Note: Windows 7 has been released to IU students faculty and staff earlier than anticipated. This article has been updated to reflect the new information.
Windows 7 is now available to IU students, faculty and staff, so it’s a good time to think about whether or not you will want to upgrade, and start taking steps to prepare for the upgrade.
In this post, we’ll examine some resources you can use to help make your decision, and try to answer some common questions that might arise.
How to get Windows 7
At IU, you can go to any IU Bookstore to purchase the Ultimate edition for $20. As of now, only the Ultimate edition will be available, but both 32-bit and 64-bit versions will be available.
32-bit or 64-bit?
The difference between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions will not be apparent just by using the operating system. From the end-users perspective, they are identical. However, the 64-bit version of the OS allows Windows to use greater amounts of memory. A 64-bit operating system requires a 64-bit compatible processor. If your computer was built in the last 3 years, it is likely capable of using a 64-bit operating system, but check with your computers manufacturer to be certain.
32-bit operating systems have been the default version for a long time, and if you purchased a computer more than a year ago, it likely had a 32-bit OS installed. The monikers ’32-bit’ and ’64-bit’ refers to the size of the numbers your computer can keep track of. For lack of a better analogy, it determines how high your computer can count. With 32-bit addressing, the computer can count as high as 232. For a long time, this was sufficient for computers. However, as memory requirements get larger, computers have run into a limit. Your 32-bit computer can only keep track of about 4GB worth of memory, and because of other limitations, even if you have 4GB of RAM in your 32-bit machine, it is probably only utilizing about 3.5 GB.
Should I move to 64-bit?
If you plan on adding 4GB of RAM to your system, then moving to a 64-bit OS would be a good idea. However, you cannot simply upgrade your OS from 32-bit to 64-bit. You must do a completely clean installation, which requires some planning and forethought, not to mention time.
Computers that can have more than 4GB of RAM installed in the system are just starting to become common, so if your computer is more than a year old, it is likely it is not possible to install more than 4GB of RAM because of various technical limitations. Still, you will likely see a performance boost by moving from a 32-bit to a 64-bit operating system.
Be aware that you will need new drivers for your hardware that are specifically written for a 64-bit operating system, but these are fairly common, and shouldn’t be hard to find. You might also notice that some software manufacturers release ’64-bit’ versions of their applications. Most of the time, you can still use the 32-bit version, as the OS will be backwards compatible, but after moving to 64-bit, you should choose the 64-bit version of software when applicable.
The bottom line: If you are upgrading and doing a clean install anyway, there’s no compelling reason not to move to 64-bit if your hardware can handle it. However, moving to 64-bit should probably not be your only reason for upgrading.
For more information on 32-bit vs. 64-bit, including ways to tell if your machine can run a 64-bit OS, see this help article from Microsoft.
Preparing for Windows 7
Now that we understand how to get the software, and which version to get, let’s talk about preparing your system for Windows 7.
What is new in Windows 7?
There are lots of resources available to see what is new and different in Windows 7. Most of these changes are interface based, some of which you can see in this previous blog post.
Lynda.com also has a preview of Windows 7 with an extensive list of videos on new features, located here.
Do I need to buy a new computer to run Windows 7?
The answer to this is likely ‘no’. While Windows Vista upped the system requirements for a Windows operating system considerably, Windows 7 is a relatively mild upgrade. I’ve personally had experience installing it on a variety of systems, and it runs fine on a 6-month old system as well as a 3 year old system.
You can see system requirements for Windows 7, along with information on IU resources for Windows 7 here.
Steps to take before upgrading
There are no special steps to take before upgrading to Windows 7 that you wouldn’t take with any other OS upgrade. Common sense preparations like backing up your files apply.
If you are upgrading from Windows XP, you will have to do a clean install. This means that all of your system settings will be wiped out, and you will have to reinstall every program you want to use. Most programs that worked in XP should work in Windows 7, and if there are compatibility problems, you can run your program in XP compatibility mode by right-clicking the program icon, and then clicking Troubleshoot Compatibilty.
Ugrading from Windows Vista should be a much easier process, and you can check out recommendations and upgrade advice from Microsoft here: Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.
Should I upgrade?
Switching operating systems is generally a pretty big decision, and will likely involve at least several days of work installing the operating system and then acclimating yourself to the new environment. So it’s not a decision that should be taken lightly.
With any new operating system, there are likely to be compatibility issues involved. Since Windows 7 has a lot in common with Windows Vista, these will likely not be as pronounced as with previous versions of Windows. But if you have older hardware, you might do some research to see if there are drivers available.
There are also security concerns with any new operating system. If you have concerns about the security of your system, holding off until the first Service Pack is released for the operating system wouldn’t be a terrible idea. There are of course ways to secure your computer, but hackers work just as hard to compromise a system as the engineers work to secure it.
With that said, Windows 7 has gone through a lengthy public testing phase, and seems to be stable and well-received. Still, if you aren’t comfortable tracking down your own computer support issues during the transition period, you might consider waiting for awhile before taking the plunge.
Hopefully this article has helped you make a decision on Windows 7. Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments section of this post.