Today's the day Vista, Microsoft's much maligned operating system, officially sails off into the sunset to a chorus of goodbyes and good riddances. Microsoft is keeping its fingers crossed that Windows 7 will be everything that Vista was supposed to be, and not the slow, unstable and annoyingly obtrusive operating system that it foisted on an unsuspecting public at launch. To be fair, by the end Vista had been patched and trimmed to the point where it was actually a pretty decent OS, especially if installed fresh on a new machine. Of course, that doesn't help the millions of users struggling with a buggy Vista install.
That brings us to the question of the day: Should you upgrade your system to Windows 7? Having been around this block before, my resounding recommendation is no, at least for most typical computer users. Layering a new operating system over an old one is never a pretty task. Microsoft does offer an upgrade path that's supposed to keep data, applications and user settings and preferences intact for Vista users, but experience has taught me that, well, stuff invariably happens. All XP users, and Vista users who want to make changes (like moving from a 32-bit to a 64-bit version of the operating system) don't even have that possibility. Instead, these users will get to experience what Microsoft euphemistically calls a "custom install," though that's more accurately called "erasing your hard disk and reinstalling everything from scratch." Walt Mossberg at The Wall Street Journal is one of a number of experts that spells out just how much fun that could be.
The other issue is that despite its lighter load than Vista, Windows 7 still won't work well unless your computer has enough horses under the hood. Just as it did for Vista, Microsoft has developed a downloadable Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor that will scan your computer and let you know if it is compatible with the new OS, and what issues you are likely to run into with installed programs and hardware. Though Microsoft says all computers that can run Vista should be able to run Windows 7, the company adds that it's a "good idea" to run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor anyway.
The bottom line? Think hard before making the move to Windows 7. That's especially true if you are a Vista user and your operating system is working well. Experts such as PCMag.com's Michael J. Miller say that for those users, even if the upgrade goes perfectly, the end result won't be that big a change in everyday computing. Miller also suggests that given how far PC hardware prices have fallen in recent years, and how much the upgrade costs, it might be a wiser investment to spring for a new computer or laptop with Windows 7 pre-installed and more or less guaranteed to be working properly from the start. For owners of older computers running Windows XP, that's really the only sensible way to go.
If you are interested in the best choices among computers, be sure to visit our reports. Though the computers there are evaluated using Vista, performance with Windows 7 should be at least as good, if not better. Of course, we'll be updating those reports in the coming weeks as experts take the latest Window 7 systems out for a spin.