Windows has evolved a lot since the arrival of Windows XP. Since then, we have seen Windows Vista and most recently Windows 7. Each operating system is unique in its own way. Deciding what is right for you is what matters most.

XP was released December 31, 2001. As of March 2011, XP still had a 40.26% share of the entire operating system market. With the introduction of XP, we saw drastic improvements and technological progress from Windows 2000 and Windows ME (Millennium Edition). Many users feel that Windows XP is still sufficient for their needs and don’t see the value of upgrading at this time. While XP can no longer be purchased, Microsoft says they will continue to support XP until April 2014.

Starting with XP, Microsoft introduced many new features and improvements. Some of these are improvements in security and overall performance. Also, there is better compatibility with other programs. Even with these improvements, there are still reasons why upgrading to Windows 7 may be worthwhile.

Windows Vista was introduced in January of 2007. There were substantial changes implemented; some good and some bad. Vista came with an all new look including a new feature called “aero”; which was the feature that enhanced graphical functionality. Along with the new look was the added level of customizations. Also introduced with Vista was a new security feature called “User Account Control”. This was the notification that would allow or disable a program from running or installing. Many users found this annoying and so with the release of Windows 7 Microsoft included an improved version.

The much anticipated release of Windows 7 occurred in October of 2009. Windows 7 was brought into play as a result of Windows Vista needing some major repair work. New in Windows 7 are refinements such as the User Account Controls and the improved performance. Windows 7 is designed for both the general computer user and the power user.

In the sections below, we discuss the various core features in Windows 7.


Performance

In terms of performance, Windows 7 is the fastest of any of the Windows operating systems. Starting up your PC with Windows 7 has never been quicker. Networking computers together is easier and more streamlined than in XP or Vista. Also improved in Windows 7 is the upload and download speeds for data. This includes increased speeds for browsing the internet and downloading files.


Security

XP has never been known for having good security. UAC or User Account Control was introduced with Vista and later kept in Windows 7 but with additional controls and improved functionality. UAC is simply a security feature that helps to block viruses and malware. Although it isn’t bullet proof, it certainly limits what certain types of malware can do to your PC.


Gaming

Even though XP performs well when it comes to gaming, Windows 7 takes gaming to a new level. Microsoft’s Direct X 10 technology offers better graphics and sound. Additionally, it provides better performance even with a mid-range PC.


Mobility

When it comes to your netbook or laptop, one of the key areas is battery life. Most laptops spend their time in idle waiting for something to do. Windows 7 is more efficient and consumes less battery power because it only uses what it needs, when it needs it. For example, your wireless network card in your laptop is only powered when in use.


Backwards Compatibility (XP Mode)

To ease the transition to Windows 7, Microsoft included what is known as “XP Mode”. This feature is available with the Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions of Windows 7. XP Mode is a way of installing and running programs that are not compatible in 7. It is a great, cost effective tool that can allow you to go back and forth between XP and 7.

Each of these versions of Windows is different. It’s up to you to decide which one is right for you and within your budget. As a general rule, it is always better to get the most up to date version if your system can handle it. We’ve included a compatibility chart below that shows the minimum system hardware requirements so you can check whether Windows 7 would be compatible with your system.  Any new system your purchase will already come with Windows 7.


Upgrading from XP or Vista

A custom or “clean” install of Windows 7, will wipe out all existing files and settings on the computer. An in-place upgrade means that your files and setting will be retained.

Anyone upgrading to any edition of Windows 7 from any edition of Windows XP will require a clean install of the operating system and the full version of the Windows 7 software.

In simple terms, you can perform an in-place upgrade from any edition of Windows Vista to the same edition of Windows 7.

If the edition of Windows 7 differs from the Windows Vista edition you are upgrading from, then it would require a custom or “clean” install.

As a side note, you can perform an in-place upgrade from any edition of Windows Vista as long as you upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate.

Also, when doing an in-place upgrade, you must keep the same bit operating system as well.

It should also be noted that when upgrading Windows Vista from one language to Windows 7 in a different language, it requires a custom or “clean” install.

Minimum Hardware Requirements

32-bit 64-bit
Processor 1 GHz 1 GHz 1
Ram 1 GB 2 GB
Hard Drive 16 GB 20 GB
Graphics DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher 2
1  Also requires 64-bit CPU
2 Windows Display Driver Model. If upgrading from XP, this is not required but graphics capabilities will be limited.