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Taking a Look at Windows 7

Windows 7Despite all the rumors, the folks at Redmond keep their pipeline active with new products, upgrades, and lots of ways to request a little, or a lot, of your time and cash. In October, 2009, Microsoft released Windows 7, its latest and greatest operating system since it first leased DOS to IBM in 1981.

There is a lot to like about Win7. After using it for a few months, I would recommend the OS as a viable and very usable platform. However, there are several issues to consider before making the decision to migrate to Win7. Whether you decide to use it now or in the future should be decided based on factors many of you have faced in the past. Here are 7 questions about Win7

1.  What computers and operating systems are in use today?
2.  Why are you considering an OS upgrade?
3.  What applications, that are being used, will migrate up to Win7?
4.  What applications, that are being used, will not migrate up to Win7?
5.  Are new computers being purchased now or anticipated in 2010?
6.  Do you have an IT strategy for the next two years?
7.  When you buy new computers, what will you do with the hardware being replaced?

There are more questions that as competent professionals you will ask. These include, but are not limited to, what dollars are available; what time is available; what resources are in place to assist this effort; and whether you and/or the firm willing to make the change now, after tax season or 2011. Specific features, requirements, characteristics and opinions can be easily researched.

Let’s move to the seven questions about Win7.

1.  What computers and operating systems are in use today? How far in front of the technology curve or behind the curve are you? Let’s assume you are not using DOS or Windows 3.1. This issue surrounds the capability of computer hardware to adapt to a new operating system and new applications. Whether you use laptops, desktops or both, you need to examine the quantity of RAM, hard disk space available, type of graphics card and processor speed.

If you are using any OS earlier than Win XP, it is most likely your hardware will not be able to support Win7. If you are currently running Win XP, a careful review of the hardware configuration is needed to determine if sufficient resources are available. Microsoft has a free application that you can download to scan your system and deliver an assessment of your computer’s capacity to support Win7. -- windows-7/get/upgrade-advisor.aspx An alternative is available from Laplink. Their upgrade advisor is $20.

XP users must perform a complete re-installation of the Win7 operating system and all applications.  This will start with a complete wipe of the hard disk, old applications and all data. Vista users can do an upgrade without wiping out the disk applications and data. Know that downloading Win7 requires 16GB of available hard disk storage. The MS Upgrade Advisor will identify these and other required capacities.

2.  Why are you considering an OS upgrade?
There are a bunch of answers to this question. Do you need to have the latest technology? Are you buying a new computer? Are you way behind the technology curve and want to catch up? Do you need to maintain compatibility with clients and others in your firm?

‘Yes’ to any of the above questions will put you on the path to migrating to Win7. Other considerations such as cost and time will come into play as you move through your decision process. Buying based on ego or being the first can provide satisfaction. However, we all know how the first pioneers often, not always, ended up with arrows or spears or bullets poking holes in their bodies.

3. What applications, that are being used, will migrate up to Win7?
The basics of email, word processing and spreadsheets are typically provided through the application bundle known as MS Office. Both Office 2003 and 2007 have no compatibility issues. Earlier versions of Office and other basic programs require investigation as to what is compatible and what needs to be upgraded.

Other applications like tax returns and any custom software must be reviewed. Most vendors have or will soon have versions compatible with Win7. The one potential exception is when you buy a new computer. Most new computers are sold with Win7 Home Premium 64 bit version. There are a few applications that are not yet compatible. For example, I have been trying to install Adobe Acrobat version 8 that was working just fine on a Vista computer (I chose not to buy the upgrade to version 9). Several installation attempts have failed even with the assistances of Adobe support.

4. What applications, that are being used, will not migrate up to Win7?
Determine if/when any essential applications will not migrate to Win7. This can be a decision maker to not migrate until the program is upgraded or no longer used. Consideration is necessary if the application is only used one time a year. For this, you can maintain an older computer just to run this one program. While this is a possible solution, it can present a few potential problems. It is only a short-term workaround.

When making the decision to upgrade or not upgrade, the cost of software upgrades must be included. As stated in Question 3, key software programs have been tested. You can do the research for compatibility before making the switch. If you are upgrading from XP or earlier systems, reinstallation of all software is required. Therefore, research into compatibility is essential.

5. Are new computers being purchased now or anticipated in 2010?
Any plans to buy new computers– either in the next month or soon after tax season or by summer time – must be factored into the decision. Most new computers will come with Win7 installed or have an option to install by the seller. Thus, any upgrade to Win7 on existing computers for such a short period of time would be a waste of time and money.

