The big buzz in the PC world lately has been the large beta test of Windows 7, the operating system that will finally dethrone the much maligned Windows Vista. A release date hasn’t been announced, but pundits are predicting mid-Q4 of 2009 for the launch.
Is Windows 7 just a Vista redux or is it actually worth upgrading to the new OS when it arrives? In its Mac-like look and feel, Windows 7 is very similar to Vista, but Microsoft has taken complaints into account and the company has made some serious improvements.
In fact, some beta testers are downright giddy about improvements such as these:
- Speed: Windows 7 is noticeably peppier upon startup, application opening, and shutdown.
- Whiz-bang taskbar: You can pin your favorite applications to the new taller taskbar, where they’ll appear as icons, rather than text-heavy buttons, in the order you desire. Hover your mouse over each icon and thumbnails of the different instances of the programs (e.g., multiple documents open in Microsoft Word) will appear. Hover over a thumbnail and a full-size preview will pop up. A right-click opens up a contextual menu that contains relevant tasks, recent files, and other goodies. The system tray has also been revamped so that it’s more compact and offers you more control over its contents.
- Action Center: Offering a one-stop shop accessible from the system tray, this feature consolidates all Windows security errors and User Account Control notifications and maintenance and provides you greater control over those notifications, which pop up endlessly in Vista.
- Aero Peek and Shake: These clever Aero features allow you to preview windows behind the current one by turning it to “glass” (Peek) and to clear all windows behind the current one by mousing over and shaking it (Shake). You can also easily half-size two windows and dock them side-by-side, mimicking a dual-monitor view.
- Home groups: This new function allows you to easily create a networking connection with any Internet-connected device in just minutes, not hours.
Other features include an updated Media Center; simplified and streamlined wireless connectivity, backup features, and device access and management; and more multitouch functionality.
While there will be several versions of Windows 7, a Microsoft spokesperson says that 80 percent of Windows 7 versions sold in the United States will either be Home Premium or Professional. The latter includes everything in Home Premium (indeed, all versions are supersets of the versions preceding them) plus group policy tools, remote desktop host capabilities, backup features on a networkwide level, and encryption support.
Also of note is the corporate-level Enterprise, which adds BitLocker and BitLocker To Go (encryption for removable media), all language packs, and the ability to boot from a virtual hard drive.
If your computing system is like 71 percent of enterprise PCs in the United States, you’re still running Windows XP. Upgrading may be a headache for you or your technical department and for all employees who are unfamiliar with the Vista and Windows 7 interface experience because XP is a comfortable eight-year-old operating system. Microsoft is suspending support for XP Service Pack 2 in April 2009, and then XP Service Pack 3 in 2014. (Windows 2000 support is finished in Q2 2010.) You could survive on XP for five more years, but perhaps it’s time for an OS promotion, there are surely productivity upgrades that you can use in the updated operating systems.
Bothering with Vista as an in-between OS may seem like a waste of time, but an upgrade from XP to Windows 7 requires a full install: a clean slate and reinstallation of all your software, while moving from XP to Vista to Windows 7 provides a smoother transition with no full installs required. And according to Tech ARP, users who purchase Vista between June 28, 2009, and January 31, 2010, will receive a free or low-cost upgrade to Windows 7.
Microsoft offers information on assessing your move from XP or Vista to the new Windows 7 system.