Everything that Vista should have been - if you're building a new PC, Windows 7 is an essential purchase.
There’s been a lot of hype about Windows 7, with most people thinking it’s the version of Windows they’ve been waiting for.
But is it? With the operating system due out on 22nd October, we’ve put the final version through its paces to see if it’s worth an upgrade.
We’ve decided to look at Windows 7 Home Premium, as it’s the version most Shopper readers are likely to buy. Here, we concentrate on whether it’s worth upgrading from Windows XP and Vista.
Users of Windows XP should find the upgrade decision fairly straightforward. Microsoft has announced that it’s going to support Windows XP with security updates only until 2014 – there won’t be any more bug fixes or improvements after that. As Microsoft continues to move its focus away from XP, this could quickly result in compatibility issues as the operating system is going to get more and more outdated.
An XP user switching directly to Windows 7 will certainly notice the difference. The user interface feels a lot more intuitive – especially in the way application windows are stacked in the taskbar. However, long-term Windows XP users may find folder navigation a little strange at first because, as with Vista, there’s no button to go up one level in your folder structure; instead, you have to click on the folders in the address bar, which can be a little confusing.
Windows Desktop Search is a big improvement over what Windows XP offers. It enables you to find files and documents quickly by typing into the Start menu – the search is based not just on filenames but also, in the case of text-based documents, their contents. You can even use Desktop Search to launch applications, rather than trawling for the right shortcut.
Furthermore, Media Center now comes as standard rather than being restricted to a special edition, as it was with Windows XP. It’s excellent for browsing music, videos and photos, and has brilliant TV support. There’s now native support for AVCHD video, too, so you can play back content from the current crop of HD camcorders or, if you have a Freesat tuner, HD TV. Because of this, you’ll be thankful for the native support for GPU-accelerated video decoding, allowing for smooth playback of HD videos with supported graphics cards. For gamers, it’s definitely time to upgrade, as the latest versions of DirectX (10 and 11) aren’t available for Windows XP.
For Vista users, the decision to upgrade isn’t quite as simple. A lot of Windows 7’s features are already a part of Vista, or will be rolled out via Windows Update. There are still plenty of features that won’t ever make it into Vista, though. These include the user interface, which has seen improvements that will be particularly welcome to those who like to multitask, but should also serve more casual users. The quick launch bar has been replaced with the simpler taskbar, which enables you to ‘pin’ most-used applications to it for easy access.
Probably the biggest of these improvements is Libraries, which make it easy to organise files. Instead of storing all documents of a certain type in one folder, Libraries allow you to add folders from multiple hard disks and view their contents in one place. Let’s take the Music Library as an example. In Windows 7, you can drag these various locations into the Music Library so all of your music is viewable in the one place.
The Homegroup feature is designed to make networking less of a headache, and the idea is certainly more effective than the network sharing wizards in Vista. They let you decide which files, media and printers you want to share with other PCs in the same Homegroup. The only downside is that Homegroups are limited to computers that run Windows 7. For XP users, the decision is practically a no-brainer. If your PC is up to running Windows 7, you should upgrade: you’ll probably be amazed by how much Windows has moved on since 2001. If you’ve recently bought a Vista PC and usually just browse the web and work on office documents, then you probably won’t get much out of Windows 7. However, if you’re a serious PC user who works on multiple programs simultaneously, or with large numbers of files, you’ll certainly see an increase in your productivity once you get used to the new user interface.