Guide to choosing a Windows operating system
With three versions of Windows soon to be sharing the market, PC Advisor helps you decide which one to choose.
The future of Windows XP
This won't stop you getting your hands on XP, however - at least, not immediately. Many laptop makers have unveiled XP models in the past few months and the demand for XP netbooks shows no sign of abating.
02 has just launched a Samsung NC10 laptop running Windows XP Home, for example, and Dell has recently started selling the Mini. There are also any number of XP machines for sale at sites such as LaptopsDirect. When we checked in mid-February, they had 166 XP models listed.
It's also perfectly possible to get your hands on an XP-based desktop machine. Many online PC stores have subsections devoted to Windows XP. Some manufacturers in our PC reviews allow you to replace Vista with XP, too.
Dell, for example, offers a Vista Bonus option when you spec a PC. If you choose this, you get Windows XP Professional preinstalled and a disc containing Windows Vista so you can switch to the newer OS later.
If you're currently a disgruntled Vista user and would rather be back with XP, you could buy a new system with Vista Business or Ultimate on it, roll back your existing OS to XP (assuming you've got the necessary discs to do so), or buy a new copy of XP.
Another option is to buy a new PC with a ‘downgrade' disc, in effect giving you the means to switch allegiance from Vista to XP. (It doesn't enable you to get a cheap copy of XP on the sly and install it on another machine; you can simply dump new for old.)
Skipping a generation
Some users plan to stick with XP for now, then buy a Windows 7 PC when that OS launches. And if the support situation gets critical before Windows 7 goes on sale, there will be the option of an Express Upgrade - in essence a teaser for the new OS. While it's yet to be confirmed by Microsoft, a reputable source has suggested the upgrade may even be free.
But if you want to keep your hardware and jump to Windows 7, be aware that your machine will need the spec to match. While no final requirements have been announced for Windows 7, you can get a fair idea from the details provided by Microsoft at its beta download site.
You'll need a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of hard-disk space and, if you're likely to want to use the Aero interface, DirectX 9.0 and 128MB of dedicated graphics memory. If possible, you'll want 2GB of RAM (also now our base recommendation for Vista) and a dual- or quad-core processor - so you'll also need a motherboard that supports it.
You'll need to back up everything on your current PC before you begin the upgrade process, since only a clean install to Windows 7 will be possible. Such a step involves wiping everything from your PC and starting afresh. You'll also need to do this if you're trying out the beta for size (users who downloaded the code before the cut-off date can still do so - details at the Windows 7 microsite).
We like the idea of being able to sit it out on an XP machine and migrate to Windows 7 only once it's been out for a year and has bedded in. Our mantra is ‘If it ain't broke, why fix it?' - a sentiment we know many PC Advisor readers would echo.
Now Microsoft support for Windows XP is moving into its ‘extended' period, there will be only essential security updates for our favourite OS, but it's unlikely that anything will go catastrophically wrong with Windows XP this far down the line.
Until you find a compelling reason - such as the need for multicore processing and routine ability to encode and play HD video content - we suggest you do the same.