Windows 7: Four reasons to upgrade, four reasons to stay away

Microsoft operating systems release offers the best of upgrading, the worst of upgrading


...but it's just as tough to find the right version of the OS When Windows Vista was released, one of the loudest complaints was about the overwhelming array of versions it came in. And while XP didn't initially ship with quite as many flavors, later additions such as the Media Center, Tablet PC and Professional x64 editions upped its version count as well. Despite pleas from pundits to reduce the number of versions available for Windows 7, however, things haven't gotten any simpler.

There's a Starter Edition for netbooks, two Home versions (Home Basic and Home Premium), plus a Professional, an Enterprise and an Ultimate edition. (There has been some confusion about whether there will be different versions for the European Union to comply with EU regulations; the latest from Microsoft appears to be that the EU will receive the same versions as elsewhere.) And, of course, most of these are available in both full versions and lower-priced upgrade versions for people with licensed retail copies of Windows 2000, XP or Vista.

Where do you start with a choice like that? Fortunately, most individuals and small businesses can knock off a few options right away: The Enterprise edition is available only to large corporations, Home Basic will be sold only in "emerging markets," and the Starter edition will be sold only with netbooks. But that still leaves three editions to choose from in the U.S.

I've been using the beta and early release candidates of the top-end Ultimate version for months now, but it's pricey ($320 for the full version; $220 for the upgrade). If I'm not prepared to spend that much when I come to plop down my dollars, which of the two scaled-down versions will best fit my needs? I'm still trying to figure that one out.

And even after you settle on an edition, you're not done making decisions yet. All packaged retail versions of Windows 7 come with both 32- and 64-bit versions of the OS, so you'll have to choose which one to install. The 64-bit question isn't easy even if you have a 64-bit CPU: While 64-bit computing promises better data handling and more speed, the "con" list for installing 64-bit operating systems includes not knowing whether 32-bit drivers will work at all, and whether some 32-bit applications may actually run more slowly in a 64-bit environment.

It looks better... Yes, this is relatively frivolous as reasons go, but you can't knock the psychological boost you get from a good redecorating job. Windows 7 themes make your workplace fresh again. They let you cycle through different background images and screensavers, and enable you to build your own desktop themes and share them with others.

Windows 7 also fixes a half-cooked Vista feature: Gadgets, those handy little desktop tools modeled after Mac Widgets that include clocks, weather tickers and up-to-the-minute headlines. But Vista docked Gadgets in a horrible sidebar that took up too much desktop space. Windows 7 gets it right: You can slide your clock to the top left, tuck your weather ticker halfway down the right ... in short, stick them where you want them.

NEXT PAGE: ...but it's not necessarily faster

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