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Is Windows 7 Worth the Upgrade?


A non-techy's guide to the new Microsoft operating system.

This is a software review by a person who has never read a software review. Like many reasonable people, I don't give a hoot what's inside my computer, my car, or my toaster as long as it doesn't cause that device, vehicle, or appliance to blow up in my face.

And the question I now ask myself, as any reasonable person must, is whether it's a good idea to upgrade a computer to Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows 7, or buy a new computer with Windows 7 installed on it. Or will it blow up in my face?

That's not a question anyone should have to ask, but it's unavoidable after the scathing reviews for Microsoft's previous release, Vista.

In case this paragraph is as far as you're willing to go in an article about software, here's the short answer:

If you're still using Windows XP, you'll like Windows 7 much better. And if you're using XP, it's a good guess that your computer is pretty old, so you need to consider whether to upgrade or buy a new one with Windows 7 installed on it.

If you're already using Vista, going to Windows 7 won't change your life, but it also won't make you crazy, and techy sources say it won't blow up in your face.

Here's a short breakdown of things to consider, depending on what you now use.

If you're still using XP:

The Windows Vista launch was greeted with such a loud Bronx cheer that many people hunkered down with Windows XP, the version of the operating system that's been around practically since the Stone Age, or more precisely since 2001.

If you're still using XP, you're in for a pleasant surprise when you upgrade, as you must eventually, unless you're keeping your old computer long enough for the Smithsonian to beg you to donate it.

Compared with XP, Windows 7 is fluid, non-intrusive, and elegant. It's easy to use but not dumbed down with gimmicks like that creepy talking paper clip that pops up in your Word document to ask if you need help. It stays out of the way while you concentrate on the thing you're trying to do, but lets you move easily among applications, documents, or functions.

And that sounds like a good definition of a graphical user interface for an operating system, even if it took Microsoft about 24 years to get there.

It also has a modern sensibility. The look and feel is suggestive of touch-screen technology, although, of course, it functions in the no-nonsense mouse and keyboard world. (Touch-screen functions are available in some versions of Windows 7, for use with some monitors).

And, of course, Windows 7 is built to facilitate uses -- like playing with images and watching videos -- that came of age after XP was created.

I've been using Vista with no real problems since shortly after its release, so I couldn't quite figure out why it's so widely loathed.

I asked Kevin P., a knowledgeable young man who works at a Best Buy (BBY) store near me. He explained the problem: Once the initial bugs were worked out, Vista worked fine for those who got it, as I did, with a new and fairly powerful computer.

But it was a big fat pig.

If you tried to upgrade to it, and your computer wasn't powerful enough, you were in trouble. If it ran at all, it ran slowly and it often froze. It wouldn't even run a lot of software that was older, meaning about 10 minutes old. Using it on most laptops was hopeless.

But two things have changed since January 2007, when Vista was introduced.

First, desktop computers at the affordable end of the price range got more powerful and faster, as did laptops. This is about gigabytes and memory, and dual-core processors, and you need to find your own Kevin P. to hash out what you need for what you do.

Second, Microsoft got to work on Windows 7, which was, although nobody at the company will admit it, mostly about fixing things that made people crazy about Windows Vista.

If you're already using Vista:

If you're using Vista now, it must not have wrecked your computer, and it's hard to see any one aspect of Windows 7 that would make upgrading an urgent necessity.

Many reviewers are praising cool new functions like "snap," "peek" and "shake," all ways to move stuff around on your desktop. It seems overly analytical to explain them. They're just part of the package, and it's high praise to say that you'll just use them every day without giving a single thought to them.

Which is how an operating system should work.

If you're just thinking about it:

If you're using XP or Vista, you can upgrade to the "Home Premium" version of Windows 7 for $119.99. Microsoft has a list of system requirements online, or you can download a file that scans your computer to determine if it's worthy.

Then again, computers that come with Windows 7 and are plenty powerful enough for most users are available at attractive prices: The HP Pavilion series from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) starts at about $450. The Inspiron Desktop with Windows 7 from Dell (DELL) starts at about $458. Sony (SNE) has an all-in-one VAIO for about $850.
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