Should Consumers Upgrade to Windows 7?

Microsoft's new OS has been available to IT Pros for months and you probably know whether you need it. But what about friends and family?

In the past few months, many friends and family members have asked me if they need to get Windows 7. I think the problem is that while average consumers are aware that Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 exist, they don't know much about the OSs other than a vague "Vista bad!" With Windows 7 launching to public availability today, it seems like a good time to share how I've answered the Windows 7 question when asked by different people.

New Computer Shoppers: Friends who're in the market for a new PC should definitely get one with Windows 7. Unless there's a very good deal on existing Vista stock, there's just no reason not to get a machine with the latest Microsoft OS. I'd recommend staying away from Vista machines with free or low-cost upgrades to Windows 7 unless your friends are on the techie side or you're willing to provide tech support—tinkering with the OS just isn't something to be taken lightly.

I know several people who'd been waiting for Windows 7 to buy a new computer, and to them I say sure, go ahead. It may have only been officially released today, but remember that versions of it have been available for public testing since January, so it's been looked at thoroughly.

Existing Computers: On the other hand, I'm telling family and friends whose computers are working OK not to bother with Windows 7. Windows 7 has a lot of great new features, but most of them are probably going to be lost on someone who mostly uses a computer for web browsing.

If your friend's computer isn't running well, however, things are fuzzier. Windows 7 might be the answer in specific cases, like if a computer with netbook-level hardware is running Vista. A slow computer might just be in need of maintenance, however, and a less expensive upgrade such as adding RAM could do more for some configurations than an OS upgrade.

Gamers: I'm much less of a gamer than I used to be, but I still follow trends in that area. Gamers currently using Windows XP should take a good, hard look at Windows 7, specifically its 64-bit editions. 64-bit XP has never gotten much support, so if you're using XP, you're probably limited to 4GB total RAM, and PC games are reaching the point where that isn't enough. You're also stuck with DirectX 9 in XP, though that might not be too compelling a reason to upgrade, considering how short Wikipedia's list of DirectX 10 Games is.

I'd recommend gamers using 64-bit Vista to hold off on an OS upgrade, unless figures start to show that games work much better in Windows 7. The fact is that high-end gaming machines are one place where Vista really shines. If you've got lots of RAM, a decent processer, and a modern video card, Vista is a fine OS, despite its reputation. Plus, Vista will eventually get the DirectX 11 support with which Windows 7 launched. In fact, there are already directions for upgrading Vista to DirectX 11 out there.

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