Small-business owners frustrated with Windows Vista's assorted hardware incompatibilities, ceaseless battery of pop-up alerts and puttering speeds can officially unclench their jaws and ease those quivering fists away from their screens.
Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 7, is finally available for purchase and--amen--actually good enough to make even holdouts still clinging desperately to Windows XP want to upgrade after all these years. Albeit no revolution in desktop computing--it's essentially a revamp of Vista that addresses owners' most common complaints and tightens the user interface-- make no bones about it--Windows 7 provides a welcome evolutionary step forward for the platform, significantly improving security, stability and everyday convenience.
Granted, some aspects may confuse. Cases in point: Multiple versions with negligible feature differences are offered, you have to manually backup and reinstall data to upgrade from Windows XP, and certain programs (including e-mail and calendar applications) must be downloaded separately from the OS. But these hiccups can't detract from what is easily the most significant upgrade the hoary old software standby has seen in years.
Debating taking the plunge? Here are 10 reasons why you'll inevitably want to earmark room for it in your IT budget:
1. Lower system requirements
Unlike Windows Vista, which required significantly more memory and processing speed to power its graphical user interface, Windows 7 isn't a system resource hog. As such, the same machines you now having running Vista should easily be able to accommodate the new OS, which in many cases loads programs and boots or shuts down faster. Less money spent on hardware upgrades translates into immediate cost savings, while a decrease in downtime twiddling your thumbs waiting for software to load provides a corresponding productivity boost. Furthermore, even a relatively slow 1GHz PC with 1GB of memory can run Windows 7 (though 2GB of RAM is recommended and 4GB for the 64-bit edition), making it suitable for installation on low-end netbook computers on up to high-end desktops.
2. Simpler navigation
A trio of improvements to the user front-end makes Windows 7 easier to navigate and multitask within than its predecessors. To begin with, using Aero Peek features, Windows 7 users can more easily view desktop contents by turning all open windows transparent. With Aero Shake, you also have the option to simply grab an active window and physically shake the mouse to minimize other panes cluttering up one's monitor. Last, but not least, Aero Snap functions automatically resize windows to take up half the screen when they're dragged to either side of your display.
3. Better multitasking
Borrowing a trick from Apple's Snow Leopard operating system, Windows 7 now offers a more aesthetically pleasing, icon-based taskbar that lets you permanently pin and organize favorite programs on it. You can additionally point to icons to get thumbnail previews of open files and windows associated with each program, all accessible with a click. Everything's displayed in as minimally intrusive a way possible as well, helping cut down on clutter and making it possible to keep track of everything that's happening on your desktop. Jump lists for each piece of software, available when you right-click on the respective program, even let you immediately pull up recently opened files and documents--a major time-saver.
4. Greater stability
Unlike Windows Vista, most hardware and software is readily compatible with Windows 7 and will work right out of the box, with no need to download and install additional drivers. Happily, in instances where necessary, locating and adding these updates to your PC proves a relatively painless procedure.
5. Enhanced security
Instead of making you play watchdog and constantly click to approve program access, Windows 7 does away with the vast majority of Windows Vista's nagging pop-ups. Users can now control the relative amount of prompts regarding system security they receive using an intuitive slider bar control, with alert messages minimized to avoid becoming a nuisance. In addition, the Internet Explorer 8 web browser is better-guarded against external threats. Purchase the Ultimate Edition ($219.99 upgrade), and you can further encrypt drives and data using BitLocker technology to protect sensitive files and even portable USB keys from unauthorized intrusion.
6. Multi-touch capabilities
If you have a compatible touch-screen PC or laptop, multi-touch physical gestures can now be used to navigate the operating system and pull up documents and data with a flick of a finger.
7. Simpler file organization
Libraries, which serve as all-purpose containers, allow you to conveniently catalogue photos, music, video and files in single locations, no matter where they live on your hard drive. Because of this, it's a breeze to keep all materials related to the same work project organized in one readily retrievable location.
8. Optimized network setup
Brisk, painless network setup via new HomeGroup features makes it simple to share devices, documents and printers between other PCs running Windows 7 on a password-protected home network. Entrepreneurs who need to access a larger companywide network may need to upgrade to the Professional Edition ($199.99), which allows connectivity with more complex workplace servers.
9. Less clutter
Don't like all the so-called "bloatware"--useless applications that traditionally come installed on any new operating system or PC? You'll be right at home here, as programs like Windows Mail, Windows Calendar, Movie Maker and Photo Gallery aren't even included with installation except in cases where they're pre-bundled by certain PC manufacturers. Instead, you choose to optionally download them for free from Microsoft. While some may balk at these typically preinstalled apps' omission, for others, it'll be seen as an effective way to cut down on unused programs that needlessly waste hard drive space and system memory.
10. Overall performance
Given its suite of welcome upgrades, Windows 7 is sure to inspire more third-party developer support than Windows Vista, and enjoy a larger business software library that takes advantage of its built-in features. As the system's improvements significantly enhance users' everyday work and online experience, it's inevitable that your enterprise will want to take advantage of programs which natively support these updates. Even those who opt for just the basic Home Premium edition ($119.99 upgrade) and never buy another application will be able to appreciate extras like faster and more reliable desktop search functions and simpler document retrieval. Making it infinitely simpler to organize, store and navigate both your desktop and supported applications, more than a few entrepreneurs will find that Windows 7 has been well worth the wait.