Friday, January 8, 2010

Windows 7 Revealed

Microsoft’s new OS takes users to the Promised Digital Land

Windows Vista never lived up to its billing; it was the binary equivalent of an OCD complex, unwilling to allow any system changes without clicking through numerous system warnings. The only recourse was to disable the security feature altogether, leaving the system vulnerable to third party malware. This all-or-nothing approach to the OS cost Microsoft dearly: many users opted to steer clear of Vista in favour of the tried-and-trusted XP. Unfortunate, as Vista isn’t all bad.

Replacing Broken Windows

With Windows 7, Microsoft has learned its lessons well. Listening closely to the multitude of feedback from loyal adopters and user forums, the best elements of the Vista OS have been married to a global wish list of must-have features. The result is both renovation and innovation, with users understandably curious as to whether or not the new Windows is worth the cost of an upgrade, or if it is simply another disappointment waiting to happen. Available as a release candidate for download on Microsoft’s website right now, all serious users are advised to give the new Windows a whirl.

The New Windows Experience

For the first time since Windows 95, the heavy (and expected) focus on marketing is accompanied by a sincere effort on the part of the designers to ensure that the new operating system hits the mark. Recent news reports that Windows 7 was on schedule came as a shock to many; Microsoft may have finally hit a bullseye. Some of the newest features of Windows 7 will entice users at all levels:
  • New Windows Aero effects allow users with powerful graphics cards to add visual panache to their desktops.
  • New window organization schemes allow open windows to be accessed from the Toolbar through visual representations of each open document or webpage, which can then be selected or closed. Another great feature is the ability to “peek” through open windows and see the Desktop.
  • Less obtrusive security means that the OS will not ask for repetitive confirmations when installing software. Best of all, users need not disable the security features altogether, ensuring protection against intruders and malware.
  • Improved driver support ensures that the vast majority of hardware will work right out of the box. Windows 7 will automatically attempt to find and install any required drivers during installation, meaning less intervention from the user.
  • Unlike Vista’s hit-and-miss ability to run older programs, Windows 7 provides full XP compatibility. Microsoft claims that almost every piece of code written for XP will run on Windows 7, providing a clear upgrade path for XP users.
These new features are on display in the Release Candidate, however indications are that Microsoft will further improve or enhance these items prior to the retail release.

Upgrade Checklist

When attempting an upgrade to Windows 7 (or any OS for that matter), it is important to follow some simple guidelines for a successful, trouble-free installation.
  • System specifications should be in line with the Windows 7 requirements.
  • Download and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. Any recommendations should be addressed prior to upgrading.
  • All important files should be backed up!
  • Download the appropriate 32-bit or 64-bit version of the program. The low cost of memory and other computer hardware, as well as increased driver support, allows users to realize the many advantages of true 64-bit systems (such as improved multitasking, access to more than 4 gigabytes of memory), which are rapidly gaining popularity as more users switch over.
  • Choose whether or not to upgrade an existing OS (recommended for casual users and novices) or whether to perform a fresh install (recommended for advanced users). Upgrades require Administrator privileges.
  • Allocate enough time for the installation. At least two hours should be set aside to install the OS and all needed drivers, and to ensure that the core system works properly; if reinstalling additional software afterwards, more time will be required. Installs should never be rushed.
  • Windows Update should be performed after the installation to ensure that the latest patches and updates are installed on the system.
While some steps are specific to Windows 7, following these general guidelines reduces the risk of data loss and the downtime of the host system.

The Windows 7 Release Candidate is not a finished product, so users must proceed at their own risk. Not all features are necessarily present in this build, either. However, for the adventurous, the Windows 7 RC is an elegant and truly productive piece of software that provides productivity and sex appeal. While not a complete Windows overhaul, it certainly boasts enough new features to make a large and positive difference. It is not often that users get the chance to test drive an OS so close to the finished product. The final retail version of Windows 7 is scheduled for release on October 22, 2009.

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