Moving to Windows 7...

Below we collected some information about the main 10 questions that people might have before moving to Windows 7, wondering if it is safe, if the entire hardware will have to be changed or how upgrades might be done.

windowsAfter the well-known poor success of  Windows Vista among the end users, Microsoft was forced to admit that only a new improved version of Windows might gain customers’ trust again.

Because of the fear that Windows Vista gave to most private users, considering the incompatibilities with hardware, the drivers’ issues and other hanging problems, few companies around the world chose migrating to that version during 2009, keeping Windows XP (SP2 or SP3) as the major stable image within their infrastructure.

However, even if several serious surveys tend to show that less than 20% of IT professionals plan to migrate to Windows 7 within the next year, almost 50% of them will do it before 2011, which gives a huge opportunity to work on this new release and its associated deployment tools. Actually, day after day, since the RTM version went out to MSDN subscribers, people’s confidence in the new Windows version tends to increase quickly, modifying  for sure all the forecasts of migration.

Sooner or later, as Windows Millennium was replaced by Windows 98se, and Windows 2000 was replaced by Windows XP, it’s likely that most home users and businesses will be upgrading from their current operating system to Windows 7 and we will see Windows Vista replaced by Windows 7.

Below we collected some information about the main 10 questions that people might have before moving to Windows 7, wondering if it is safe, if the entire hardware will have to be changed or how upgrades might be done.

1. Do you need to buy new hardware?

Will you need to buy new hardware if you want to use Windows 7? That depends. Microsoft’s recommended hardware specifications for Windows 7 Release Candidate include a 1 GHz processor, at least 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of free disk space, and 128 MB of graphics memory (for Aero). Those requirements are pretty much the same as the published system specs for Vista Home Premium/Business/Enterprise/Ultimate. Many testers report that Windows 7 RC/RTM runs faster on their low-powered machines (512 MB of RAM) than does Vista. They even comment it being almost similar to XP in term of boot time!

Actually, if your computer is powerful enough to run Vista acceptably,  Windows 7will probably run better. If you’re currently using XP on a computer with less than 512 MB of RAM or a processor that’s slower than 800 MHz, you’ll need to upgrade your hardware.

2. Can you upgrade from XP directly or do in-place upgrade?

Many people who are still running Windows XP want to know whether they can upgrade to Windows 7 without losing all their preferences and settings. The answer is…more or less. There is not a direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. An in-place upgrade is available only if you’re running Vista SP1 or later, funny. If you’re running XP, even if your hardware is sufficient, you’ll have to do a clean installation of Windows 7. However, you can use the Microsoft Deployment Tool 2010, which includes the User State Migration Tool, to transfer your user settings for the desktop and applications to the new Windows 7 installation.

3. What if you tested beta/RC release and want to upgrade to RTM?

Many people are currently running either the public beta/RC of Windows 7. Many of them are wondering whether they’ll be able to do an in-place upgrade to the RTM final release.

Microsoft has recommended that testers go back to Vista and upgrade from it to the final release, but that’s something many will resist of course. Another option is to do a clean install, but again, many folks are using Windows 7 now on their mission-critical desktops and notebooks, and they don’t want to have to start all over. The fact is that it will be possible to upgrade from the beta/RC, but it won’t be easy; it will involve a number of steps for experienced users. The installer will tell you “no” when you attempt to do an upgrade from a build of Windows 7. But there's a procedure to bypass the version check so you can do the upgrade anyway.

Microsoft asks that you do this only if you “absolutely require” it. It’s likely that you’ll have a much more stable OS if you do a clean installation. Check the link below for that:

4. Will there be driver compatibility issues?

A big complaint about Windows Vista was driver incompatibility. Too many people upgraded their OS from XP to Vista only to find that a favorite peripheral, such as a printer or scanner,  no longer work. Vista also introduced a new display driver model, WDDM, which required video card vendors to write completely different display and video miniport drivers. And security enhancements in Vista affected how the OS handles drivers. Even though Vista was in development for five years, many hardware vendors did not have Vista drivers ready for all of their products when the OS was released.

Now that Vista has been out for more than two years (and SP1), most hardware vendors have updated their drivers to work with it. Because Windows 7 uses the same driver models as Vista (but more stable), the vast majority of hardware devices that work with Vista will work with Windows 7. For Vista drivers that won’t install on Windows 7, you can usually solve the problem by installing in Compatibility Mode. To do this, right-click the driver’s setup file, select Properties, click the Compatibility tab, enable compatibility mode, and select the appropriate operating system from the drop-down box.

5. What if my applications don’t work on Vista nor 7, even in compatibility mode?

As with drivers, most applications that run on Windows Vista will run on Windows 7. You may need to enable Compatibility Mode on some applications, as described above.

