Microsoft’s latest version of Windows, “Windows 7”, was released at the end of October. Now that it’s been out for just over a month, I’ve been receiving the question “Should I upgrade?” quite frequently. Unfortunately, the answer is not cut and dry. It will depend a several variables.
First off, Windows 7 is great. It is stable, feature-packed, and intuitive. Windows 7 has managed to keep most of the successes of Windows Vista, without keeping all the failures. But, that doesn’t mean you should jump on the upgrade bandwagon. To figure out whether to upgrade or not, it’s smart to first look at situations where you should upgrade.
Situations where you should upgrade to Windows 7:
- You are running Windows Vista and have compatibility/stability issues. Upgrading will allow you to keep your files and settings, but provide you with a more stable computer.
- You are running Windows XP, and plan to keep your computer for at least another year. Many new software programs require (or are targeted at) Windows Vista or Windows 7. The reduced cost of the upgrade version of Windows 7 (which Windows XP users are eligible for) makes it worth it.
- You are eligible for a significantly reduced price upgrade (for example, from your school or work). If you are able to obtain Windows 7 for only $30 or $50, the new features and upgrade proofing are worth it.
- You are in charge of a corporate network that has migrated to Windows Server 2008 R2. Server 2008 R2 contains many new features that are designed to work with Windows 7.
- You are buying a new computer. You may not even have a choice, but if you do, it makes more sense to have Windows 7 come preinstalled than to choose any of the alternative OSes.
- You are (or are interested in) using 64-bit software/hardware. If you want to use 64-bit computing, your only (Windows) options are Windows XP Professional x64, Windows Vista x64, or Windows 7 x64. Windows XP was a complete flop in the 64-bit realm, and Vista was only a slight improvement. Windows 7 x64 offers much better driver support (all devices certified to work with Windows 7 now MUST have 64-bit drivers available).
- You are using a mix of older programs that only work with Windows XP and newer programs that require Vista/7. Windows 7 Virtual PC support and “XP Mode” work extremely well. You’ll be able to run Windows 7 natively, and still use your XP only programs with almost no extra work/resources.
If you aren’t included in the list above, there is no compelling reason to upgrade. There are a few situations where I would advise AGAINST upgrading.
Situations where you should NOT upgrade to Windows 7:
- You are in charge of a corporate environment that is supported by Windows Server 2003 (or earlier). In this situation, the additional benefits of Windows 7 are outweigh by the hoops you’ll have to jump through to fully support Windows 7, and the inherent resource cost that any upgrade creates.
- You are a casual PC user and are happy with your current computer and operating system. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Since you are unlikely to need cutting edge software or advanced hardware, and are probably familiar with what ever version of Windows you currently have, Windows 7 has little to offer you.
If you’ve decided you should upgrade, the next question is what version of Windows 7 to buy. Fortunately, the choices here are a bit simpler. First, if you are upgrading from anything pre-XP, you’ll have to essentially “start fresh”, so buy the full retail version of what ever “flavor” of Windows 7 you want (to compare the various flavors, look here). If you are building a new computer for resale, you’ll want the OEM version (check here). If you are upgrading from Windows XP or Windows Vista, you will want to buy the Upgrade version, in which-ever “flavor” matches your current operating system. Windows XP Home and Vista Home and Home Premium users will want Windows 7 Home Premium. XP Professional and Vista Business users will want Windows 7 Professional. Vista Ultimate users will need Windows 7 Ultimate. The product key you get with Windows 7 will work to activate the 32-bit OR 64-bit version of Windows 7. Some packages only come with a DVD for one version (32-bit or 64-bit) though, so make sure you select the right one.