 7’s performance based on this virtual lab, but use it as a way to learn more about Windows 7 without installing it.

Getting Started

To test drive Windows 7, visit Microsoft’s Windows 7 Test Drive website (link below).  You will need to run the Windows 7 Test Drive in Internet Explorer, as it requires Active X support.  We received this error when attempting to run the Test Drive in Firefox:

Now, click the “Take a Test Drive” link on the bottom left of the page.

This site includes several test drives to demonstrate different features of Windows 7 and its related ecosystem of products including Windows Server 2008 R2, some of which, including the XP Mode test drive, are not yet ready.  For this test, we selected the MED-V Test drive, as this includes Office 2007 and 2010 so you can test them in Windows 7 as well.  Simply select the test drive you want, and click “Try it now!”


If you haven’t run a Windows test drive before, you will be asked to install an ActiveX control.  Click the link to install.

Click the yellow bar at the top of the page in Internet Explorer, and select to Install the add-on.  You may have to approve a UAC prompt to finish the install.

Once this is finished, click the link on the bottom of the page to return to your test drive.  The test drive page should automatically refresh; if it doesn’t, click refresh to reload it.

Now the test drive will load the components.


Once its fully loaded, click the link to launch Windows 7 in a new window.

You may see a prompt warning that the server may have been impersonated.  Simply click Yes to proceed.

The test lab will give you some getting started directions; click Close Window when you’re ready to try out Windows 7.

Here’s the default desktop in the Windows 7 test drive.  You can use it just like a normal Windows computer, but do note that it may function slowly depending on your internet connection.


This test drive includes both Office 2007 and Office 2010 Tech Preview, so you can try out both in Windows 7 as well.

You can try out the new Windows 7 applications such as the reworked Paint with the Ribbon interface from Office.

Or you can even test the newest version of Media Center, though it will warn you that it may not function good with the down-scaled graphics in the test drive.


Most importantly, you can try out the new features in Windows 7, such as Jumplists and even Aero Snap.  Once again, these features will not function the quickest, but it does let you test them out.

While working with the Virtual Lab, there are different tasks it walks you through. You can also download a copy of the lab manual in PDF format to help you navigate through the various objectives.

The test drive system is running Microsoft Forefront Security, the enterprise security solution from which Microsoft Security Essentials has adapted components from.


These virtual labs are great for tech students, or those of you who want to get a first-hand trial of the new features. Also, if you’re not sure on how to deploy something and want to practice in a virtual environment, these labs are quite valuable.While these labs are geared toward IT professionals, it’s a good way for anyone to try out Windows 7 features from the comfort of your current computer.

Test Drive Windows 7


How to Play FLAC Files in Windows 7 Media Center & Player

An annoyance for music lovers who enjoy FLAC format, is there's no native support for WMP or WMC. If you’re a music enthusiast who prefers FLAC format, we’ll look at adding support to Windows 7 Media Center and Player.

For the following article we are using Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit edition.

Download and Install madFLAC v1.8

The first thing we need to do is download and install the madFLAC v1.8 decoder (link below). Just unzip the file and run install.bat

You’ll get a message that it has been successfully registered, click Ok.

To verify everything is working, open up one of your FLAC files with WMP, and you’ll get the following message. Check the box Don’t ask me again for this extension and click Yes.

Now Media Player should play the track you’ve chosen.


Delete Current Music Library

But what if you want to add your entire collection of FLAC files to the Library? If you already have it set up as your default music player, unfortunately we need to remove the current library and delete the database. The best way to manage the music library in Windows 7 is via WMP 12.

Since we don’t want to delete songs from the computer we need to Open WMP, press “Alt+T” and navigate to Tools \ Options \ Library.


Now uncheck the box Delete files from computer when deleted from library and click Ok.

Now in your Library click “Ctrl + A” to highlight all of the songs in the Library, then hit the “Delete” key. If you have a lot of songs in your library (like on our system) you’ll see the following dialog box while it collects all of the information.


After all of the data is collected, make sure the radio button next to Delete from library only is marked and click Ok.

Again you’ll see the Working progress window while the songs are deleted.

Deleting Current Database

Now we need to make sure we’re starting out fresh. Close out of Media Player, then we’ll basically follow the same directions The Geek pointed out for fixing the WMP Library.

Click on Start and type in services.msc into the search box and hit Enter.

Now scroll down and stop the service named Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service.

Now, navigate to the following directory and the main file to delete CurrentDatabase_372.wmdb

%USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Player\

Again, the main file to delete is CurrentDatabase_372.wmdb, though if you want, you can delete them all. If you’re uneasy about deleting these files, make sure to back them up first.

Now after you restart WMP you can begin adding your FLAC files. For those of us with large collections, it’s extremely annoying to see WMP try to pick up all of your media by default. To delete the other directories go to Organize \ Manage Libraries then open the directories you want to remove.

For example here we’re removing the default libraries it tries to check for music. Remove the directories you don’t want it to gather contents from in each of the categories.

We removed all of the other collections and only added the FLAC music directory from our home server.

SoftPointer Tag Support Plugin

Even though we were able to get FLAC files to play in WMP and WMC at this point, there’s another utility from SoftPointer to add. It enables FLAC (and other file formats) to be picked up in the library much easier. It has a long name but is effective -M4a/FLAC/Ogg/Ape/Mpc Tag Support Plugin for Media Player and Media Center (link below). Just install it by accepting the defaults, and you’ll be glad you did.

After installing it, and re-launching Media Player, give it some time to collect all of the data from your FLAC directory…it can take a while. In fact, if your collection is huge, just walk away and let it do its thing.

