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W7’s cleaner Windows

Hey, cool – a Windows upgrade that’s actually better than the one it replaces? Way to go, Microsoft, writes Prasanto K Roy. Read on to know more.

tech reviews Updated: Oct 24, 2009 18:22 IST
Prasanto K Roy

Windows 7I must confess that while I rarely run away from new tech, I make an exception for Microsoft products. I still use the aging Windows XP (which Microsoft has officially killed) and I even have fond memories of vintage DOS. I tried Windows Vista briefly, and hurriedly went back to XP. I had jumped to XP from Windows 98, skipping Windows 2000 and the ghastly Windows Me en route.

I’m not alone. The three-year-old Vista (development cost: $6 billion) powers less than a fifth of the world’s billion-plus computers, while over 700 million users run Win XP on their PCs.

And that’s Microsoft’s problem. It bet on Vista, and lost. Vista was over-stuffed with features: bloated and slow. It was over-demanding of hardware, so there was no sense in upgrading to Vista if you already had a PC running an older version of Windows. Its smooth-as-silk Mac-copycat Aero interface demanded even more hardware power, and sapped laptop battery life. And business users decided to stay with XP, even when they bought PCs and could have got Vista free. That’s why Microsoft has so much riding on W7.

From what I've seen of it, I’m impressed. First, I’ll repeat what many have said: this is what Vista should have been...Microsoft hasn’t gone overboard with stuffing W7 with features or even trying to catch up with Apple’s always-more-sexy Mac OS (now Snow Leopard). Instead, it’s refined the features introduced in Vista. Though there are enough enhancements (even Calculator, WordPad and Paint are new), the headline news is that W7 feels smarter and lighter than Vista.

Lighter, leaner, quicker
At CyberMedia Labs, we ran W7 on a range of desktops, laptops – and even netbooks, those tiny, lightweight, Rs 20k notebooks with 1 GB of memory. It installed in under 20 minutes, and even installed off a USB drive on the netbooks. It performed briskly. Can you upgrade? Will your old PC run W7? To check, use Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor at http://bit.ly/W7upgrade.

Should you upgrade?
If you get a free W7 upgrade, absolutely - take it. (This is contrary to the Vista-era advice: “Even if you get paid to upgrade: don’t.”) Why would you get a free W7 upgrade? Well, if you bought a PC recently with a licenced copy of Windows Vista, then you may qualify for a free upgrade to W7. This depends on whether your PC vendor participated in the upgrade program. Check with your vendor.

If you have a two-year-old or younger PC running a licensed copy of Vista, do upgrade - if you’re okay with spending the Rs 3k to 6k an upgrade will cost. Your PC will feel quicker and lighter. W7 will replace Vista, and you won’t need to reinstall your programs (though it’s always a good idea to back up your emails and other important data before installing something big like Windows). Before installation, clean up your hard drive: Use Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter. And if you have 1 GB or less of memory, I’d recommend taking it up to 2 GB. It’s worth the money.

If your PC is much older, and runs XP (or older Windows) - should you upgrade to W7? There's no one answer. Mostly, I’d say no. Your PC probably needs a replacement. And an upgrade from XP to W7 needs a full re-install of all your other software, unlike moving from Vista (but the Windows Easy Transfer tool helps).

But if it isn’t very old, or else is still quite current (for instance, my wife's six-year-old Dell desktop, a P4 with 1 GB memory and an LCD display), W7 can rejuvenate it. You might need an extra GB of memory, or maybe a new hard disk. I’d put a budget limit of Rs 9k, including Windows, to judge whether it’s worth it to so rejuvenate that old PC.

The PC industry has high hopes of W7 - that it will spur consumers to buy lots of new PCs. Microsoft is also hoping that it will get buyers to upgrade from the Windows version on their old PCs, though that is a challenge in good times, and the tail end of a recession isn’t good times. But if you’re aiming at a new look for your old PC, or have been on the fence about buying a new PC... be generous, and forgive Microsoft for Vista. W7 is here.

The author is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles such as Dataquest. pkr@cybermedia.co.in, twitter.com/prasanto