There may be some XP applications that you can’t get to run on Windows 7, even using Compatibility Mode. In the past, that might have been considered a reason not to upgrade. However, you may still be able to enjoy all the benefits of Windows 7 without giving up your favorite apps, thanks to a new compatibility feature called XP Mode. XPM is a host-based virtualization solution that will reportedly be made available at no cost to users of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions.

XPM includes a fully licensed copy of XP that runs in a virtual machine on your Windows 7 computer. This differs from just installing XP on Virtual PC or VMware. The virtualized applications appear like local applications on the Windows 7 desktop because they're published to the Win 7 host operating system. With XPM, you will be able to run any XP application on Windows 7.

6. Should you wait for Windows 7 RTM before buying new computers?

Some individual computer users may be wondering if they should wait until Windows 7 is released to buy a new computer (RTM available since September for MSDN subscribers), to ensure that the system will work with the new OS. An advantage of waiting is that after Windows 7 is released, you’ll be able to buy a computer that has it preinstalled, so you won’t need to upgrade.

However, if you need a new system now, there is no need to suffer with an outdated, slow, or defective system. A Vista system purchased now will in all likelihood run Windows 7 with no problems. Anyway, purchasing a Vista system after that delivery date of Windows 7 will make you eligible for a free Windows 7 upgrade license. (This applies to Vista Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate editions.)

7. Which editions of Windows 7 should you choose?

Windows 7 will also have both Home Basic and Home Premium editions. The equivalent of Vista Business edition will revert to the Professional moniker. As far as we can tell, Enterprise and Ultimate editions will be the same, except that the former is sold only through volume licensing. There will also be a Starter edition, which will be installed on low-powered netbooks.

A major change is that each successive Windows 7 edition will include all features of the lower cost ones. Many Vista Business and Enterprise users were annoyed that they didn’t get Windows Media Center, DVD Maker, and other consumer-oriented features that came in Vista Home Premium. Since Home Premium couldn't join a domain and lacked support for EFS and some other business-oriented features, if you wanted both, you had to buy Ultimate. Windows 7 Pro will include everything that’s in Windows 7 Home Premium, and Enterprise will include everything that’s in Business edition. Companies will be able to easily block the consumer features when they deploy Pro (or Enterprise) on their networks.

8. What are the main reasons to upgrade to Windows 7?

Why upgrade to Windows 7 rather than stay with Windows XP or Vista? If you’re still running XP, an important consideration is the fact that Microsoft ended mainstream support for XP on April 14. Although critical security updates will still be provided at no cost until 2014, additional support is provided only to customers who pay for a support contract with Microsoft.

Windows 7 also provides the improved graphical user interface (Aero) you get with Vista. Search is improved, and the most important reason to upgrade from XP is security; both Vista and Windows 7 provide much better security.

If you’re using Vista, some of the new features and functionality you’ll get with Windows 7 include a more streamlined GUI with a more functional taskbar that features Jump Lists; new and more sophisticated versions of Paint, Wordpad, and Calculator; easier windows management with snap-to docking; elimination of the sidebar by default; and new built-in troubleshooting tools. While Windows 7 still focuses on security, User Account Control (UAC) is far less in your face and more user-configurable than in Vista. Windows 7 also has built-in support for touch (if you have a touchscreen monitor). Keyboard fans will find a number of new keyboard shortcuts to help you avoid use of the mouse in many situations.

For administrators, Windows 7 offers new tools such as PowerShell v2, improved Group Policy, and VHD image management and deployment.

9. What are the security improvements?

Windows 7 doesn’t do away with UAC (User Access Control), but it does give users options regarding its behavior. By reducing the number of unnecessary and redundant UAC dialogs, making the prompts more informative, and providing users with more control over UAC, Windows 7 maintains many of the benefits of the feature without intruding on users’ computing lives so much that they turn the whole thing off in frustration.

Additionally, in Windows 7, all the security messages have been consolidated into one icon. When you click it, you’ll see all messages related to firewall, Windows Defender, Windows Update settings, and so forth.

10. Is it true that Windows 7’s performance is better?

Yes, definitely.

Microsoft’s goal for Windows 7 was a 15-second boot time, whereas three quarters of Vista users report boot times of more than 30 seconds. Although the beta/RC of Win7 may not have achieved that 15-second mark yet for most users, the majority of testers I’m hearing from say it’s substantially quicker than Vista on the same hardware. That’s been our personal experience, as well. We reasonably can compare it to Windows XP boot time within certain configurations.

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About the author

Jorge Pablo Gonzalez
Jorge Pablo Gonzalez