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Introducing Windows 7

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Robert Cowart and Brian Knittle talk about what Windows 7 is and is not.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

An Overview of Windows 7

Windows 7 is the successor to Windows Vista. As such, it takes its place as the latest corporate desktop and workstation upgrade, and also sets its sights on the home office and even home entertainment/gaming console, as Microsoft did with its ill-fated Windows Vista. This time, though, Microsoft has gotten it right. In fact, we’re sure you’ll really grow to like Windows 7 as you use it.

The goal Microsoft set for Windows Vista was quite ambitious. That probably explains why it took Microsoft so long to get it to market. During development, more and more features worked their way into Microsoft Vista and the project became increasingly unwieldy. The code kept ballooning, and the process couldn’t be stopped. This pushed out the delivery date of Vista, first to 2005, then to early 2006, and finally to late 2006.

Worse, when Vista did appear, its reception was lukewarm at best, and customers complained long and loud about their preference for Windows XP, even as it remained an older, less-attractive interface with more security problems. Even six months past its January 2007 public release, it was clear that Vista wasn’t attracting widespread adoption. To satisfy a continued desire for Windows XP, Microsoft ended up trying to fix Vista while simultaneously working on XP Service Pack 3 (released in mid-2008).

In an attempt to convince customers that Vista was better than its industry reputation, Microsoft remarketed it as “Mojave,” a campaign that highlighted the many superb features of this system. It didn’t work, so plans for a follow-on to Vista were accelerated. That successor is what has been released as Windows 7.

Think of Windows 7 as “Vista, fixed” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how it compares to both Windows XP and Windows Vista.

Many of the most important improvements in Windows 7 are under the proverbial hood, including dramatic performance improvements and a far greater level of reliability over a similarly configured Vista system. Enough history, though! Let’s talk about what Windows 7 is and is not.

Following in the footsteps of Windows XP Professional and Windows XP Home Edition, Windows 7 comes in six flavors (perhaps more, if versions without Internet Explorer are created for the European market as with Vista):

  • Windows 7 Starter (available only pre-installed on netbook class PCs)
  • Windows 7 Home Basic
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Windows 7 Ultimate

As with Windows Vista, Windows 7 flavors benefit from being very much the same under the hood. Recall that between 1993 and the release of XP, there were very separate home-oriented (Windows 3.x/9x/Me) and corporate-oriented (Windows NT/2000) Windows versions with drastically different internals. A common core for all Windows 7 versions makes program and device driver development much easier because device drivers and software programs need to be created only once, not twice.

Vista’s design mandate was a tough one: to create a more-secure, flashy-looking, reliable, easy-to-use operating system with functionality ranging from an excellent gaming and home entertainment platform all the way to a full-blown highly secure, mission-critical business networking machine. Vista needed to be more attractive, more capable, and much more robust than XP; incorporate all the latest technologies; and be far less susceptible to attack from viruses, phishing, spam, and the like. Malware has kept legions of IT professionals in business, but it has grown nightmarish for all Windows-based IT departments.

Vista succeeded for the most part, but at the price of performance and compatibility. That’s where Windows 7 comes in. Thus, for example, many of the apps previously included in Vista are now in a separate Windows Live Essentials bundle available online, including Windows Calendar, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Movie Maker, and Windows Mail.

Unlike the completely reworked user interface (UI) that we saw when making the jump from XP to Vista, Windows 7’s UI is quite similar to Vista. Windows 7 adds enough nuances to deliver a better computing experience, but enough basic similarities that if you’ve used Vista, you’ll be ready to go instantly. If you’re coming from Windows XP, however, you might be surprised that many of the menus XP users have grown accustomed to are gone, replaced by a much more web-like view of the computer, with phrase-like links that imply their functions—for example, “See what happens when I press the Power button.”

Vista also included the option of switching to a “Classic” Start menu, but Windows 7 axes that. If you move to Windows 7, you’ll need to get used to the new Start menu, even if it feels a bit odd at first.

Windows XP was designed for application and hardware compatibility with products made for older versions of Windows, even MS-DOS games and graphics applications. Windows 7, like Vista, carries this same compatibility over in its 32-bit versions, but Windows 7 64-bit versions have abandoned that legacy. The time has come to put those old dogs to rest. There are ways around this, using Virtual PC, for example, so you don’t have to jettison your favorite Windows 9x or DOS programs in Windows 7 64-bit versions. We’ll talk about Virtual PC in Chapter 2, “Installing and Upgrading Windows 7.”

If you’ve worked in the Windows XP world, you’ll also be glad to know that Microsoft listened to its customer base and added a Windows XP compatibility mode that you can install into some Windows 7 versions (Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate) to run your favorite Windows XP programs. At some point in the future, Microsoft’s vendors will upgrade these apps and Windows XP will take the Big Sleep, but until then, this will doubtless be a lifesaver for many.

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