Windows 7 is a chance for Microsoft to fix a lot of things that went wrong with Vista. In my last column, I discussed how they have greatly improved the installation experience for XP users upgrading to Windows 7. Vista users can do an in-place upgrade that does not require your personal data and settings to be backed up, they remain “in-place”, as do your installed programs, and Windows 7 picks up right where you left off, just with new features and a slightly different look and feel.
One thing folks should be aware of is the different versions of Windows 7 that are available. Windows 7 Home Premium is $199 for the full version, or $119 for the upgrade, and gives you most of what you need from this new operating system if you are a home or basic user. Windows 7 Professional is $299 or $199 for the upgrade, and will most likely fit the needs for business users, as it allows you to join a computer domain, something that most businesses have in place for their networks. It also features Windows XP Mode, a virtual environment for using legacy applications that cannot run in Windows 7 (or Vista). One of the reasons XP has a such a strong following with businesses is the amount of custom developed utilities that are in use, and this should help some to migrate to the new OS. Windows 7 Ultimate is $319 or $219 for the upgrade, and features BitLocker, a utility for encrypting your external drives, and the ability to use and switch between thirty-five different languages. Unless you have a need for the different languages, you can easily encrypt your media with TrueCrypt (https://www.truecrypt.org), a terrific free utility for data encryption. Unless you require domain functionality for your network, I personally think Windows 7 Home Premium gives you plenty of bang for your buck.
The main improvement of Windows 7 over Vista is the speed in booting your computer, and resuming from Sleep Mode. There are a lot of new features that are useful, but being a Mac user, you can tell that Microsoft is desperately trying to play “catch-up” with their OS. The taskbar is back, but it is friendlier, adding the ability to “pin” programs that you frequently use. Similar to the Quick Launch of XP and Vista, it is more akin to the way the Mac OS makes use of its taskbar. Also changed is the System Tray, which was cluttered by a ton of annoying icons in XP and Vista. There are still a couple, but you can pick and choose which are to be displayed. Also, mousing over a taskbar icons of running programs will give you a thumbnail preview, which can come in handy. Libraries are a neat new addition, which can collect data, like pictures, music, and documents, and place them into a single library, even if stored on other hard drives and different computers on your network. You can then share your libraries with other users in your HomeGroup. HomeGroups are an attempt to simplify sharing files and printers, but for it to work, the other machines have to be running Windows 7 as well. I’ve just scratched the surface, but I thought these would be the most important new features worth mentioning. Of course, a few things have been removed from Windows 7, like Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Mail, which were both included with Vista. However, they, along with some other programs, are available for free as part of Windows Live Essentials. (https://download.live.com).
A lot of users might be wondering, “Should I upgrade to Windows 7?” If you bought your PC after June 26, 2009, you are eligible for a free upgrade to the new OS. Other users might be skittish about plunking down over $100 for an upgrade that could be disappointing, if they suffered through early versions of Windows Vista. From my perspective and hands-on experience with Windows 7, I think it’s worth a try, as I found it to be the most user-friendly version of Microsoft Windows in a long time.