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10 things you need to know about Windows 7

By Tom Henderson, Network World
October 19, 2009 07:05 AM ET

Network World - Windows 7 officially ships on Thursday, which means end users and administrators running Windows XP (and to a lesser extent, Windows Vista) have some interesting decisions to make.

Test of Windows 7

To help you make those tough choices, here are 10 things you need to know, based on our hands-on testing of Windows 7.

1. Windows 7 is faster.

Win 7 performance is better than Windows XP SP3 and Vista SP2, but only if you run 64-bit Win 7. One potential gotcha: Much of the performance gains are reliant on having up-to-date 64-bit hardware drivers and components. That may mean buying new hardware, as older hardware may not have the necessary components and updated drivers.

2. Buy Microsoft's Desktop Option Pack.

It's only $10 a seat, and well worth it. MDOP contains important components, such as Microsoft's Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT), which helps users and support personnel deal with catastrophic machine failures. There's also Advanced Group Policy Management, which allows for active and "pushed" policies to users and groups. This feature can prevent damage from zero-day failures and fine-tunes policies for system admins. And there's Asset Inventory Service, which tallies software inventories for both compliance and provisioning purposes. Other MDOP components address application and desktop virtualization.

3. Win 7 offers a clean start

There's a school of thought that says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." In other words, why not stick with good old XP? Our answer is that where Windows on the desktop is needed, Win 7 is the way to go. Win 7 has the inherent architectural changes that secured XP, but it also doesn't have the estimated 1,300 patches (including Microsoft Office patches) that XP SP3 has. The user interface has improved dramatically with Win 7, we found that it's Microsoft's best behaving operating system since Windows 2000, and migrating to a fresh environment rids machines of the clutter that has built up over the years.

4. Upgrading from XP on the same hardware will be tricky

If you're considering upgrading from XP to Win 7 on the same machine, Microsoft doesn't directly support this, and recommends that a fresh installation be made on new hardware. Any attempt to upgrade will move the directory structure known as Documents and Settings into the new, Unix-like 'user' directory structure, and registry settings for Win 7 will break many applications.

Many applications will need post-Win 7 upgrade adjustments, or even re-installation. Win 7 also needs at least 5GB of extra space to perform an in-place upgrade from XP temporarily.

Of course, it is possible to upgrade. We tried it and found that upgrading a single machine from XP could take up to two hours.

5. Consider Windows Upgrade Advisor

Microsoft is offering a beta free download of an upgrade tester called the Windows Upgrade Advisor. It's good but not infallible, we found, especially when upgrading from XP 64-bit editions. Because it's beta, some of its foibles may be fixed by the time it's offered as a production app.

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