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How to choose the right version of Windows 7

64bit or 32bit Windows 7: which is best for you?

Before you pick up a copy of Windows 7, you'll have to decide whether you'll plump for the 64 or 32bit version. We take a look at which version of the OS will best suit you.

It's a 32bit web

The most obvious example of a 64bit Windows user living in a 32bit world is online.

Windows users can get a 64bit version of Internet Explorer, but if you use other popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox or Opera, then you're going to have to go 32bit.

In fact, if you're a dedicated Firefox user, you may want to think twice before making the 64bit switch.

Although Firefox is supposed to work on a 64bit system, some Firefox users say the have had to resort to Windows 7's XP mode just to get Firefox to open, while others could only run the browser in Windows 7 if they were logged in as an administrator, according to this recent forum post.

But even if you're an IE fan and want to use the browser's 64-bit flavour, there's one major problem: Adobe Flash - the browser plug-in responsible for most online video and animation - doesn't have a 64-bit version for Windows.

Since Adobe Flash is present on almost every site you visit on a daily basis, using a 64bit browser means you'd be dealing with severely crippled if not unusable internet access.

The alternative is to use the 32bit version instead, and wait for Adobe to come out with its 64bit plug-in. But you might be waiting for a long while, since Adobe has only one version of 64bit Flash in development at the moment, and it's for Linux.

However, Adobe recently said it is committed to bringing 64bit versions of Flash to both Windows and Mac operating systems.
Despite these promises, some users aren't too impressed with living in a 32bit world.

One recent 64bit adoptee recently told me: "[The fact] that my 64bit Internet Explorer doesn't work 100 percent is pathetic. I do understand it's an issue with Adobe Flash, but if I wanted to use a crippled browser I'll use my iPhone".

If you're the anti-Flash type anyway, check out the work this group of developers is doing to build a 64bit version of Firefox.

32bit devices

In addition to software, you may find that some of your peripheral devices no longer work with a 64bit system.

If, for example, you're using an XP-era printer or scanner, it's a pretty safe bet that your device will not be 64bit compatible. Check out your device manufacturer's support pages to see if the company offers a 6-bit device driver.

If it doesn't, you'll finally have to shell out for that new printer you've had your eye on.

The 64bit question

Things might be a little rough for 64bit Windows users right now, but you shouldn't be left out in the cold forever. Bit-by-bit (pun intended), the rest of the computing world is moving to 64-bit systems.

Apple's Mac lineup is already there, and Linux is also forging ahead with 64bit architecture. As more people move towards the 64bit version of Windows, holdouts in the software world will also start making the switch. But unfortunately for you early adopters, we're not there yet.

Laptop buying advice

See all laptop reviews

See also: 20 great Windows 7 tips and tricks

  1. Which version of Microsoft's latest OS you should plump for?
  2. It's a 32bit web
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