The computer helper: Should you try Windows 7? (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Jan 10, 2009, 1:08 GMT
Washington - Ready or not, here comes Windows 7. Although the release of the successor to Windows Vista isn't due out in final form until later this year, Microsoft wants you to start thinking about Windows 7 now - and maybe even to start using it.
The company announced this week that the public beta of Windows 7 will be released ahead of schedule. As with previous public betas, anyone will be able to download and try out Windows 7, and judging from the high level of interest in the new operating system, lots of people will want to.
But what can you expect from Windows 7, and what should you know before undertaking the installation? Read on for some answers.
Q: What's new in Windows 7?
A: Windows 7 has been designed largely to address many of the complaints that users have flung at Windows Vista: it's too slow, too resource-hungry, and too different from Windows XP. So Windows 7 is faster than either Vista or XP, and Microsoft has also incorporated lots of interface enhancements as well as improved the software's ability to recognise newer types of hardware upon installation. Gone, for example, is the Vista sidebar that used to hold gadgets; you can still use gadgets, but they can be placed anywhere on the desktop.
Windows 7 also introduces a new file organisation structure called Libraries. Essentially, libraries are virtual folders that can point to any number of locations on your hard drive or network. A library called Music, for instance, might aggregate files from your local hard drive as well as the network to which you're attached. You can create your own libraries, but Windows 7 comes with several that are pre-defined but customisable.
Overall, the Windows 7 interface feels snappier and looks more sophisticated than Vista's. It's an admirable improvement.
Q: Windows Vista was released not long ago. Why is another operating system coming out already?
A: Microsoft would probably answer this question with another: Why did it take us so long to release Windows Vista? A full five years elapsed between the time XP was released and the date that Vista was ready. That's too long, Microsoft believes, so it has stated publicly that it intends to accelerate the release schedule of its operating systems. Expect a new operating system about every two years.
Release schedules aside, it's clear that Windows Vista has not been the success that Microsoft expected that it would be. Many businesses have no plans to adopt Vista at all, for instance, because the upgrade over XP does not seem compelling enough from a feature standpoint, and the more powerful hardware required to run Vista adequately makes the widespread adoption out of the question.
Q: Will I need a new computer to run Windows 7?
A: If your computer currently runs Windows Vista, it will run Windows 7. A major design goal of Windows 7 was to make the operating system more efficient with system resources - memory and hard drive space - than Vista was. Microsoft has stated publicly that once Windows 7 is complete, the software and hardware compatibility list for Windows 7 should be identical to the one published for Vista.
Even in the pre-beta stage, Windows 7 is living up to Microsoft's promise. The operating system takes up about 7 gigabytes of disk space when installed, whereas Vista consumes more. In terms of performance, Windows 7 is noticeably faster than Vista on a computer equipped with the same amount of memory, and recent benchmark results published by a third party bear this out. Vista bests both XP and Vista in performance by a significant margin in most areas.
Regarding memory, you should consider 2 gigabytes a reasonable minimum for running Windows 7, just as with Vista.
Q: I'm still using Windows XP. Should I skip Vista altogether?
A: Perhaps. If XP is helping you to get your work done, and you see no pressing need to upgrade, then stay where you are. You will eventually have to abandon XP, however, since Microsoft is dropping mainstream support for the operating system in April of this year. That means that updates for the XP operating system will be phased out, as well as technical support.
Support issues aside, there is one good argument to be made for switching to Vista before adopting Windows 7. Your learning curve will be lessened by first adopting Vista. Windows 7 is in many ways an enhancement of Vista, which was quite a radical change from XP. If you already know Vista, you won't have much difficulty at all with Windows
7. If you move directly from XP to Windows 7, expect to have to spend more time re-learning tasks you now take for granted. Everything from how you interact with the Start menu to how Windows Explorer looks and acts are different in both Vista and Windows 7.
Q: Which software is not compatible with Windows 7?
A: Currently, there's no definitive list of compatible and incompatible software, but Windows 7 attempts to alert you if you try to install a program that it knows is not compatible. That said, you can expect to have issues with anti-virus and anti-spyware software as well as with programs that attempt to replace key Windows Explorer functionality. Most standard business and Internet applications should be compatible.
However, note that Windows 7 comes standard with Internet Explorer 8, and you will not be able to downgrade to an earlier version should you decide you don't like IE 8. Mozilla's Firefox browser works fine under Windows 7, however.
Q: Can I use Windows 7 to upgrade XP?
A: No. If you intend to experiment with the beta of Windows 7, you should either dedicate a machine to it or create a new partition on your existing hard drive and install it to that. If you have only one computer, you could also buy or use a separate hard drive for the installation. Just set your primary hard drive aside, install the other one, and then install Windows 7 on that. If you don't like it, you can just plug in your old hard drive, and your computer will be back to the way it was.
Q: Where can I download the beta version of Windows 7?
A: Microsoft has set up a dedicated Windows 7 site (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7), and you'll find a link to the download there. Microsoft says the download will be available for a limited time and has capped the number of times the software can be downloaded at 2.5 million.
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