Are you ready for Windows 7?
Jul 31, 2009, 12:28 GMT
Washington - It's official: Windows 7 is headed your way. With the recent announcement that the long-awaited successor to Windows Vista has reached the 'release to manufacturing' (RTM) stage, Microsoft has signaled that its programmers have put the final touches on Windows 7, deeming it ready for shrink wrap and for the official launch later this year. Luckily, that gives computer users a bit of time to consider whether to evaluate this new operating system and to determine whether their current computer can run it. Here's what you need to know.
--- Windows 7 editions
Like Windows Vista, Window 7 will be offered in several versions, or 'editions,' with each geared toward a specific audience or a specific class of computer.
A Windows 7 Starter Edition is for those with less powerful hardware and who do not ask much of their PCs. This edition will not include the Aero interface, which gives Windows 7 its three-dimensional, polished look and feel, and it will not be available in a 64-bit version.
Windows 7 Home Premium will be aimed at the home market, which Microsoft believes focuses primarily on ease of use and less on office connectivity. As such, it will include Aero, Windows Media Centre, and touch screen controls, but it will not include any features designed to make connecting to corporate networks easy.
Windows 7 Professional is aimed at sophisticated home and small business users. Included are all of the features of lesser editions as well as remote desktop functionality for connecting to other PCs remotely. Optional file-system level encryption will help keep prying eyes from sensitive data, and a Windows XP Mode will be available to ensure that any application compatible with XP will run under Windows 7.
Windows 7 Enterprise adds to the features of Professional by offering BitLocker Drive Encryption - which helps corporations protect data by ensuring that removable media, such as USB drives, can be password protected and encrypted. Unix application support is also provided. Corporations will generally purchase this edition with volume licenses.
Windows 7 Ultimate contains most of the features of other versions, including Enterprise, but will be available to home users.
There will also be 'E' and 'N' versions of Windows 7. The 'E' version is for Europe and will ship without a browser - a result of a settlement with EU regulators. The 'N' version, likewise, will ship without Windows Media Player - again a result of EU regulations.
Thanks to Microsoft's Anytime Upgrade system, all editions of Windows 7 will be distributed on the same DVD. Upgrading from one edition to another can be done online, and a new key will allow users to upgrade their existing version of Windows 7 by using their original DVD.
--- Hardware requirements
The official hardware requirements for Windows 7 from Microsoft include a processor running at 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster, 1 gigabyte (GB) of system memory (RAM), a graphics card that supports DirectX 9, and 16 - 20 GB of free hard drive space.
Microsoft's official hardware requirements have always left users dissatisfied, however, and that will be no different with Windows 7. To do any kind of serious multitasking, you'll want to make sure your computer has at least 2 GB of RAM and a processor running at 2.3 GHz or better. Because Windows 7 is graphics intensive, a graphics card upgrade may be in order for those with machines older than two or three years. And with hard drive space, more is always better, especially if your computer is light on memory, since Windows 7 will use your hard drive to swap out portions of running applications if physical memory runs low.
It should be noted that one of Microsoft's goals in Windows 7 was to make the operating system faster and more efficient than Windows Vista. Judging from pre-release versions and from beta tester feedback, the company has largely succeeded, but don't expect it to run faster than Windows XP.
--- Upgrade considerations
If you have a computer currently running Windows Vista, the switch to Windows 7 should be filled primarily with pleasant surprises. Windows 7, in fact, is remarkable during installation in that it typically finds drivers automatically for a wide range of PC components that previously required a hunt for third-party drivers. Install Windows 7 from scratch, and chances are good that you'll end up with a functioning system for which you need no additional drivers.
Will you be able to upgrade an existing Windows XP or Windows Vista installation with Windows 7? It depends. Windows XP users will have no direct upgrade path to Windows 7, which means that if you're running Windows XP, you'll need to do a clean installation of Windows 7. That's for the best anyway, since leaving an old operating system on your computer and upgrading it with a newer version typically results in a computer that runs slower and contains more unneeded files than one that was reformatted and provided with a fresh installation of the new operating system.
If you currently run Windows Vista, you do have some upgrade options. If you run Vista Home Premium, you'll be able to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium. Vista Business users can upgrade to Windows 7 Professional. And Windows Vista Ultimate owners can upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate. Again, though, a clean installation of Windows 7 will be your best bet to ensure maximum performance and minimum hard drive clutter.
--- Software compatibility
Vista bombed in the area of backward compatibility, and that was one of the main reasons why it was a relative flop in the market. Microsoft got serious about changing that situation with Windows 7, and the result was not only a plethora of compatibility-related bug fixes but also the inclusion of the XP Compatibility Mode, available in more advanced editions of the operating system.
With Compatibility Mode, Microsoft takes advantage of the virtualisation capabilities of today's cutting-edge processors. Essentially, Compatibility Mode creates within Windows 7 a separate virtual machine running Windows XP, so any application that runs fine on Windows XP will run without issue on Windows 7 using Compatibility Mode. This should ensure the widest availability of applications for Windows 7.
Most current applications will not need XP Compatibility Mode to run in Windows 7, however. And some applications - most notably older antivirus or disk utilities - still will not run under Windows 7, even with Compatibility Mode.
There are two levels of pricing for Windows 7: upgrade and full version. Upgrade pricing requires that a previous Windows version be available or installed. Upgrade pricing for Windows 7 Home Premium is estimated at 119 dollars, for Windows 7 Professional at 199 dollars, and for Windows 7 Ultimate at 219 dollars. Full version pricing for Home Premium is estimated at 199 dollars, Windows 7 Professional at 299 dollars, and Windows 7 Ultimate at 319 dollars.
The official launch date for Windows 7 is October 22. That's the day on which the new operating system should be available on store shelves in many parts of the world. Expect to be able to order Windows 7-equipped computer systems from vendors before that date, however.