By Harry McCracken | Friday, January 30, 2009 at 9:55 am
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I’ve said that I kind of like the preview version of Vista’s replacement that I’ve been running, off and on, for a few months now. Continued exposure to it on multiple machines hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm. But with it looking possible that 7 will ship by the middle of 2009 or so, I’ve begun to think about the advice I may give once the OS is on store shelves and loaded on new PCs. The most interesting question for every Windows user about a new version of the OS, after all, is “Should I get it?”
I know I won’t give an all-encompassing yay or nay–I’ll make different recommendations for different types of people. Consider the musings below a pre-alpha stab at the tips I may give in a few months, although I reserve the right to come to different conclusions once I’ve used versions of Win 7 that are closer to the final product.
So who should get excited–provisionally, at least–about Win 7? Folks such as..
Anyone who’s put off upgrading to Vista until it “was ready.” By which I mean all the worst kinks had been worked out. At this point, there’s no point in investing money and effort in Vista unless you really want to–all signs point to Windows 7 being that new-and-improved edition of Vista that incorporates a gazillion fixes and reflects the feedback of early adopters.
People who find Windows–any version–annoying. Win 7 is the first version of Windows I can recall in which a meaningful percentage of the changes involve getting out of the user’s face. It’s now possible to manage the System Tray so it doesn’t overflow with icons that demand your attention. You can dial back Vista’s infamously obnoxious User Account Control so it’s not so pushy. Microsoft is working to make the OS a faster-booting, less resource-hogging OS than Vista. I don’t expect the company to eradicate every Windows irritation, and it’s impossible to judge the OS’s speed in beta form. (Microsoft always says Windows will boot faster.) I’m also worried that PC manufacturers will hobble Windows 7 by larding it up with demoware, adware, and unwantedware. But so far, I find the Windows 7 beta vastly more pleasant than Vista on the same laptop; for once, Microsoft seems to be setting a good example.
Netbook fans who don’t like XP or Linux. It’s still relatively rare to find Windows Vista on super-cheap small notebooks, since it was never designed to run on machines with skimpy specs. But Microsoft says it’s tuning Win 7 to operate smoothly on netbooks–which should sport better features by the time the OS is released anyhow.
Folks who are toying with dumping Windows for a Mac. I’m not telling you not to if that’s where your heart is. (Hey, I’m biplatform myself–I’m typing this newsletter on a snazzy MacBook Pro.) But if I were a Windows veteran who was flirting with jumping ship but had time to play with, I’d check out Windows 7 before I did anything rash. I’m not wild about Microsoft’s self-serving arguments against making the switch, but it’s undeniably true that it’s cheaper and simpler to move to a new version of Windows (if it’s any good) than to buy a new Mac.
And who most likely won’t find the upgrade to be big whoop?
People with aging computers. Including ones that run Windows XP just fine. Microsoft is trying to make 7 less resource-instensive than Vista, but I don’t expect it to fare well with ancient CPUs, skimpy amounts of RAM, and the like. It’ll run on the same machines that Vista runs on, except better (one hopes).
The sensibly cautious. I said above that Windows 7 is really just a polished version of Vista, but it’s still a new version of Windows, and there will be some ugly experiences for some people who immediately adopt it. Many, many smart PC users will wait until Windows 7 Service Pack 1 comes out before they even consider the upgrade.
Those who bristle at change. More than most Windows upgrades, I think the rearranging and alterations that Microsoft is making to Windows 7 have a payback in increased productivity. But the OS is meaningfully different from Vista, and even a bigger departure from XP–Gizmodo’s Jason Chen had it right when he said that the new Taskbar is the single biggest change to Windows’ user interface since Windows 95. The learning curve for Windows 7 won’t be a long, hard slog for most people, but it’ll be there.
Anyone who’s…happy. With Windows Vista or Windows XP–or with Windows 3.1, for that matter. Don’t switch to Windows 7 (or any software upgrade) unless you have tangible evidence it’ll do something you need that your current version of Windows won’t.
If you’ve got questions about Windows 7–or further thoughts on it, especially if you’ve been playing with the public beta–I’d love to hear them. I’ll continue to write about it =until it’s released, and beyond…