Windows 7: Should You or Shouldn't You?

Microsoft's newest operating system is officially available today. Windows 7 has long been available for those willing to use beta software, and so many people have already experienced what is likely to be Microsoft's most successful operating system release ever. Since I have been using it for a while both on test machines and on all of the Windows virtual machines on my Macs, I will have a number of blog entries reviewing specifics about Windows 7 new features and altered approach to the user experience. Right now, though, you may want to know the simple answer to the question, "Should I or shouldn't I?"

Windows 7 released today

I'll give you those short answers: If you are using Windows Vista on your computer today, upgrade. Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been but wasn't. It is faster, has fewer annoyances like the intrusive security dialogs, and provides a significantly better overall experience. Besides all that, the upgrade path to Windows 7 is very clean from Vista, so you should have a seamless experience.

If you are upgrading from Windows XP, however, the answer isn't as simple and the path is not as seamless.

First, depending on the computer you're using to run Windows XP, it may not be capable of running Windows 7 with all of its features. Microsoft lists the minimum requirements for running Windows 7 as these:

1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit) 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit) DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

In addition, for some features, Microsoft says that the system requires:

  • Internet access (fees may apply)
  • Depending on resolution, video playback may require additional memory and advanced graphics hardware
  • For some Windows Media Center functionality a TV tuner and additional hardware may be required
  • Windows Touch and Tablet PCs require specific hardware
  • HomeGroup requires a network and PCs running Windows 7
  • DVD/CD authoring requires a compatible optical drive
  • BitLocker requires Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2
  • BitLocker To Go requires a USB flash drive
  • Windows XP Mode requires an additional 1 GB of RAM, an additional 15 GB of available hard disk space, and a processor capable of hardware virtualization with Intel VT or AMD-V turned on
  • Music and sound require audio output

In addition to all of these, Microsoft also says, "Product functionality and graphics may vary based on your system configuration. Some features may require advanced or additional hardware." All of this information is on the Windows 7 System Requirements page. To see if Microsoft thinks your system is suitable to run Windows 7, you can run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.

The point of all of this is that you want to understand beforehand what limitations you are likely to experience, and whether or not it makes sense to upgrade your existing computer. A better approach may be to purchase a new PC with the appropriate hardware capabilities to best run Windows 7.

The upgrade path feeds into this, since there isn't an official upgrade path to Windows 7 from XP. In fact, while you could upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista and then upgrade Windows Vista to Windows 7, such a path is foolish. Don't attempt it. You're two options are:

  1. Install Windows 7 alongside Windows XP
  2. Wipe your hard drive clean and install Windows 7

While wiping your hard drive clean may seem drastic, for most people who want to continue to use their old hardware, it's the best path. The better path is to bite the bullet and buy a new system, maintaining your old system long enough to make sure you've migrated completely to it.