Windows 7 has been getting favorable reviews for over a year. It has been reported that it was running on more than 8 million computers by the time it officially launched on October 22nd. Upgrading your computer or buying a new Windows 7 computer seems like a very good idea though, there are some things you should know about the different versions and the hardware platforms that they can run on before you invest the time and money.
Cool Features of Windows 7
In case you need more convincing to move up to Windows 7 here are a few of the cool features you get:
o User Interface improvements including some additions to the Aero interface introduced in Vista. Windows 7's new task bar is a big improvement over previous versions, you can "pin" programs to the taskbar for quick launching and with Aero Peek, you can get a preview of a window and switch between windows by hovering over the taskbar. It's almost as fun to use as a Mac (not really).
o More ways to customize the look and feel of your computer with more wallpapers, themes and customization options.
o Improved performance and power management. Users are reporting faster boot times, and general performance and battery life improvements over Vista.
o New improved Media Center has some cool player features while the whole center environment comes closer to becoming a real home media server solution
o What would a new OS be without a cool new calculator? Win 7's calculator not only does statistics and scientific calculations but also includes a set of real-world templates for things like gas mileage and hourly wages.
Do not Start With Windows Starter
Windows 7 Starter is the bare bones version that unfortunately will be shipping with many netbooks. Missing from Starter is:
o Customization features for personalizing your desktop.
o The cool new interface features in Aero.
o DVD playback, which may not be important in a drive-less netbook unless you want to use an external player.
o Media Center
o Windows XP "compatibility" mode.
o Multi-monitor support
o 64 Bit support
Our advice is look for the Windows Home Premium or higher in any computer you're considering purchasing.
Problems with Student Version
Microsoft wants every student to use Windows 7 and has made a version available for $ 30. Unfortunately students have experienced a few snags in getting everything to work. The Microsoft Windows forum has some postings about dealing with installation problems. We're sure they'll work them out soon but why bother with a $ 30 upgrade when for the same price and a.edu email address you can get full install version? Almost the offer is good until January 2010. The number to call is 877-696-7786.
64 Bits is Best
We've seen reports that say Windows 7 performance improvements are seen primarily on 64 bit computers. Windows 7 supports both 32 bit and 64 bit instruction sets except for Windows 7 Starter which only runs in 32 bit mode. However, even if you do get Home Premium or a higher level version you'll still need 64 bit hardware. Unfortunately, not all Atom processors implement a 64 bit instruction set. In fact, N and Z series Atom processors which most netbooks run on can not run the x86-64 instruction set. If you want 64 bit performance on a netbook you'll have to look hard for an Atom processor that supports it or go with a netbook with an AMD 64 bit processor like the Gateway LT3103u.
Check Your System Before Upgrading
First thing you might want to do before upgrading is use a free tool from Microsoft called the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor which looks at your system, identifies potential problems and offers solutions for them.
Tools for Migrating From Windows XP
If you are running Windows Vista, you are going to have a much easier time upgrading than if you are using Windows XP. In fact, in some cases you might be better off with a fresh install although you'll then have to reload all your apps, and data though if you still want to try an upgrade there are a few ways to make it easier.
Laplink offers a tool called PCMover for $ 19.95 that takes a lot of the hassle out of upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7. Here's a demo of the tool from Notebooks.com
You can also use Microsoft's Windows Easy Transfer tool that was originally intended for use for upgrading from Windows XP to Vista but can be used for Windows 7 by following these instructions.
Users on the web have found another way to ease the upgrade process. "Borrow" a copy of Vista and do an upgrade from XP to Vista and then onto Windows 7. You will not even have to stop and validate Vista.
Best All Around Version
Windows 7 Home Premium offers probably the best value for most personal computer users. Do not confuse the Premium version with Home Basic which is not offered in the United States but has some of the same limitations as Windows Starter. The upgrade version of Home Premium retails for $ 119.99 and the full install for $ 199.99 but we have already started to see deals and discounts on both products.
Windows 7 Home Premium includes most of the bells and whistles in Windows 7 like the Aero visual interface, Media Center, and new touch interface capabilities. It supports 64 bit multi-processor hardware and also comes with the new applets like Snipping Tool, Sticky Notes, Live Preview and Windows Journal.
What's missing in Home Premium
If having the highest level of security available encryption is important, then you may want to move up to Windows Professional or Ultimate. XP mode is also left out of Home Premium. XP Mode allows you to run older software written for Windows XP.
What the Expensive Versions Buy You
A full install of Windows 7 Professional will cost you $ 299.99. You get some file encryption and automatic backups but for the full BitLocker encryption suite you'll need to move up to the Ultimate version.
Domain join makes connecting to other groups of computers like those at work easier. Both Win 7 Pro and Ultimate have the Domain join feature.
Windows Home includes backup and restore features but only Pro and Ultimate allow you to backup to a network drive.
You Can Always Wait for Windows 8
Due out in late 2011 or early 2012, Windows 8 is already in development at Microsoft. Rumors mention better multiple monitor support, better power management, and better mobile support.