After lots of hype and repeated saccharin-sweet TV commercials, Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 7, finally arrives this week.
The release today raises the question, "Should I buy Windows 7?" Here's a guide to help you make that decision:
Is Windows 7 a giant step away from Vista?
What version of Windows 7 should I buy?
Will Windows 7 run on my old computer?
Probably. For the first time, Microsoft has brought out an operating system that requires less computing power than its predecessor. Windows 7 will even run on a netbook.
What if I have XP?
To move from Windows XP, you must do what Microsoft calls a "migration." XP owners can buy the cheaper $120 upgrade package (the full install package is $200), but migration is a bit more complicated than an in-place upgrade from Vista.
You must use a utility called Windows Easy Transfer to copy the settings, documents and data. Then you install over top of XP. The biggest disadvantage is that your installed applications cannot be saved, so be sure you have your install discs ready to reinstall any programs you had on your computer.
What is in Vista that is missing from Windows 7?
Quite a bit. In a tradeoff for increased speed and smaller size, Windows 7 has unbundled some programs. Examples are Live Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Live Messenger and Movie Maker. The good news is that these and more applications can be downloaded free as Windows Live Essentials at windowslive.com/desktop.
Also, features that remain in Windows 7 have been upgraded. Internet Explorer is Version 8 (available for several months as a free-standing download) and Media Center is Version 12. Many other included features have been polished.
What about security?
Windows Vista was a leap forward in security over XP. Windows 7 has built on that. And Internet Explorer 8 is more secure than its predecessors. Also, Windows has just brought out a new free antivirus program called Security Essentials, which you can get at microsoft.com/security_essentials. It is getting good reviews, and with Windows' free spyware program, Windows Defender, and the built-in Windows firewall, you should be pretty buttoned up.
However if you do thoughtless surfing to dangerous Internet sites, you still could have problems.
Will my software and hardware work with Windows 7?
Yes. Because Windows 7 is Vista under the hood, any piece of hardware or software that runs with Windows Vista Service Pack 2 should run with 7. If you want to be sure, windows.com has a compatibility tool.
What is new in Windows 7?
There are new features including a redesigned task bar, new ways to share data on a home network, better power management for mobile devices and enhanced support for touch-screen computers.
So, should I upgrade?
If you are using Vista and it annoys you — upgrade. It will be a better experience.
If you are using XP and are pleased, sit tight. But know that XP is 8 years old and two versions behind now and with Windows 7 replacing Windows XP on netbooks, Microsoft won't support it much longer.
In fact, if your machine is old enough to be running XP, you might want to think about a new computer with Windows 7 installed.