With three versions of Windows soon to be sharing the market, PC Advisor helps you decide which one to choose.
Windows 7: The solution?
Anticipation is building over the launch of Windows 7. Even with a beta build out in the wild, however, it's too early to say whether it's going to be an XP killer or simply a marginally improved version of Vista.
So far, we've been able to benchmark this first build and glean some nuggets from Microsoft about its general strategy in developing Windows 7.
First, it seems Windows 7 is faster than XP - a feat Vista wasn't able to achieve. This means there's immediately a compelling reason to choose Windows 7, particularly if you're currently struggling with Vista.
Windows 7 has a simpler interface, with just a Start button at the bottom left and no Sidebar filled with gadgets that need to update themselves. Microsoft apparently dumped the Sidebar to claw back valuable screen space - a vital consideration if the OS is to gain popularity on systems with smaller screens, such as netbooks. Gadgets are still available by right-clicking the desktop and dragging them to a location of your choice.
Unlike either XP or Vista, Windows 7 allows you to easily rearrange the items that are grouped along the bottom of the screen. You aren't stuck with folders and files stacked in a particular way. An enlarged strip replaces the Taskbar XP users are accustomed to, and this is filled with icons relating to apps you've recently accessed and tools you commonly use. It's now much more like the Dock in Mac OS.
Microsoft seems to have worked hard to make Windows 7 more straightforward to use than Vista. Fancy ideas such as the resource-intensive Aero interface are absent (you can reinstate this if you wish), and Microsoft has kept preloaded apps to a minimum.
You have the option to install tools that allow you to manage your photos and your email, but they aren't preloaded by default. Listed under Windows Live Essentials in the Control Panel, you'll find items such as the parental-controls feature, the movie maker and the photo gallery, as well as email and blogging tools.
See also: Windows 7 video guide
Share and share alike
Another useful difference in Windows 7 is the ease with which media such as music and photos can be shared. A password is used to control access to all items on the home network - now known as a Homegroup.
Printers, as well as content, can be accessed using a Homegroup, and Windows 7 allows administrators to specify who can access what on which PC within the group. A Homegroup is not simply a new name for a home network, however, as it can contain only Windows 7 devices.
The other change to Windows that will make a big difference to everyday use is that UAC has been toned down. Rather than a straight choice between being prompted to confirm your every action or to switch off the feature completely, you're now able to specify when Windows should alert you about a possibly harmful action.
Windows 7 also makes better sense of what's running on your PC, alerting you via its Program Compatibility Wizard if an application needs updating or isn't certified for use with the OS. Instead of simply whining that Microsoft hasn't certified it, it offers to find a solution, or try and run the program anyway. Given the OS's similarity to Vista, most programs should run without a problem.
We welcome the new ability to recognise and distinguish between devices you plug in. XP was always let down by its unhelpful lettering convention for attached peripherals, which forced you to work out which letter had been assigned to your flash drive, MP3 player or camera memory card before you could safely remove it. Windows 7 displays an icon-based map of what's attached and what it can see on your network or Homegroup.
NEXT PAGE: Windows 7's six editions