David Miller is a brave soul. He is one of the senior technical support people at my company Nicom and he likes to use test versions of software long before they are ever released to the public.
So David has been using Windows 7 for months now as his main operating system, even though it is only being officially released to the public this month.
According to Microsoft, Windows 7 is about simplicity. Whereas Vista was supposed to usher in a whole new world of features, Windows 7 is about making everyday tasks easier.
That’s part of the reason they went with such a plain name, and not something sexy like “Windows Panorama”. Microsoft says it’s the seventh release of Windows (although I count eleven) and therefore they went with Windows 7.
One of the things David likes about Windows 7 is the simplified taskbar, which now includes a thumbnail preview of the applications which are running, and jump lists for hopping directly to frequently-used features within applications.
Another simplification involves setting up home networks, now called homegroups, with its “Share With” menu to simplify sharing of files and devices. But beware: you cannot create a homegroup, with the Starter edition.
Speaking of editions, Windows 7 comes in Starter, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate, each with an increasing number of features. These are all laid out nicely on the Microsoft web site but I will tell you this: get at least the Professional version if you want to connect to a network at the office.
Microsoft has also retooled the Search and other background processes. One problem with Vista is that these often slow your computer down to a crawl while you’re left scratching your head as to what it’s doing. According to Microsoft, this has been greatly improved in Windows 7. It turns out that David’s computer is so powerful that he says he hasn’t really noticed, so we’ll have to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Windows 7 introduces Windows Touch, a way to use your fingers instead of the mouse to move your way around, provided you have the right type of hardware. We’ll probably start seeing more of these in the future.
If you are currently running Vista, upgrading should be a snap and doing so should reward you with a faster operating system. David found that it took forever to upgrade (i.e. overnight) but when it was finished, it was set up perfectly, remembering all the settings and passwords he had set under Vista.
Upgrading from XP is not so simple. In fact, you can’t upgrade directly. You must use a utility called Easy Transfer to back up your files and settings to an external drive, do a full install of Windows 7, restore your settings from the external drive, and reinstall all your programs. Yikes.
Here’s a word to the wise: Before installing a new operating system, do a complete backup of your computer (XP and Vista both have backup utilities to do so). That way, worst case scenario is that you can get back to where you started.
Microsoft says they will continue providing security updates and “extended” (translate: pay for) support for XP until April 2014. So there is no rush to upgrade and, in fact, your equipment might not even handle an upgrade. Again, the Microsoft web site has all the details on this.
In summary, what David found is that Windows 7 is Microsoft’s answer to most of the complaints people had with Vista. Had Microsoft gone straight from XP to 7, they would have save themselves a lot of grief.
And what are the eleven versions of Windows throughout history, you ask? There are variations and minor editions, but the ones of consequence for desktop computers are: Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups, NT, 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, and now Windows 7.
I would call it Windows 11. But then again I’m not in marketing.