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Windows 7 coming - should Office users bother?

You can buy Windows 7 soon – should Office users bother?

Windows 7 is now ‘RTM’ Released to Manufacturing which is Microsoft speak to say that all the programming and testing is done – now they make the DVD’s and boxes as well as fully unleashing the marketing mavens.

We’ve been using Windows 7 through various incarnations for some time and have been quite happy with it both on a desktop machine and a netbook.

The desktop computer is an ‘old’ Pentium 4 workhorse. Windows 7 installed and runs very smoothly and importantly is stable. We’ve had none of the mysterious crashes and prolonged hang ups that plagued the same computer with Windows Vista.

The netbook was an even more surprisingly agreeable experience. A low speed Atom processor with 2GB in an Acer netbook ran Windows 7 very well and with no noticeable downgrade of performance from using the same computer with Windows XP.

We suggest at least 1.5GB of RAM for any machine running Windows 7, preferably more if you intend to run Outlook at the same time as other Office programs.

Features we like

  • Start menu with documents fly-outs
  • ‘Jump Lists’ of open windows from the taskbar
  • Libraries, they let you display files from multiple folders in one list. For example all images can appear in one library regardless of where you saved them.
  • More connectivity improvements especially for wireless links.
  • BitLocker for removable drives
  • Improved backup, mostly in the more expensive versions of Windows 7

With any Microsoft product marketing check the fine print for any feature before you get too excited about it. For example – DirectAccess sounds great, just plug into a network and you get a VPN link to your office network. This is a new Windows 7 feature but to make it work your network administrator needs to make specific changes and use the latest server software from Microsoft.

HomeGroup is yet more improvements for homes and small businesses to make a shared network, but you need to buy Windows 7 on all the computers to make it work.

That’s not to say that Windows 7 is perfect. Internet Explorer continues to be the lowest common denominator browser which we only use when IE compatibility is required (eg Outlook Web Access). Install Firefox or Chrome for better and faster browsing than Microsoft offers.

We’re not entirely convinced by the new taskbar because the program icon positions now move across the bar depending if the program is running or not. On the other hand, the new window display as you hover over icons (each window comes to the top) is excellent.

Should you upgrade from Vista?

Windows 7 has much to like however the main advantage of the new Windows is also the main reason not to upgrade.

Windows 7 is a considerable improvement in stability and performance over the complex and clumsy Windows Vista – really more of an improvement than Microsoft is prepared to admit.

And there lies the problem for customers; they are being asked to pay around US$200 (Windows 7 Professional Upgrade) for what amounts to a recanting of Microsoft’s previous mistakes with Vista. Is it right for Microsoft to get more money for fixing problems and poor decisions the company made?

Should you upgrade from Windows XP?

Windows XP users qualify for the ‘upgrade’ pricing for Windows 7 but don’t get an easy conversion path on their computer.

At first glance it seems that upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 would be a good idea on computers with sufficient hardware to take advantage of it.

However there’s a catch – Microsoft has NOT provided upgrade software to convert Windows XP to Windows 7. You have to save all your documents and settings from Windows XP, then install a ‘clean’ Wndows 7 operating system. You’re then left with the tedium of re-installing all your software and re-configuring both Windows and your software.

The process of ‘scrubbing’ a computer and starting again from scratch can speed up your computer however it takes time, need to be done carefully and is far too much hassle for many regular computer users.

Moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 involves more than the price you pay to Microsoft; there’s a significant cost in your own time and trouble in the changeover.

Extra Note: some readers have queried this, pointing at the upgrade price for Windows 7 that WinXP users qualify for.  It’s true that WinXP users get the same lower price for Windows 7 that Vista users can get.  However that only applies to the PRICE – there is no upgrade PATH or conversion from WinXP to the new OS.  While they pay the same upgrade price, WinXP users will have to do a clean install of Win7 and then reinstall all their programs and files again – Vista users won’t.

Windows 7 on a new computer

This choice is easy. If Windows 7 is offered on a new computer, get it.

That advice applies for both desktop and laptop computers. For MS Office users we suggest at least 2GB of RAM, preferably more if you’re running Outlook and/or various Office apps at the same time. You can use up to 4GB which is the maximum with a 32-bit processor.

On netbook computers we also inclined towards Windows 7 if it is pre-installed on the machine and the unit either comes with 1.5GB of RAM or can be upgraded to that capacity or more.

Windows 7 also supports 64-bit machines and for power hungry users it might be worth considering a 64bit computer, if only so you can make use of more than 4GB of RAM.


Finally, if buying Windows on a new computer or as an upgrade, make sure that you buy the version that has all the features you need. Microsoft has a brief compare editions summary.

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