Will you stick with XP and Vista or will you roll the dice on Microsoft’s latest, and some say greatest, operating system? We offer our take on the pros and cons of a Windows 7 upgrade.
Now that Windows 7, the much-heralded upgrade to Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system, is here, should you make the switch? We can think of as many reasons to do it as not. With an apologetic nod to Letterman, here are our top seven reasons, pro and con.
Why You Should Upgrade to Windows 7
7. Easier Troubleshooting
With the Pro edition and higher, Windows 7 includes the Problem Steps Recorder. It lets you create a kind of animated movie illustrating a problem. Turn on the recorder and perform the steps that produced the error. Annotate the resulting animation if necessary, and then e-mail the zipped file to a technical support person. That means reduced time on the phone with tech support people and no techie language barrier.
6. Longer Battery Life
Laptops will run significantly longer on battery power than they did under Vista thanks to a bunch of changes. When the computer goes into low power modes (sleep, hibernate), Windows 7 cuts power to components that were not always powered down under Vista: USB ports, cameras, etc. Microsoft has also found ways to reduce power draw during normal operation, reportedly by as much as 15 percent.
5. Find Stuff Faster
The new Libraries feature lets you see files from multiple folders in one meta-folder — all documents in the Documents Library, for example, whether they’re physically stored in My Documents or in an archive folder.
And the improved desktop search engine uses fewer computing resources, returns results faster and adds useful features such as results grouped by type and location, the capability to search meta data (e.g. author field in a Word document’s Properties) and context-specific search fields in Windows Explorer, Control Panel and other locations.
4. Better Data Security
Microsoft improved the integrated backup and restore tool, giving you more control. You can now choose a custom backup destination (including network drives), create system images separately from file backups and choose which folders and files and/or file types to back up.
New functionality also makes it easy to restore previous versions of files and folders preserved by Windows Backup and Restore Point. Finally, BitLocker-to-Go lets you encrypt and password-protect files copied to a flash drive.
3. Improved Interface
The new Aero interface makes it easier to work with active applications and open files. Mousing over an icon in the task bar displays large thumbnails of all open windows in that program or tool. Mousing over a thumbnail temporarily displays the window in normal mode. Left-clicking brings it to the top and makes it active.
Right-clicking an icon in the bar displays a list of recently opened files. Selecting one opens it and puts it on top. The “snap” feature lets you neatly line up two documents to compare by simply dragging them to opposite sides of the desktop. These small refinements make a significant difference in day-to-day use.
2. Enhanced Compatibility
One big complaint about Vista when it launched was that many applications and device drivers designed to work with XP wouldn’t work with the new operating system. Microsoft claims — and work with pre-release versions confirms — that this is much less a problem with Windows 7.
With XP Mode for Windows 7, even older applications will run — right from the desktop, without launching a separate shell. Also, Windows 7 makes installing new hardware easier by automatically searching on the Web for and installing device drivers.
And our number one reason to upgrade to Windows 7 (drum roll, please)…
1. Faster and More Efficient
Vista was a bloated code monster that needed constant patching and supercomputer resources to run efficiently. Windows 7 by all accounts is a much slimmed-down and optimized piece of code. It takes up less disk space and runs more nimbly on lower-powered computers. Based on our testing, it uses less processing capacity and is less prone than Vista to crashing, hanging and freezing. It also boots more quickly. Hallelujah.
Click over to page 2 for our seven reasons not to upgrade...
Why You Shouldn’t UpGrade to Windows 7
7. It’s Still Windows
Out of the box, Windows 7 may, as Microsoft claims, be less vulnerable to security breaches than earlier versions of Windows – emphasis on may – but it’s still Windows. By virtue of that fact, if no other, Windows 7 is going to attract hackers and virus incubators like banks attract robbers.
They will find ways to breach it. You will have to be sure to keep security patches up to date, and you may even still be vulnerable. Note: proponents of alternate operating system solutions – Linux, Mac OS – cite this is as a deal killer. We don’t.
6. The Learning Curve
We like the new Windows 7 user interface very much, but it is different. That means you and your employees will have to spend time learning it before you become really efficient and productive.
The learning curve will be relatively minor for people familiar with Vista, but much steeper for folks still using XP. Again, this may not be a deal killer, but when you’re calculating the benefits of switching to Windows 7, take this into account.
5. Not Ready for Prime Time
Despite Microsoft’s largely successful efforts to draw ordinary people, including small business folks, into the process of designing and testing Windows 7, this is a new operating system. There will inevitably be bugs. There will be headaches and frustrations.
Cautious IT professionals recommend that you not go through the aggravation of switching until most of the kinks are worked out. They suggest that you wait at least until the first “service pack” of fixes comes out, which will probably happen near the end of first quarter 2010.
4. New Isn’t Necessarily Better
Microsoft has a penchant for leaving long-time customers high and dry when it “upgrades” software. Case in point: the new Media Player in Windows 7. It removes the useful Advanced tag editor feature that made it easy in earlier versions to edit meta data attached to media files. (Media programs, including WMP, use tags to — among other things — organize music and movies by artist, genre, etc.)
Also, our experience of Internet Explorer 8, the new version of IE built for and included with Windows 7, shows that it’s more prone to crashing and freezing than previous versions.
3. A Pain in the XP
While Microsoft makes it relatively easy to upgrade to Windows 7 from Vista, if you’re switching from XP — and many small businesses wisely stuck with XP — you’ll have to do a clean install. This means completely rebuilding computers after installing the new Windows, reconfiguring settings and – ouch! – reinstalling all applications and devices.
2. A Pain in the Wallet
Upgrading to Windows 7 is not an inexpensive proposition, especially if you have lots of computers. If you’re already running a legitimate earlier version of Windows, here’s what a Windows 7 upgrade will cost you: Home Premium, $120; Professional, $200; Ultimate, $220. New prices: $200 to $320. Now multiply by the number of PCs in your company.
And our number one reason not to upgrade to Windows 7 (another drum roll, please)…
1. If it Ain’t Broke…
Our seven reasons to switch may sound compelling. But are they enough to warrant the disruption and expense involved in a mass migration to a new operating system — especially if your current OS works fine?
You could argue that Windows 7 will make people more productive or reduce IT management and support costs. But such business cases are notoriously difficult to prove. So if it ain’t broke — your existing operating system, that is — why fix it?
The Bottom Line
The decision on whether to switch to Windows 7 will be different — and must be arrived at differently — for every person or company. If you’re using Vista and hate it, or if you’re using XP and worry about support disappearing, think about upgrading to Windows 7 when the dust settles early next year.
Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog at http://afterbyte.blogspot.com/.
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