My December, 2009 Montana InBusinessMonthly column
Windows 7 – Microsoft’s new version of their flagship operating system – is flying off the shelves at a greater rate than Vista, the last version of Windows released three years ago, ever did.
The good reviews say that Windows 7 “looks like Vista, but runs like XP.” Which means that 7 is stable like Windows XP, Microsoft’s Windows version first released in 2001 (and still the most widely used version of Windows), but updated and more capable like Vista. The bad reviews say Windows 7 is still hit and miss on speed and ease of installation, and don’t bother to upgrade due to driver problems and compatibility issues.
If you’re thinking of upgrading, the bottom line is that you need to do your research in order to decide if you want to upgrade and how to go about it.
But first, what are the advantages of Windows 7? It’s mostly faster, it’s easier to turn off all the security nag screens, it’s more secure and has new productivity features. There’s not enough room here to go into all the new features, so check out Microsoft’s own Windows 7 home page. And you can read a very extensive review of 7 at ArsTechnica.
So what are your upgrade options? That depends on your present version of Windows – Vista or XP – and your hardware. Either way, you should plan ahead.
Check out Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor. It’s a program download that will give you an assessment of your Vista or XP machine’s hardware and software and its potential to run Windows 7. Go to markratledge.com/link/7advisor.
If you now run programs you absolutely need to use under 7, check Windows 7’s Compatibility Center to see if they will run OK.
If they won’t, Windows 7 can use what’s called XP Mode, which is a way to run some XP programs that won’t run natively under 7.
If you upgraded to Vista a few years ago, you should be fine upgrading to 7 for two reasons: One is that you don’t have to go to great lengths to upgrade Windows, because installing 7 is fairly straightforward and you will be able to import all your old files and settings. Your hardware should be adequate, because 7 has about the same hardware requirements as Vista.
If you’re running XP, things are more complicated. The big hurdle for upgrading a Windows XP machine is the fact that the hard drive must be completely erased in order to install Windows 7. That’s because the underlying architecture of Windows 7 is completely different than XP. That means reinstalling all programs (ones that will run under 7) and reimporting all your data and settings.
And beware: The upgrade to Windows 7 from either Vista or XP will delete your e-mail program Outlook, and so you’ll need to reinstall Outlook, move to Windows Mail or download Thunderbird, made by the same company that makes the web browser FireFox.
Before you upgrade from either Vista or XP, you should read a good walk-through of the upgrade process, like the one at Paul Thurrott’s Windows SuperSite.
And if you upgrade to Windows 7, get a good book to go with your new operating system so you can discover and use the new features. They’re available on amazon.com and in bookstores.