OK, so dangle a new toy in front of me, and tell me I can have it for free, or at least sort of on a lay-away program, and you've got me by the nose. The computer I'm using was purchased on a whim, after lusting over new computers for several months. When I found a "last one" at Sam's Club for $711 (down from the high $850s), I just had to have it. The thing about this story that made it almost free was that my mom had bought new computers for my brother and sister for Christmas, and agreed to pay for $500 of the total bill. No brainer right? So, I bought it.
Of course I forgot about the hassle of getting all of my old programs onto my new computer, and making it. . .well. . .kind of exactly like what I had. Sort of. It's faster, newer, has more storage, more RAM, a 22" monitor, and it has Windows Vista Home Premium instead of the old Windows XP Home. I got my feet wet with Vista Home Basic on our notebook computer, but that's just my noodling in front of the big TV computer. I do all of my real work in my office.
So, I had to familiarize myself with Vista, and how it works. Having grown up with Windows from version 3.0, each new version brings its joys and its headaches. I'm still not quite fluent in Vista, but I don't know what so many people are complaining about either. Works just fine. But all of that is moot now, because I've taken the Windows 7 plunge.
If you haven't heard, you can download the "release candidate" version of Windows 7 for free at Microsoft's site. It won't stay free of course, but it will be for a while. And I've already pre-ordered two copies of Windows 7 Home Premium at their site as well ($49 ea., which ain't bad) for when the free versions expire. But I may have forgotten a lesson I learned when I beta tested Windows XP several years ago.
See, the download on the notebook was to upgrade the 32-Bit Home version of Vista. What I didn't find out until it was installed and running, was that the install version is Windows 7 Ultimate, the big daddy--quite expensive--version. And since I had to do the "clean" install (more on that in a minute), it can't be undone to my knowledge. When this happened with XP, I was forced to upgrade to the higher version (then XP Professional), because the lower version couldn't be done. So my newly ordered product may not work, and I may have to pony up bigger dollars. Yikes.
The thing is, I thought I'd made a mistake of some kind on the laptop, or that the clean install was the culprit. And with the tantalizing "new toy" aspect of the deal, I went ahead and installed the 64 bit version on my desktop computer as well. It turned out to be the Ultimate version too. But it doesn't tell you that until it is done. This time, though, I was able to do an ordinary install on top of my old Windows. And one of the options at startup now, is a rollback, so I'm hopeful (really, really hopeful) that it will do just that, and allow me to install Home Premium later.
That all said, I really dig the new Windows. Things I learned along the way still apply, and everything has been easy to find. I've been able to tweak things to my preferences, and all of my old programs and hardware still seem to be working. Of course it's all new, so that may turn out to only be partly true. The laptop particularly has sped up considerably, and the screen which was only passable before is beautiful now. Startups and shutdowns are faster, and the computer doesn't require constant "reminders" about just what a wireless mouse is.
Practically speaking, I can't tell you if you "need" Windows 7. It's very pretty. It's fast--that was the selling point for me--even on my old Celeron laptop. But what's with that name, anyway? Windows 3.0, 3.1 and 3.11 were named like every other program of the day. Then came Windows 95, 98, 2000 and Millennium Edition, which were bad ideas for names, because they looked silly even a year after they came out. Windows XP sounded like it was trying too hard, and Vista sounded kind of pretty. Going back to numbers seems kind of retro, but not in a cool way. I think I'd have gone for "Windows Now" or "Windows Next" or something, and just kept it there, consistently upgrading the same-named product. I don't know.
I'm sure I'll be posting on the subject again, should problems or discoveries arise. Meanwhile, if you're like me, and can't stand ignoring a new toy, I have a few pointers that might save you some time and trouble.
- If you're worried about not being able to roll back changes, and later having to pay a $300 upgrade price, skip it and wait until October when Windows 7 is released. Or, remember that the free version will work until May of next year, which is plenty of time to save.
- You will need a DVD burner (or possibly a 4Gb+ removable flash drive) to start your install. But first, you have to download the "ISO" file from Microsoft.com. Once it is done downloading, you double-click it, and your DVD burner program opens up. So if the computer you are upgrading doesn't burn DVDs, you can still download it on one that does, and burn your disc there.
- You need a clean, unburned DVD, or if you have old rewritables, have several at hand. You can erase a DVD/RW, but one of the first one I tried continually produced errors. This lead to three or four annoying aborted installs. I blanked another one, tried again, and it worked just fine. So remember, if you get "Error Code: 0x8007045D" or some such, try again with a different DVD.
- If you don't have a lot of programs installed that you care about, or if you don't mind reinstalling them, you can choose the "clean" install option, which is like buying the computer with Windows 7 already installed. Your entire old Windows folder is renamed "Windows.old", so everything remains on your computer, but the programs there mostly won't run anymore. But hey, brand-spanking-new Windows with no clutter.
- The process (even when successful) can take an hour or more, so if you need your computer, plan some time for it to do its thing. And be prepared for errors, like a program it finds that is incompatible, or the aforementioned data error on the DVD.
It isn't painless (paneless?), but this kind of thing has always been fun for me, in a tear your hair out, grumbling four-letter words sort of way. Hopefully, if you're reading this, it can ease some of that for you.
Oh, and by the way, I saw a new display of computers at Sam's Club this weekend. Better than my 6-month-old Core2Duo computer in every measurable way, including screen size. The price? $699. Unbelievable. And a great deal. But I'm not tempted. Are you?