So you’re wondering if you should upgrade to Windows 7?

Well, I was in the same boat recently.  I’ll briefly run through the things I considered before upgrading, and my thoughts on Windows 7 after upgrading.

I currently have one laptop running Windows XP, one with Windows Vista, and a desktop with Windows 7 (which I upgraded from XP).

First of all, let me just say that Windows Vista made me reluctant to upgrade to Windows 7 because I was afraid it wouldn’t be any better.  I strongly dislike Windows Vista.  I’ve been a Windows user since version 3.1 and to me, Vista was the most disappointing version in a long time.  I wouldn’t even own a computer with Vista if it hadn’t come pre-loaded on my wife’s laptop.

It’s not that it didn’t have some nice features, if you could get past the user un-friendliness.

To me, using Vista feels like stepping onto a strange alien planet.  It looks a little bit like the world you’re used to, but overall feels very cold and foreign.  And that feeling never went away with more use.

So I was very reluctant to jump on the bandwagon and upgrade to the newest version of Windows.  It’s not that I’m afraid of change or anything.  I generally like having the newest version of software.  But that’s because the newest version is usually an improvement.  To me, Vista didn’t feel like an improvement.  Rather than a step forward, it just felt like an awkward step sideways.

Because of this, I stuck with using Windows XP on my two work computers, a desktop and a laptop.

However, things changed one day when I ended up with some malware on my computer.  It was one of those programs that uninstalls your anti-virus software and puts this fake anti-virus software on your computer, along with a bunch of viruses.  It scans and tells you it found these viruses and can get rid of them – if you upgrade to the paid version.

Man, I hate those things.  I’ve had that happen before.  I don’t know how they got under the radar of my anti-virus software, but they did.  In the past I could usually trace it back to some website I visited.  Usually it’s when you’re trying to find something for free online or you’re searching for something and click the wrong link and end up on some shady website with popups that look like Windows alerts and you click one on accident or before you realize it’s fake.

But this time I have absolutely no idea how I ended up with this junk on my computer.  I was just working and all of a sudden I noticed some new icon in my system tray and discovered it’s some “anti-virus” software that I never installed.

Well, after fighting with it to try to remove the software and viruses for a couple days, I finally gave up and decided to do the only sure-fire way of getting rid of viruses:  Re-install Windows and chose the option to format the hard drive in the process.

But what really bugged me was that I had no idea how I got this harmful software on my computer.  My computer and anti-virus software just let it get installed on my computer without notifying me in any way or asking me if I wanted it to happen.  That’s not cool.

So then I thought about how Windows Vista does this thing where when you try to install something new on the computer it does this lightbox effect things where the whole screen grays out and you have this warning on the screen saying something is trying to install on your computer and it asks you if you initiated it.

At first it was very annoying.  You think, ‘Of course I did, I just double clicked this install file.’  But if you’ve ever experienced what I was describing above, with something getting installed on your computer without your knowledge, you understand why this is there.  It suddenly becomes worth it to have to confirm all those times you’re trying to install something for that one time when there really is something malicious going on.

Now that feature actually sounded nice.  Of course, I still wouldn’t want to go with Vista.  But I had a friend I trusted who had installed Windows 7 and said he really liked it.  And I had talked to someone who said 7 still had a lot of the security features that Vista had, but that it was a little bit less intrusive.

Since I was going to have to start over with a fresh Windows installation anyway, I decided to go ahead and upgrade to Windows 7 so I could hopefully avoid this situation in the future.  It’s incredibly frustrating to lose several days of work because of a stupid virus on your computer.  So my main motivation behind deciding to upgrade was the additional security that’s built in to Windows 7.

That was my reason, but you may be looking at upgrading for other reasons.

To be honest, I can’t really think of anything I can do now with Windows 7 that I just couldn’t do with Windows XP.  That may change in the future if new software is not supported on older versions, but at present that doesn’t seem to be the case.  To me it seems like most of the changes are just little things here and there that either look or work differently that are supposed to make certain tasks a little easier.

But for me, again, it was the additional security that’s built in.

So if you’re thinking about upgrading, what do you need to know to make your decision?

Well, one of the biggest things is whether your computer meets the requirements for Windows 7.  The requirements could possibly change with future updates, so I suggest looking the page I just linked to, or just go to Microsoft’s website and make sure they’re still the same.

Currently, here are the requirements:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

If you’re not too savvy technically, that may sound like Greek to you.  So I’ll show you how to find some of those details.

Let’s look at the first item, the processor.  It needs to be at least 1 gigahertz (GHz) speed.

To find out what your computer has, click Start, then Right Click on My Computer.  This will make a little menu popup where you can select Properties.  Like this:

That will bring up a dialog box where you can see some information about your computer.  It should look something like this:

Ok, the info you need is down in the bottom right corner.  By the way, these instructions are for a Windows XP machine, but the steps are pretty similar on Vista.

