Computer Guide

Should I upgrade to Windows 7?

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I have a good computer running XP with 2 GB of RAM and plenty of disk space and it should be capable of running Windows 7. Should I upgrade?

In my opinion, you should not even consider this option unless you have some special reason because for the vast majority of users the operating system is not important.

What is far more important to most users are the applications they use, not what operating system they run on. The more common applications are browsing the web, word-processing, mail, financial records, anti-virus and similar software, photo and/or video editing, possibly games etc., as well as being able to access all your existing hardware. When you upgrade your operating system these applications do not change but in some cases they may not run with Windows 7. Generally they will not run faster and in some cases they may run slower but the differences will not be noticeable. Also there will be some new learning required.

One of the advantages of Windows 7 is that it is more secure and boots a few seconds faster than XP. It has many useful shortcut keys that can improve productivity for keyboard users. It has a very good and fast search capability that allows you to find not only files but words inside documents very quickly. Like Vista it has an improved visual display called Aero which you can use if your video card is of an adequate standard. Security, diagnostics and searching have been improved, and most of the bundled applications such as WordPad, Paint, Recorder, Calculator and others have also been improved. The Media Centre and the Windows Media Player in particular has been noticeably improved to handle many new formats. Networking and network diagnostics have been improved.

One possible disadvantage is that there is no mail client in Windows 7 so you will have to download a mail reader and import your existing mail and address book. There is a free download of Windows Mail which has a number of improvements over Outlook Express that it has replaced.

Although there is a free program to test if your computer is ready for Windows 7 that you can download from the Microsoft site, I have a report of one computer that was passed as completely ready but had some problem areas after Windows 7 was installed.

There is no upgrade path from XP to Windows 7, only from Vista, so XP users will have to perform a clean install and then re-install all software and then their data. Then they will have to apply security and other patches to their programs.

So, before any upgrade, consider just what you will gain and what you may lose, beside time and money.

If your version of Windows XP is reasonably stable then staying with it saves spending money as upgrading the operating system will provide very little benefit and can many problems.

Also there are many free programs that can provide good searching of your files such as Google Desktop.  Few users use programs such as WordPad, Paint, Recorder, Calculator as there are much better free alternatives. The money spent on an upgrade may be better spent on a faster CPU or more RAM, which will noticeably improve the performance of your existing system or could be put towards the next computer. Also in a variety of benchmark tests on relatively new and older hardware showed that Windows XP was often faster than Windows 7.

If you find that an important program for your needs, for example, a genealogy program will not run on Windows 7 then there is work-around.  A solution to this is to download the free Microsoft program, Virtual PC, and install whatever Microsoft operating system your program needs and then run your program there. Virtual PC is not that hard to use for anyone who has a bit of computer knowledge. There is a full version of XP with SP-3 that can be installed on Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate. No reboot is required to run XP as the Virtual PC is started just as another application such as Word.

Another drawback is that some older hardware such as scanners and printers may not work and purchasing new items will add to the cost of the upgrade.

However, when you are purchasing a new computer, I recommend that you purchase one that has Windows 7 installed as there is no point in purchasing a superseded operating system.


To look at the e-book in PDF format, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here