Windows 7 is coming: You should upgrade

I'll begin by saying that Carmi Levy is my very good friend, and I do admit that most of the time, he and I think along the very same wavelength. I met him through our mutual friend Wolfgang Gruener at TG Daily, and we've carried on a very fruitful dialogue about the IT industry ever since. That, and he has this way of making Winnie-the-Pooh berets look really cool.

Scott Fulton On Point badge (200 px)We do disagree on one point today, and I think the nature of that disagreement would be beneficial to folks who are wrestling with the question Carmi brought up this morning: "To upgrade or not to upgrade." His article is worth reading, so rather than summarize it here, I'll let Carmi speak for himself.

As for me, here is my heartfelt belief after seriously using -- not just testing, but installing real apps on -- the real Windows 7 release-to-manufacturing version since its release last week: Windows 7 is "Vista service pack 3."

If you own a machine running Windows Vista right now, I cannot conjure any technical reason whatsoever why you should avoid upgrading to Windows 7. Not one. If you hated User Account Control, Windows 7 gives you an easier way to turn it off than hacking the Registry. If you'd rather that misbehaving programs don't slow down your ability to activate other running programs, you will prefer Win7. You will be surprised at the devices whose drivers were non-functional or even non-existent in Vista, that actually do exist and that do work in Windows 7. And programs that expect the 32-bit envelope of XP, where inter-application communication could take place without any regulation, and where a program could get away with anything just by elevating its own privilege level to "Administrator," can run within a protected XP virtualization envelope.

The one serious issue in customers' minds is money. Should you spend $150 for three licenses for a product whose principal value proposition boils down to, "It's not Vista?"

I've said this many times before: Vista is not the worst operating system ever made. But in just the time I've spent wrestling with Vista's "Black Screen of Death," I could have earned way more than a hundred fifty bucks. And if you consider the amount of time you've wasted languishing in Vista, waiting for things to get done, lumbering from app to app, and give that time a dollar value, and then consider that you might be able to get two thirds of that time back under Windows 7, you'll realize it's a sound investment.

The real issue that Carmi raises, though, is not about Vista at all. His comparison is between Windows 7 and Windows XP, a system which still appears to be the fastest of the three most recent versions. Should an existing system that was designed to run XP be upgraded to Windows 7, a process which requires either a clean install and reinstalling the applications or a risky double-upgrade procedure that still involves Vista?

I know who Carmi's talking about when he refers to these shadetree guys who build their own systems and know what to fix and where, when it breaks down. He's talking about me. And back when the whether-to-upgrade debate involved XP and Vista, I said no. My reasoning was that, although Vista is more secure by orders of magnitude, it introduces speed bumps and roadblocks, the net effect of which is sometimes worse than anything adware or malware may contrive. The tradeoff was not worth it. I typically run XP on systems which ran XP in the past; I've only installed Vista on some new machines that I build, and I've acquired Vista on notebooks that I've purchased.

Windows XP is a very capable operating system. But it has occurred to me that one of the reasons I've become comfortable with it is that I'm familiar with its foibles. For all of Vista's problems, I still cannot get any XP-based system I've built in the last three years to retain their knowledge of what "sleep mode" means. When I or my cat accidentally kicks the back of an XP-based machine where I've got two monitors plugged in, XP often disconnects the monitor, uninstalls the monitor driver, and on more than one occasion, has switched the resolution on the other monitor to 640x480 and uninstalled my Nvidia driver. And I run so much "custom junk," as my wife puts it, on an XP-based system that it's a fair question whether my OS was made by Microsoft or Stardock.

I also run a lot of operating systems side-by-side. And despite all the Vista headaches, I can safely say that it is not only possible but often unnoticeable for me to be able to run a single Vista session, complete with the correct sleep modes, for longer than one month. I cannot, to this day, run an XP-based session on any machine for longer than a day without some process, at some time, springing a memory leak that slows it down to such a crawl that Vista looks like a championship sprinter.

The typical customer to whom Carmi refers is a fellow with a five-year-old computer, for whom the Vista footprint was simply too big. Personally, I believe that a five-year-old computer is an old computer, and one does not become a "sucker" when considering total replacement as an option. Storage and memory are both at near-historic low prices (memory a little higher in recent days, but the trend remains down). Because of this fact, I would ask folks with "old computers" using XP to consider the benefits of purchasing a second hard drive of at least a half-terabyte (or clear all those movies off the big one they already have), and install Windows 7 as a dual-boot option on that second drive. It is a phenomenally simple process (certainly simpler than the XP-to-Vista-to-Win7 upgrade hassle), it does not require a technician, and it lets you run your XP environment unchanged. You can migrate your apps and your docs to Win7 at your own pace. And whenever you run into a situation where XP simply was better, maybe for some game, then XP is still there.

Carmi points to the impending doom of the current sales model for the operating system, where you purchase a monolithic package with promises of patches and fixes and service packs down the road. He and I have always agreed on that point. The thing is, it takes an innovative and competitive operating system concept that folks will not only want to use, but will prefer over Windows, to bring such a sales model to fruition. Since I don't see that coming anytime soon from Linux or Google or the North Pole, the only thing compelling Microsoft to make such a change may be continued poor financial performance -- something this company is not accustomed to. Nonetheless, we're talking years down the road, when your current five-year-old computer may as well be an Atari 800. The need to evolve the sales model further is not reason enough for you to postpone your upgrade.

Does Windows 7 offer the prospect of enough of an improvement over XP to justify the cost? Vista did not. But I measure the value of my time very carefully, and in my professional estimate, I believe the answer with respect to Win7 is yes. If I end up being wrong, then I expect Carmi to send me a note with the heading, "Suck-a-a!" along with a Winnie-the-Pooh beret that I'll have to wear on the masthead of my column at least once.

Now, if you'll please permit me to digress in closing: Twenty-two years ago, I ran one of the first and only computing publications with a discussion panel, ever to have a worldwide presence on the Internet. This was at the peak of the Mac vs. Intel, 68000-vs.-80386, Atari-vs.-Commodore debate period, and I signed up many contributors from varying walks of life who disagreed on everything...and that's one reason I signed them up. We fostered a community of people who appreciated each other's company with love and affection, and who couldn't agree less with what the other was saying.

Since that long-ago time, I fear we are losing our ability to disagree with one another with civility. It seems that any more, folks can't find someone they disagree with without accusing him or her, or the publication she works for, of a conspiracy to infiltrate our minds with some false doctrine. If there is any clearer signal that Betanews is truly balanced, it is in our continually being accused of bias toward every perceivable side and every conceivable angle of an issue, equally and evenly. On one recent day, within two hours of one another, I received hate mail I will not repeat here accusing us of being anti-Microsoft zealots and of being paid Microsoft mouth-organs.

Reasonable people know better. They know that we have opinions and we're vocal about them, but having heartfelt opinions as individuals does not make us biased collectively. We can be certain of what we believe because we're assured of the foundations upon which we stand. And as far as I'm concerned, the dartboard that represents my personal perspective on the IT industry is riddled with holes. You can't poke a new hole that hasn't been poked already, and it's still standing. Same goes for Carmi. We can debate and we can rebut, and maybe one of us can be wrong, and we can be friends. I would advise my readers, if they've never done so before, to try it sometime. It's amazing what making a friend will do for your life and your lifestyle.


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