There are several pieces of information we can get on this screen.  You can see my processor says it’s “AMD Athlon(tm) 64 Processor 3200+”.  That doesn’t really tell us the speed of the processor.  It does tell me it’s a 64-bit processor.  That’s not a requirement for Windows 7, but it does affect some of the other system requirements, which we’ll get to in a few seconds.  But the next line is what tells me the speed.  It says “1.99 GHz”.

Basically that means 2 gigahertz.  The requirement is 1 gigahertz, so I’m good to go there.

The next item you see there says “1.25 GB of RAM”.  This is where it gets a little tricky.  The requirement for a 32-bit processor is 1GB, so I’d be fine with that.  But for a 64-bit processor, the requirement is 2GB.  So in that case, I wouldn’t be ok.

I remember when I bought this laptop that it said it would work as 32-bit or 64-bit and it’s currently running as 32-bit.  So I probably would be ok as long as I installed it as 32-bit.  But honestly I probably wouldn’t upgrade this laptop without first putting more RAM in it.  It would be just barely over the minimum requirement, which would probably mean it would run slowly.  I’d suggest having 2GB if you can.  Of course, you have to make sure your RAM can be upgraded.  They often have a limit on what they can handle and it’s possible you may not be able to upgrade it.  But unless it’s really old, it can probably handle 2GB or at least 1GB.  If you’re not sure, you may want to have a local computer expert take a look at it.

The next item is available hard drive space.  That’s pretty easy to determine.  You can close that other box that’s open if it’s still open.  Go to Start -> My Computer, then click on your main hard drive (you normally will only have one).  usually it’s (C:).  In the bottom left corner you’ll see some details about the space on your computer.  It’ll show how much free space you have and the total size of your hard drive.

Here’s what it’ll look like:

What you want to mainly look at is how much Free Space you have.  The requirement for Windows 7 is 16GB for a 32-bit processor or 20GB for a 64-bit processor.

In this case, you can see I have 34.4GB available, so I’d be ok as far as that goes.

If you don’t have enough free space, but you have a fairly large hard drive, you may be able to free up some space by deleting stuff you’re not using anymore or by putting things onto CDs/DVDs, an external hard drive, or USB flash drives.  Just don’t delete anything if you’re not sure what it is because you don’t want to delete something your computer needs to operate properly.

The things that usually fill up your hard drive the fastest is stuff like pictures, videos, and music.  Those are the kinds of things you might want to back up to other types of media instead of your hard drive.

So that leaves us with one other system requirement to check:  “DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver”.

To be honest, I don’t know of a sure-fire way to tell you to check that.  I’ll try to point you in the right direction though.

You can go back to the screen I took you to first, by going to Start -> then Right Click on My Computer and choose Properties.  Once the System Properties box pops up, there is a tab at the top called “Hardware”.  You’ll see it in one of the images above.  Then click the button that says “Device Manager”.

What you’ll want to look for is “Display Adapters”.  There should be a little plus sign next to it (+) that you can click to expand to see what you’ve got in that category… Like this:

If you don’t see anything here about “WDDM”, you can try right clicking whatever display adapter you have and choose Properties and look around there.  However, in this case, on the computer I’m showing you these screenshots from, I can’t find anything that indicates whether or not it meets this requirement.

On the computer I upgraded, I had the standard display adapter that came with the computer, but then I also had a new graphics card I had installed a little over a year ago.  It looks like after upgrading to Windows 7 that the standard display adapter isn’t working properly.  I didn’t really notice it much because I had the newer graphics card, which is what my monitor is plugged into.  However, if I were to plug a monitor into my old graphics card that came with the computer, I might have problems.

Fortunately, Microsoft makes a tool that will check to see if your computer meets all of the requirements.  It’s called the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor and it’s free.  You just install this software and it checks to see if your computer can handle Windows 7.  So you can run that and see what it says.

You might be asking, if there’s a tool that will just tell me if my computer is compatible, why would I go through the steps of checking all this stuff?  Well, it’s good to have an accurate picture of how well your computer measures up to the requirements.  As I mentioned before, on this computer I’m using in the examples, it technically meets some of the requirements, such as for RAM, but I can see that it just barely passes and I would probably want to put some more RAM in it before upgrading so things don’t run slowly.

If your computer just barely meets the requirements, you might not see any overall improvements by upgrading to Windows 7.  Instead, your computer might run slower, even if it does pass the requirements.

But even if you’re sure your computer meets the requirements, I’d suggest you run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor tool from Microsoft because it not only checks to see how your computer measures up with the basic requirements, it also checks anything else you may have connected to the computer, such as external hard drives, cameras, printers, etc. to make sure they will work on Windows 7.

If there aren’t Windows 7 drivers available for those devices, you may run into problems.  So it’s wise to plug in all the devices you currently use with your computer and run the Upgrade Advisor to make sure everything is going to work if you upgrade.

On the computer I’m using in these examples, I couldn’t determine whether the graphics adapter met the requirements or not, so I ran the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.  It indicated that my graphics adapter would be ok, but that I’d have to run Windows Update after installing Windows 7 to make sure I have the latest drivers for it.  It said it wasn’t sure if certain devices would be compatible or not, and there were a couple things that might have issues.