If you try to use it right away, WMP slows down considerably while updating the library.


Once the library is setup you’ll be able to play your FLAC tunes in Windows 7 Media Center as well and Windows Media Player 12.


Album Art

One caveat is that some of our albums didn’t show any cover art. But we were usually able to get it by right-clicking the album and selecting Find album info.


Then confirming the album information is correct…



Although this seems like several steps to go through to play FLAC files in Windows 7 Media Center and Player, it seems to work really well after it’s set up.

We haven’t tried this with a 64-bit machine, but the process should be similar, but you might want to make sure the codecs you use are 64-bit. We’re sure there are other methods out there that some of you use, and if so leave us a comment and tell us about it.

Update: Thanks to reader Pavel Chikulaev for pointing out that using this method won’t let you forward /rewind tracks or show track length. Hopefully someone out there has a fix for this?

Download madFlac V1.8 

M4a/FLAC/Ogg/Ape/Mpc Tag Support Plugin for Media Player and Media Center from SoftPointer


Getting Started with Media Browser for Windows Media Center

If you are a Windows Media Center user, you’ll really want to check out Media Browser. The Media Browser plug-in for Windows Media Center takes your digital media files and displays them in a visually appealing, user friendly interface, complete with images and metadata.


  • Windows 7 or Vista
  • Microsoft .Net 3.5 Framework 

Preparing your Media Files

For Media Browser to be able to automatically download images and metadata for your media libraries, your files will have to be correctly named. For example, if you have an mp4 file of the movie Batman Begins, it needs to be named Batman Begins.mp4. It cannot be Batmanbegins.mp4 or Batman-begins.mp4. Otherwise, it’s unlikely that Media Browser will display images and metadata. If you find some of your files aren’t pulling cover art or metadata, double-check the official title of the media on a site like IMBD.com.

TV Show files

TV show files are handled a bit differently. Every TV series in your collection must have a main folder with the show’s name and individual subfolders for each season.

Here is an example of folder structure and supported naming conventions.

  • TV Shows\South Park\Season 1\s01e01 - episode 1.mp4
  • TV Shows\South Park\Season 1\South Park 1x01 - episode 1.mp4
  • TV Shows\South Park\Season 1\101 - episode 1.mp4

 Note: You need to always have a Season 1 folder even if the show only has only one season. If you have several seasons of a particular show, but don't happen to have Season 1, simply create a blank season 1 folder. Without a season 1 folder, other seasons will not display properly.

Installation and Configuration

Download and run the latest Media Browser .msi file by taking the defaults. (Download link below) When you reach the final window, leave the “Configure initial settings” box checked, and click “Finish.”

You may get a pop up window informing you that folder permissions are not set correctly for Media Browser. Click “Yes.”

Adding Your Media

The Browser Configuration Tool should have opened automatically. If not, you can open it by going to Start > All Programs > Media Browser > Media Browser Configuration Wizard.

To begin adding media files, click “Add.”

Browse for a folder that contains media files and click “OK.” Here we are adding a folder with a group of movie files.

You can add multiple folders to each media library. For example, if you have movie files stored in 4 or 5 different folders, you can add them all under a single library in Media Browser.  To add additional folders, click the “Add” button on the right side under your currently added folder.

The “Add” button to the left will add an additional Media Library, such as one for TV Shows. When you are finished, close out of the Media Browser Configuration Tool.

Open Windows Media Center. You will see Media Browser tile on the main interface. Click to open it.

When you initially open Media Browser, you will be prompted to run the initial configuration. Click “OK.”

You will see a few general configuration options. The important option is the Metadata. Leave this option checked (it is by default) if you wish to pull images & other metadata for your media.

When finished, click “Continue,” and then “OK” to restart Media Browser.

When you re-enter Media Browser you’ll see your Media Categories listed below, and recently added files in the main display. Click on a Media Library to view the files.


Click “View” at the top to check out some of the different display options to choose from. Below you see can “Detail.” This presents your videos in a list to the left. When you hover over a title, the synopsis and cover art is displayed to the right.

“Cover Flow” displays your titles in a right to left format with mirror cover art.

“Thumb Strip” displays your titles in a strip along the bottom with a synopsis, image, and movie data above.


Settings and options can be changed through the Media Browser Configuration Tool, or directly in Media Browser by clicking on the “Wrench” at the bottom right of the main Media Browser page. Certain settings may only be available in one location or the other. Some will be available in both places.


Plug-ins and Themes

Media Browser features a variety of Plug-ins and Themes that can add optional customization and slick visual appeal. To install plug-ins or themes, open the Media Browser Configuration Tool. Click on the “plug-ins” tab, and then the “More Plug-ins…” button.

Note: Clicking on “Advanced” at the top will reveal several additional configuration tabs.

Browse the list of plug-ins on the left. When you find want you like, select it and then click “Install.”

When the install is complete, you’ll see them listed under “Installed Plug-ins.”

To activate any installed theme, click on the “Display” tab. Select it from the Visual Theme drop down list. Close out of the Media Browser Configuration Tool when finished.

Some themes, such as the “Diamond” theme shown below, include optional views and settings which can be accessed through a configuration button at the top of the screen.

Clicking on the movie gives you additional images and information such as a synopsis, runtime, IMDB rating…


… and even actors and character names.


All that’s left is to hit “Play” when you’re ready to watch.



Media Browser is a fantastic plug-in that brings an entirely different level of media management and aesthetics to Windows Media Center. There are numerous additional customizations and configurations we have not covered here such as adding film trailers, music support, and integrating Recorded TV. Media Browser will run on both Windows 7 and Vista. Extenders are also supported but may require additional configuration.

Download Media Browser


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