Thursday, October 15, 2009

Windows 7 comes on strong

A reason why we should or should not use it.

NEW YORK: Next week, Microsoft is releasing Windows 7, a slick, much improved operating system that should go a long way toward erasing the bad impression left by its previous effort, Vista.

If you’ve been holding off on buying a new computer, Windows 7 will be a good excuse to get back into the game.

And if you’ve been weighing a Mac versus a Windows PC, then you should know that “7” makes Windows more attractive, though not a clear-cut choice for everyone.

Windows is now easier to use and better looking than it was before while maintaining its core advantage of cheaper, more diverse hardware.

However, most PC users should not take the release of Windows 7 as a call to action, or feel that they have to run out and buy the software for use on a computer they’re planning on keeping.

The upgrade will most likely not be worth the time or money, much less the effort of hosting a Windows 7 “launch party” as Microsoft suggests.

Here are some Windows 7 highlights:

• The taskbar — that strip of icons usually found at the bottom of the screen — now does more than show which programs are running. You can also stick icons for your favourite programs on it, to launch them quickly. It’s fast and convenient, combining the best features of the old Windows taskbar and Apple’s Dock;

• File folders can now be organised into “libraries.” You can have a photo library, for instance, that gives you quick access to pictures in folders spread out over your hard drive, or even several hard drives. This is great because many applications don’t automatically put files into Microsoft’s My Documents and My Photos folders, and tend to deposit content in their own folders. The new arrangement also makes for easy backups;

• Like Vista, Windows 7 will ask you twice if you really want to make changes to your settings or install programs, for the sake of security. But Windows 7 does it less often, and the prompts can be turned off; and

• Windows 7 can sense if you use more than one finger on your touchpad or touchscreen, allowing for neat tricks such as spreading your fingers to zoom into a picture, just like on the iPhone. This is isn’t revolutionary per se — computer manufacturers have bolted multitouch sensing on previous versions of Windows, but it does make it easier for them to include advanced touch capabilities, and many of them are planning to do so.

Windows XP users have a lot more to gain by going to Windows 7. Vista introduced some great features, such as fast searches of the entire hard drive, that of course are present in 7 as well. Unfortunately, upgrading an existing PC from XP to 7 is not easy.

After upgrading, users will have to reinstall all their programs and find their files in the folder where Windows 7 tucks them away. They may also have hardware problems.

If you do upgrade, I would still recommend tackling that transition head-on by installing the 64-bit version of Windows 7, which doesn’t cost more. Microsoft recommends a minimum of 2GB of RAM to run it.

If your computer runs Windows Vista, I think it’s hard to justify the cost of an upgrade to Windows 7. The new features are nice but hardly must-haves. For daily e-mail and web surfing, they won’t make much of a difference.

Vista was much maligned when it arrived in early 2007 for being slow, buggy and annoying. Now, it really isn’t that bad because updates have fixed a lot of the problems.

However, if you bought a Vista-based computer after June 25, you should be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 7 from the manufacturer — take advantage of it. Your computer likely is already running 64-bit software so there should be no problems with drivers.

This upgrade is much easier than one from XP. Also, Windows 7 can keep your installed programs and your files in their old folders. — AP

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