6. Do you have an IT strategy for the next two years?
If your IT strategy has been set, then all decisions to upgrade or not upgrade need to comply with your planned strategy. If your firm has no IT strategy, the firm needs to take the necessary steps to develop one before any money is expended. For individuals, long term strategy is rarely a consideration. Which computer and which upgrade should be made when you are ready to take action and commit money and time.

7. When you buy new computers, what will you do with the hardware being replaced?
Remember that used computers should never be just discarded. It is likely that there is data of all types on the hard drive. Erasing files, as you should know, only wipes out the directory reference. When Norton delivered ‘unerase’ as a part of the Norton Utilities application launched in 1981, we learned that deleted files could be found and restored.

It is important to make sure that all data is removed from the hard drive. Even removing the hard drive and stomping on it still leaves the remote possibility that something can be retrieved. A better way to delete data is to use a disk washer program such as SafeErase from Laplink. This $30 application takes a military approach to removing all data so there is nothing left to be retrieved

Options for disposing computers include: allowing staff to obtain the computer; donate to a school or charity; find a backup use such as extra storage. Donations can lead to taxable deductions and goodwill.

Upgrade Notes

If the decision is to upgrade it is important always take a complete data backup before anything is started. Use external hard drive, network drive or web based service. It is also significant to run the MS upgrade advisor. Review the reports and determine if there are gaps or hardware does not have the capacity for Win7. Install, upgrade any new memory, hard drive, graphics card before Win7 Upgrade.

If upgrading a Vista based computer, it is likely that there are sufficient resources on the computer to install Win7. You can download or get the CD. Immediately after clean install, check all key programs and test that preferences, links and opening documents are functioning. Be sure that you match 32bit or 64 bit computing capabilities.

Upgrading an XP computer requires a complete reinstall of every program on the computer – Office applications, utilities and custom applications. Preparation for the time it will take to reinstall all software is important. Depending on the number of programs you can anticipate lots of hours. So, make sure you or someone baby sits the computer for messages and to keep the task flowing. At this time, you should review the programs and assess the value of any upgrade to the next version; for example, Office 2003 to Office 2007. There are advantages to staying with the already known. There are advantages to moving up to the latest version. MS rumors identify Office 2010 coming later in the year with the ribbon interface of Office 2007 programs being expanded to more programs in the package, like Outlook and PowerPoint.

Buying a new computer with Win7 installed is by far the easiest way to upgrade. The prices on laptops with lots of memory and big hard drives are under $1,000. Getting the computer home, turning it on and performing some basic registration requirements and selecting features preferences gets you going. Finding your wireless network is easy, accessing the internet will be required to register your hardware and applications. Once the computer is functional, you will want to plan the programs you want to install. There is terrific support from the folks at Laplink with a program called PCMover. Price is $40 for one license that can be installed on 3 computers. Volume and enterprise licenses are available.

Install PCMover on the old and new computers. Follow the instructions and you can transfer all or just selected programs and data. This worked for me, making the time for getting up and running. Connecting an Ethernet cable between old and new hardware supported the transfer. 60GB of programs and date were transferred in under six hours. After transfer, many programs will request a validation registration on the new computer. Make sure you have all the original serial numbers and/or original install disks.

Any questions, opinions, feature sets and a lot more can be found by doing a few basic web searches. Win7 is a significant improvement over Vista. Depending on your hardware, Win7 will be an improvement over XP. There are other considerations as discussed above.

There are several Win7 features that will make upgrade worthwhile. For example OS usability and interface options are easy to change and personalize.
•    Snap to Docking – maximize window or lock to a screen side
•    Aero Shake - show only one open window on the screen
•    Taskbar - display thumbnail images for each open document
•    Pin to taskbar – have any utility or application have an icon for immediate retrieval
•    Gadgets- display anywhere on the desktop
•    Automatic Troubleshooting – Much improved applications to locate and fix problems
•    Upgraded Calculator - includes useful built-in applications: mortgage calculator, date calculation, lease calculation, statistics mode, a programmer mode, et al


Making upgrade decisions should be made or on your To Do List with a planned decision date. For me, the question was easy as I first decided it was time to upgrade my hardware. Even if you will not make any move until after April 15, you will need the fundamental information here and from other resources. Support for Windows XP coming to an end, probably by 2011. Moving away from Vista needs to be accomplished sooner than later.

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