Microsoft has confirmed that the the latest version of the company's operating system will be available on retail shelves on October 22. Many manufacturers will also start selling Windows 7 pre-installed on new PCs beginning on that date.
A few million beta testers, myself included, have been running pre-release versions of Windows 7 for some months. I have been impressed with the performance: it seems to run faster than did Vista and Windows 7 hasn't locked up or crashed my PC even once. That's a great record for beta software.
Windows 7 looks a lot like Vista, simply because it has the same underlying structure. In fact, Windows 7 really could have been released as a Service Pack (a minor update) to Vista.
It is, however, much different from the earlier Windows XP operating system. XP users cannot simply install Windows 7 by inserting a disk. Instead, the process involves completely wiping the hard drive, meaning users must back up all of their data first. After installing Windows 7, they must then reinstall all their programs and data files. I wouldn't recommend that.
Anyone who owns a Vista system today will find the upgrade process to be much easier: insert the new disk into a Vista system and follow the instructions that appear on the screen. Vista users will not need to re-format the hard drive or re-install applications. Only the owners of older operating systems (Windows XP and earlier) will need to go through that.
Microsoft argues that the best option for XP users is to simply buy a new computer. Given the high prices of the new operating system at the store ($120 to $320, depending on the version you select) and the difficulty of upgrading an older version of Windows plus the fact that you will gain very little new functionality, purchasing a copy of Windows 7 and installing it on an existing system doesn't make financial sense. However, sooner or later you will want to upgrade your computer and that is probably the best time to obtain the latest version of Windows.
Consumers who purchase a PC today with Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate at participating retailers will get a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it becomes available. The offer will run until Jan. 31, 2010.
For those waiting until the October 22 release date, a Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade will cost $119.99 and the full package will retail for $199.99. The Windows 7 Professional upgrade will cost $199.99 and the full system will be $299.99. For Windows 7 Ultimate, the upgrade version will retail for $219.99 and the full version will set you back $319.99.
Why pay $120 to $320 to upgrade an existing computer? Brand-new computers are available today for $400 or $500, including operating system, if you use your old video monitor. That's not much more money and you will end up with a faster computer, probably with more storage capacity, probably with better video, and with a warranty to boot. Besides, you can continue to use your old computer as a second system.
Here is a list of the major improvements contained in Windows 7:
- improved taskbar previews, bigger icons, pinning, and new ways to personalize.
- improved home networking, so it's easier to share files and printers.
- Jump Lists - Speedy access to your favorite pictures, songs, websites, and documents.
- Snap - A quick (and fun) new way to resize and compare windows on your desktop.
- improved searching of your computer's hard drive
- Windows 7 will go to sleep and resume quicker.
- new power-saving features are designed to help laptops run longer.
- Windows Touch - if you have a a touch-sensitive PC, you won't always need a keyboard or mouse. (This was available in previous releases of Windows as an external driver for the touchscreen. Windows 7 will now have internal software to support touchscreens.)
I would suggest that all of these features are worthwhile improvements but I don't see anything in the list that makes me want to spend $120 or more for the upgrade.
My suggestion: don't run out to buy Windows 7. Wait until you plan to upgrade to newer hardware.
As for me, I'll stick with the Macintosh. The beta version of Windows 7 doesn't show me anything that hasn't already been in the Mac for years.