Windows 7: An impressive upgrade

Windows 7: An impressive upgrade

Summary: Windows 7 is officially available to the public tomorrow, after nearly a year of testing. I've covered its features and capabilities in detail over the past few months. Today, on the eve of the official launch, I look at Microsoft's new operating system and answer the big question: Who should upgrade?


Windows 7 is impressive. That word is rarely used in the same sentence as "Microsoft" and "Windows" – certainly not in recent years. But it fits here.

Unlike its predecessors, this Windows version feels as if it were designed and built by a single, coordinated team instead of being assembled from interchangeable parts. In daily use, Windows 7 feels graceful and often (but not always) elegant. Although it builds on elements that debuted in Windows Vista, it fixes many usability sins and adds consistency and polish to an interface that had too many rough edges. And some very impressive new capabilities, especially the grossly underrated Libraries feature, offer rewards for digging deeper.

Windows 7 runs smoothly and efficiently on even modest hardware. Remarkably, it reverses the longstanding trend to make Windows bigger. From a standing start, Windows 7 uses less memory, runs fewer services, and consumes less disk space than its predecessor, Windows Vista, and in the 64-bit version it can address about five times more RAM than you can actually stuff onto a single motherboard. This year, anyway.

I've already covered the features in Windows 7 extensively. Little in Windows 7 has changed since I wrote What to expect from Windows 7 back in May. If you review the screenshot gallery I assembled for that post, you'll have a very good idea of how Windows 7 looks and acts today (the sole exception is Windows XP Mode, which has changed significantly from the beta release I looked at in May).

When Windows Vista was released in January 2007, I suggested that most businesses of even modest size and complexity would be wise to heed conventional wisdom and avoid it until Service Pack 1 was ready. I don't feel compelled to offer that same advice here. The development process for Windows 7 has been steady and deliberate. The Release Candidate code that Microsoft made public last May was arguably more stable and reliable than most recent official Windows releases. As I wrote in What to expect from Windows 7 nearly six months ago:

From a features and capabilities point of view, Windows 7 is essentially done. It’s all over but the process of hunting down bugs, many of them associated with OEM hardware and drivers. In a bygone era, code this stable and well tested might have been released as a 1.0 product, followed six months later by a service pack. Not this year. Microsoft is treating Windows 7 as the world’s most ambitious shareware release ever.

I'm told that 8 million people have been running the Windows 7 Release Candidate. That's four times the number of people who registered as Windows Vista beta testers during its development process. My gut feeling is that the number of people actually using Windows 7 in recent months is at least an order of magnitude higher than the corresponding head count in the runup to Windows Vista. And based on everything I've heard, the overwhelming majority of those who try Windows 7 like it.

So, who should upgrade? And who shouldn't? As always, I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all recommendations. But for a few categories, the choice is simple:

  • If you're running Windows Vista and gritting your teeth over it, you should upgrade as soon as possible. The relief will be immediate.
  • If you're shopping for a new PC, get one with Windows 7 on it. And if it doesn't run properly on Day 1, return it and find another. OEMs that do a good job of matching PC hardware to Windows should be rewarded. Those who didn't learn from the Vista experience deserve to be punished.
  • If you're perfectly happy with the performance of XP and don't want to relearn established habits, stay put.
  • For anyone relying on mission-critical Windows-based apps or specialized hardware, testing trumps any desire to have the latest OS, no matter how well it's been reviewed.

And if you're feeling gun-shy about switching, it's OK to wait. Most people forget that the venerable Windows XP was unpopular and unloved for its first two years in the marketplace. And Windows Vista has matured into a solid, if forgettable OS after many reliability updates and two service packs. Based on that experience, Windows 7 will improve with age.

Yes, there are downsides to the Windows 7 transition. For Windows XP users in particular, the upgrade process is tedious. Licensing is still a confusing mess, especially for small business owners. Drivers are still a potential source of headaches, as I’ve found in recent months.

