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8 Reasons the Next Windows is Worth the Wait

This post was written by me during my tenure at the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS. Original article here.

If you’re thinking about buying a new PC in the next month or two you might want to wait until October 22nd. That’s the day the next version of Windows, called Windows 7, will be available on new PCs and store shelves. If you already got a new desktop or laptop in the last year you need not worry; chances are good you have Windows Vista and the upgrade to Windows 7 should be very smooth for you. If you have an older PC with the trusty Windows XP you should consider taking the leap because, this time, Microsoft got it right.

The current flavor, Windows Vista, won over far fewer fans than Microsoft had hoped. Vista was very heavy and required the fastest machines to run at the same speed as XP. Add to that a huge problem with incompatible equipment (printers, scanners, video cards, etc), an annoying security feature named User Account Control that asks for confirmation of the simplest tasks, plus a confusing array of product versions left lots of unhappy customers. Microsoft licked their wounds then listened to what the users wanted: a leaner, faster operating system that does fewer tricks, but does them well. That product, Windows 7, is really like Vista Redux or Vista Service Pack 3. So what makes it worthwhile to the small businessperson?

#1 Speed
Like Windows Vista, Windows 7 is based on a completely different design than Windows XP.  This new design helps take full advantage of newer “multi-core” computer processors on modern PCs to really speed up multitasking. Another tech trick Windows 7 picked up from Vista allows you to use a USB drive like extra computer memory. This helps you take full advantage of the extra space you probably have on your USB flash drive. Windows 7 does need a faster computer than XP to run well, but it has been optimized to load faster and generally perform quicker than Vista.

#2 Easier Networking
Do you have a small office or home network? Then you’ve probably experienced the pains of tough-to-diagnose file sharing issues between multiple PCs. Windows 7 has a new feature called “HomeGroup,” replacing the “Workgroup” setup of XP and Vista, that greatly simplifies sharing documents between computers. This plug-and-play system of sharing files is something Apple had figured out long ago so it’s about time Microsoft got on board.

#3 Better Compatibility
Vista did not play well with older software and lost a lot of the business market who needed to run specialized software that only worked on Windows XP. Windows 7 has a much-anticipated “XP Mode” that has done great things for compatibility with older programs. This new feature basically creates a virtual XP computer to run your software, as opposed to other methods at faking it, that reliably runs XP-only programs.

#4 Easier Access to Frequent Documents
Another time-saver in Windows 7 allows you to quickly access frequently-used documents using “Jump Lists”.  Unlike XP and Vista’s “Recent Documents” list that lumps documents, spreadsheets, videos and music together, these new lists are specific to each program. You can, for example, mouse over MS Word in your start menu for a list of only recent Word documents or right click on Excel in your taskbar to get a list just Excel documents you opened recently.

#5 Better Organization
One feature that can be very useful in sifting through lots of files in Windows 7 is “Libraries.” Think of a Library as a folder that can contain a lot of other folders regardless of their actual location on your computer. Your iTunes or Windows Media Player playlist is a type of Library because it lists all your songs regardless of where they are on your computer. If that doesn’t make sense, try this… let’s say you have a folder on your PC for each property you list. In that folder is a bunch of documents, pictures, etc. In Windows XP if you want to get all property photos, from all your different folders of listings, you had to use shortcuts or copy the files over. With a Windows 7 library you can set it up so all of your property photos (or contacts, documents, videos, etc) appear as if they were in the same folder.

#6 Easy Wireless
Vista tries very hard to protect the user from themselves. This nanny-computing (I just coined that, © 2009 Mike Cutlip) irritated a lot of users. One overly-complex process in Vista, now simplified in Windows 7, is joining your PC to a wireless network. Vista provides all manner of warnings about security during this process yet Windows 7 lets you quickly connect in one simple click.

#7 Security
Although Windows 7 removes many security nuisances found in Vista, don’t think the operating system is less secure. In fact, Windows 7 includes several very useful security features, the most interesting of which is Microsoft’s BitLocker encryption. Encryption is a way to make sure only you are able to access your PC by scrambling your files into unreadable junk. A master password, that only you know, unlocks the encryption and makes the information readable. In Vista you could use the BitLocker feature to protect an entire computer hard drive; a must if you keep client information on a laptop. Windows 7 goes one step further and allows you to encrypt a USB thumb drive. Many of us carry these thumb drives because they are enormously convenient, but they are also very easy to lose. An unencrypted thumb drive can be a disaster if lost or stolen with customer data, and pending Massachusetts regulations would levy hefty fines against the company at fault. More on these new regulations next month. Windows 7, just like Vista, is based on a completely different design than XP. This makes the operating system more secure against viruses and malware designed to steal your personal information. No software is bulletproof, however, so you still want to run an anti-virus and anti-malware product like Vipre from Sunbelt Software or the free version of AVG. For more general information on security check out these two previous Tech Tuesday articles here and here.

#8 Touchscreen Capable
I’ve talked in the past about how the techiest of the techy Realtors use tablet PCs; laptop computers with touchscreens so you can write and sign documents directly on the screen in all their digital glory. Windows 7 will be the first consumer operating system to feature “multi-touch” capability for touchscreen computers. The iPhone is the most notable consumer device with multi-touch and it allows users, in one example, to zoom in and out just by sliding their fingers together or apart on the screen. Windows 7 will also have a virtual, on-screen keyboard that will allow for using tablet PCs on the go without ever opening the real keyboard… or for ultra-thin laptops that have ONLY a screen and virtual keyboard.

So all this sounds great, but how do you get it? Well you can get a new Vista PC now but be sure to purchase a Windows 7 Upgrade Option; upgrades to Windows 7 from Vista will  be smooth, but Windows XP users will have to start from scratch. Another option is to wait until October 22nd and buy a retail copy; not the best option because it’s expensive. The best way to get a new operating system is to buy it with a new PC. Much like with Vista, Microsoft felt the need to divide Windows 7 into multiple versions aimed at different users. Home users should go for the Home Premium version to get most of the features discussed here, or go all out for the Ultimate Edition which includes all features and the XP Mode to run older programs.
Windows 7 sports lots of other tweaks, both under and above the hood, that will go unmentioned here. What you mainly need to know is this is definitely a worthy upgrade for your next computer purchase. Past Windows users would wait until the first Service Pack (the round of updates fixing the biggest bugs) is released before jumping to the new operating system. Besides the fact that it’s based on the existing Windows Vista, Windows 7 has been in the hands of the testing community for many months now and all signs point to it being ready for prime time on day one. The wait has been worth it.
This post was written by me during my tenure at the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS.

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