It’s definitely worth running this tool before upgrading if you possibly can.  It will give you a heads up about any potential issues.  It seemed pretty accurate in my case.

Aside from the technical requirements, there are other factors to consider with upgrading.

Personally, I really like Windows 7.

It has some of the built-in security features that Vista had, but it doesn’t have that cold, foreign feel to it.  Windows 7, to me, seems warm and inviting and pretty easy to use.  It looks nice and there are a lot of really subtle differences that don’t just jump out at you, but when you discover them, they make life a little easier.

For instance, there is a little area at the bottom right of the task bar called Aero Peek where you can put your cursor over it and it instantly makes all your open windows invisible so you can see through to your desktop.  You can click it to essentially minimize them all if you need to do some kind of work on your desktop, like clicking an icon.  Then you can click again it maximizes them all again just how they were.

This article is getting too long to go into all the new features, but you can find all the new Windows 7 features here.

If I have time, I’ll write a separate article about some of my favorite new features in Windows 7.  But as I mentioned before,so far I haven’t come across anything in Windows 7 that I just absolutely couldn’t do in Windows XP, at least that I’ll actually use.

But if you look through the features in Windows 7 and have reason to upgrade and your computer meets the requirements, and the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor doesn’t find any problems with you upgrading, I say go for it.

I do really enjoy Windows 7, and I didn’t find it hard to use.  If you’ve used Windows Vista, you shouldn’t have any trouble adapting.  Microsoft took some of the good features of Vista but made them more user friendly.  If you’re currently using XP, you still shouldn’t have much trouble.

I tend to not read instruction manuals or go through tutorials unless I’m just absolutely lost.  I didn’t go through any Windows 7 tutorials or anything before using it and I was able to figure out most things just fine.  There were a few small things that threw me at first, and I did look up some tutorials on Microsoft’s website to figure out how they worked.  But it wasn’t a big deal.

Anyway, that’s my take on it.  If I have time and you’re interested, maybe I’ll post something another time about some of my favorite new features and how to find your way around the things that have changed.  So just post a comment and let me know if you’d like that.

For now, I’ll just mention one item.  The task bar has changed quite a bit.  In previous versions, nothing really shows up in the task bar unless programs are open, and when they are, it has the name of the program.  Here’s what I mean:

In this case, I have two programs open, Outlook and Internet Explorer.  If I close them, there’s nothing there but the Start menu.  In some cases you might have something called a Quick Launch area with some small icon.

In Windows 7, it looks more like this:

In Windows 7, by default you don’t have the name of the program, just the icon that represents it.  And no more “Start”; it’s just the Windows logo.  In the above example, I only have 3 programs open but you see quite a few more icons than that.  Those aren’t all standard.  By default the first two items are there – the one that looks like folders, which is for Windows Explorer, where you can view files on your computer, and the second one, which is for Windows Media Player.

The other items, Firefox, Outlook, Dreamweaver, CuteFTP, and Photoshop are all items I have “pinned” there.  I use them on a daily basis, so rather than having to view my desktop to double click the icon, or go to Start -> Programs, etc… I can just click the little icon down there.

What threw me for a loop at first, though, was how to tell what programs were actually open.  It’s actually quite simple, but for some reason I didn’t notice it at first.  If you look at the above image, there are 3 icons that have a little glossy square around them:  Windows Explorer, Firefox, and then a weird little image to the right (I had the Control Panel open when I took the screenshot).  Those are the programs that are open already.

So that’s the only difference between when those programs are open or not.  One thing I really like about it is that I can put the programs there that I use often and they’re always in the same order.  In Windows XP, they’re in whatever order you opened them in.  This way the program you want is quick and easy to get to.

Now let me show you what happens when you have multiple windows open for a particular program.  In this case, I have Internet Explorer open with 3 different pages pulled up in different tabs.  If I put my cursor over the Internet Explorer icon, here is what I see:

If I put my cursor over the middle one, for instance, it would show me a full-size preview of that page.  I would also get a little “X” in the right corner of the little thumbnail where I could close that tab if I wanted.

That’s how you get to a particular window if you have multiple windows open of a program.  For instance, if you had 2 Microsoft Office documents open that were minimized and you wanted to get to a particular one, you’d have to put your cursor over the Microsoft Word icon and when the little thumbnails pop up, you’d click the one you wanted.

So that’s one thing that’s pretty different from Windows XP.  Vista had something kind of similar, but this is still different from that.

If you don’t like it, it’s possible to change it back to the way it was in previous versions of Windows.  There was one project I was working on where it was a pain to switch between things that way and I put it back to the classic style, but I decided to go back to the new style for everyday use.

Well, I think I’ve given you some things to think about and hopefully pointed you in the right direction regarding upgrading Windows 7.  I definitely like Windows 7, but I’m not planning to upgrade all of my computers to it anytime soon.  It’s just not necessary right now.  They’re working fine and there isn’t any major advantage other than better security, so that’s my take on it.

What about you?

Are you thinking about upgrading to Windows 7?  If so, why?

Have you already upgraded?  What do you think of it?