But its  improvements in productivity, security, and reliability make Windows 7 worth those short-term hassles. It is, without question, the most impressive software development effort Microsoft has ever undertaken. For anyone who has chosen Windows – out of preference or necessity – it is an impressive achievement and as close to an essential upgrade as I have ever seen.

More Windows 7 Coverage:

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • Windows 7 review:

    <a href="" target="_blank">Windows 7 review: 'New' OS is just Vista with small changes</a>

    <strong>Performance enhancements</strong>

    <font color=#808080>"We have already determined that W7 won't make your computer run any faster. And if you are upgrading from XP, it might run slightly slower, just as with Vista. ...

    But it's not really anything new. We hate to be the reviewers who say that the emperor has no clothes, but there's <strong>so much hype surrounding W7</strong> that most people are probably expecting an entirely new operating system. What they will find is an improved version of Vista, with the same warts and flaws and a few improvements. That's really it."</font>

    • But alas...

      It [i]is[/i] an entirely new operating system in its own aspect.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Offering what?

        In our home we have maybe 6 PCs and laptops, all running XP. All are rock-stable, all are highly useable. What's the upside for me to switch to 7?
        Faster? No.
        Cheaper? No.
        Are there apps that DEMAND it? No. Not yet, anyway.

        So thanks for the eye candy, but we'll pass.
        • Spot On

          100% correct - why pay to do the same old tasks a new way just because someone else thinks its more cute.In the cold harsh reality of assessing an OS Windows 7 does nothing more for probably 75% of users than XP. Microsoft really wanted XP Users to shift anyway did'nt they , so much so they made sure there was no upgrade path. Talk about feeling unloved and unwanted.

          So while Microsoft regard my needs as unworthy of support I think I will regard their need for cash as equally unworthy of my support.


          IT Director
          • Great!

            Have fun doing a last minute migration when MS drop support for XP then.

            You'll be on it in two to three years or you'll be out of a job.
            Sleeper Service
          • Turd polishing

            I view W7 as nothing more than turd polishing, and support from
            Microsoft, who has ever gotten any help from them?

            I expect a lot of negative articles now describing the emperor's lack of
            clothes, probably not from ZDNet though.
          • Uh? I have got always great support (nt)

          • Live beyond Windows

            ...or you'll just switch to OS X, Linux or Chrome OS. There is life beyond
            Windows, and MSFT is just forcing more and more people to go looking
            for it.
        • no one

          Said you have to upgrade. If Xp works for you, by all means stick with it.

          However, if you buy a new PC, Windows 7 is the way to go.
          The one and only, Cylon Centurion
        • Do not upgrade then

          Believe it not MS has a business to run
          which includes constant improvements of
          previous versions of their OS. If you like
          an older OS stay put as long as you want.
          Some of us are glad we can play with a new
          OS and are more than happy to switch. I
          like the media center and is the one
          reason I would upgrade (once my free win 7
          beta expires of course. I mean at my
          company I just got rid of our last windows
          NT 4.0 computer about 6 months ago. It ran
          fine and was rock solid for what we used
          it for. So DO NOT upgrade until you are

          Please stop whining that a company comes
          out with new software. We know they will
          always develop that next big thing that is
          just what they do. Does not mean you need
          to buy it. I went for adobe CS to Adobe
          CS4. so without 2 or 3 then 4 would have
          never been and 5 would not come down the

        • Agree. No need to upgrade yet.

          Same here.
          XP runs smooth and stable. And i prefer the old, straightforward, classic Windows look.
          The eye candy you can add yourself by use of tons of GUI enhancement applications.
          I dont see any other reason to upgrade then to ensure Microsoft's profit.
          XP stays here for a long time until an upgrade is really needed.
        • Why do people post such stupid things?

