October 23, 2012

The Wonders of Windows 7: Is It Time to Upgrade?

Windows 7 has been on the market since October 2009, and a lot of those who were running Microsoft Vista likely upgraded as soon as they heard that the new OS offered significant improvements and didn’t require a clean install. However, those who purchased new computers with Windows XP preinstalled, which was an option until October 2010, may still be wondering “Why bother with an upgrade?” Well, there are a number of reasons, but in a nutshell, you will rejoice in a better operating system. There are, though, some decisions, and possibly costs, involved in switching from XP that you’ll want to know about first.

Before You Dive In: Homework Time
To begin, don’t get panicked—Microsoft will provide extended support for Windows XP, Service Pack 3, until April 8, 2014, which means it will continue to issue patches and updates for security holes and bugs in XP during that time. So you, in turn, still have time to make an upgrade decision. However, if you’re buying a new computer between now and then with a factory-installed Windows operating system, you will have to purchase Windows 7. The trick is that it comes in a number of flavors (see www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/compare) and the choice of version will take some consideration.

First, check to make sure that the current versions of your mission-critical applications, such as practice management and time-and-billing programs, will actually run on Windows 7. If they will, then check to see if any problems have been reported with using them in the 64-bit version of the operating system. If so, purchase the 32-bit version.

Be aware, too, that Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate allow you to boot to Windows XP, via a download, so that you can continue to run XP only compliant software applications as needed. However, you should consider this a short-term reprieve and upgrade your applications as soon as you can, as they will be faster and more stable in their Windows 7-supported versions.

Microsoft provides a downloadable tool to check hardware and software for compatibility with Windows 7 (at www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/get/upgrade-advisor.aspx). If you’re using older hardware, you will also need to check with the manufacturer to see if Windows 7 compatible drivers are necessary or available.

So, with those factors in mind, is the effort worth it? Absolutely. Let’s look at some key reasons why.

What You’ll Get
Windows 7 is a secure, stable and speedy operating system with a visually pleasing interface. You’ll find that applications run faster, many irritations have been eliminated, and a range of new functionality has been added.

For instance, simple improvements to the taskbar make day-to-day computing faster and more intuitive. Most users will want to begin by “pinning” their most-used applications to the taskbar for quick access. It’s very easy to do, and you can “unpin” a program later with an alternate click.

Also, when you have multiple applications running, each with multiple tabs, documents or e-mails open, you can simply hover your mouse across a given application in the taskbar et voilà—a thumbnail of each open document appears to let you visually identify the one you want, rather than having to use Windows XP’s list of truncated document names. And if you have too many items open for the thumbnails to display, or would rather see them full-sized, holding down the Windows key while you click on the Application icon repeatedly lets you rotate through every open document, e-mail or other open file.

Alternatively, you can right-click on an application’s icon to see a “Jump List”—a context-sensitive list that shows the documents and functions you use most frequently. For example, you can right-click on Windows Media Player and see the last songs or albums you listened to, or click on Play to listen to one without having to open the application first.

So what else is new? Even built-in apps have been upgraded. The Windows calculator now does conversions, and it also has statistics and programmer modes for the real math wizard. Paint has all new tools and has moved to a Ribbon interface instead of toolbars. WordPad now has the Ribbon, too, along with enough features to do most basic word processing for RTF, open source and .docx documents. And remember how <ctrl>+<prt scr> was the only way to capture a screenshot in Windows XP? Fuggit about it! Windows 7 gives you the “snipping” tool instead, allowing you to capture any part of the screen you want and edit, save or e-mail the image.

Windows Search has gone through a major upgrade as well. In fact, the OS 7 version is so good you might be able to get rid of any add-on desktop search tool that you currently use. You can now search e-mail, documents, attachments, multimedia files and everything on your desktop, attached drives and network drives with lightening-fast speed. Plus, preview search results, highlight text, and open any file in the native application or e-mail the results all from the toolbar. You can even search the Internet (using Bing) and see the results right along with your desktop search results. Also, Search connectors let you set up searches of specific Web sites to incorporate into the results, so, for example, you can simultaneously search your hard drive, your bar association’s Web site and Facebook in one stroke.

Plus, you can more easily dock a window, so it takes up the full screen or only half the screen, by dragging it. But one really nice feature is that you can just hold down the Windows key while tapping on the right or left arrow to make it quickly snap to a half-screen or full-screen view.

We could go on and on. For example, the Problem Steps Recorder is a screen-capture tool that records the problems you’re having step-by-step. Setting restore points in System Restore is also easier. And power users have been granted something called God Mode. Windows User Account Control (UAC) was one of the more annoying features of Vista, but in Windows 7 it can be easily turned down more.

Plus, your USB flash drives can now be easily encrypted with Microsoft’s BitLocker, and a feature called Aero Shake lets you grab a window’s title bar and give it a shake to minimize all other open windows. The Executive Summary So, now that we’ve hit the highlights, here’s the bottom line: It is time for Windows users to upgrade to Windows 7. Those who stayed the course with Windows XP can, yes, be pleased with themselves about the Vista pain they avoided. But whether you’re still running XP or Vista, you’ll want to upgrade to Windows 7. The most amazing thing is that even the lawyers who’ve never cared about which operating system they’re running will find new features that rapidly improve their work lives.