          Why do you think anyone else cares if you don't want to upgrade? Do you go around to all the car forums every time a new car model comes out so you can tell everyone you aren't going to buy a new car? Do you go around to all the photography forums every time a new camera model comes out to tell everyone you aren't going to buy a new camera?

          People who actually do serious work on their computers can see the benefits of newer versions of software. Many of us use applications that are capable of taking advantage of the newer hardware with muli-core CPUs and more than 3 GB of RAM, so we benefit greatly from a 64 bit OS.

          Just because you are too stupid to see that there are benefits for many of us doesn't mean those benefits don't exist. If you don't need the new features, that is fine. Don't upgrade. No one really cares if you want to stay in the past. No one cares if you don't buy a new car or a new camera or a new TV either.

          • And If You Want Real 64Bit Performance, Security, Dependability...

            One hears that people camp out overnite to be the first to get a copy of Win7.

            Barring the immediate need for a particular feature of Win7, which would make one think that user would already have a beta or advance copy, Why would anyone do this??

            I would think that if one wanted something really interesting and unique (relative to Windows) to play with and investigate, one would install a copy of Linux.

            Oh, well, chac'un, son gout.

            <a href=""> Wine Arbitrage</a><br><a href=""> Bullet Proof Backup Systems</a><br><a href=""> The Linux Shop</a><br><br><br>
            Seamus O'Brog
          • Camping out

            I don't understand why people camp out overnight to be the first to get anything, whether it be Windows 7, or a video game, or whatever. It's not like they're only going to make a few hundered copies and if you aren't the first one in line, you're out of luck.

            As for installing Linux, I suppose that's fine for people who can use it. All my 64 bit applications are Windows-only and Linux won't do me any good.

          • Linux 64 bit

            where the 64 stands for the number of people who run it. oops 65
          • install a copy of Linux?

            I have a computer with a operating system to play and work. I have to make that choice of OS by the question, will it run the apps I want to run? Linux? No. Mac? No. Windows? Yes with a lot of hassle. As bad as it is, Windows is my only choice. What I want is for Microsoft to wake up and produce a OS that works on every machine every time. That means machines meeting the specs for the OS and Apps. For some Linux and Star office for free is great. But Autocad Inventer? Adobe Production Pro? I like road racing sims, how many of those are ported to Linux? Not Race 07.
            You are not offering options many people can use.
          • No one gives a whit about your Windoze apps NT


            Apple FTW
          • Huh? You want a perpetual motion machine?

            " What I want is for Microsoft to wake up and produce a OS that works on every machine every time."

            You're asking for something that's basically impossible and Windows is DAMN close to this now as it stands.
          • Windows DOES

            run on every *quality* machine every time. What people still seem to miss is that Windows simply cannot handle shoddy hardware if said hardware is really shoddy. Win 7 got very good at isolating said hardware to prevent it from killing the entire system, but it doesn't fix the underlaying cause. Stop patronizing poorly reviewed hardware manufacturers and drive them out of business - that is the only way Windows will always run on all hardware well. Big names like nVidia, creative, ATI have woken up and smelled the coffee after they almost killed Vista. THe smaller shops however continue to put out some of the worst hardware I've ever seen. You get what you pay for, as always. You skimp and get cheap ram, cheap HD, cheap mobo - something is gonna fry and cause instability sooner or later. You can't blame the OS for that, just your hardware choices. Read the reviews people, before you spend your hard-earned money on junk! That's what the internets are for.

            PS. For anyone wishing to employ someone to build a quality but custom build machine at a fraction of what you'd pay anywhere else, give me a holler. I build em for supplemental income and I've yet to have one unsatisfied customer - so long as they follow my care recommendations at time of purchase of course.

            "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
          • Okay, so you admit you play games.

            Windows is the only viable OS for you.

            Most of us have more practical uses for computing and don't want something as shady and flaky as Windows running our applications.

            And you're right - professional companies like Adobe won't give Linux the time of day. (And they DO support OS X.)