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Windows 7: much better than XP or Vista--not quite OS Nirvana.

If you feel a need for stability, improved performance and greater productivity, then you should be excited to learn about Windows 7--regardless of any suppressed emotions that may surface when you think about a new operating system.

Windows 7 is all about delivering on the failures, real or imagined, of Vista. Before I explain, keep in mind the following:

* Open your mind. The more time I spend with Windows 7, the more I realize that there is a reason behind every redesigned feature. If you are willing to adapt your behavior, you will be more successful.

* Plan and budget for training. There are many new features for which there are no pop-ups or wizards. You will need to invest a little effort to find them if you expect greater productivity.

* Don't expect Nirvana. Sorry to break the bad news, but Windows 7 is not a perfect operating system. It still has its annoyances, though hopefully fewer than XP or Vista.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Why Upgrade?

There are four areas where CPAs will benefit most from an upgrade to Windows 7.

Increased Performance and Stability.

Netbooks experience surprising gains in performance after upgrading to Windows 7. A recent upgrade to my new Samsung NetBook N110 cut system startup, application load and system shut down times in half.

In a performance shoot-out conducted by ZD Net Labs pitting Windows XP, Vista and 7 against each other, Windows 7 outperformed the others in 21 of the 23 tests. While Windows Vista decreased performance for older machines upgrading from Windows XP, Windows 7 can breathe new life back into that old PC running XP. (Components must be compatible; see information about "Upgrade Advisor" mentioned later in this article.)

Beyond performance, and perhaps even more important, is improved reliability in Windows 7. Features such as "hibernate" and "sleep" have been fine tuned to work consistently. Power management is easier to use and now provides accurate battery life information.

Desktop Search. This new feature (aka "Instant Search") is launched from the Start menu and provides a powerful tool to accomplish what was formerly only available through third-party tools, such as Google Desktop and Copernic. Search results are sorted by application or group for easy identification and access.

Windows Management. The Taskbar now shows open applications and programs not in use providing one-click access to your most frequently used programs. Microsoft has also added the following methods of managing Windows:

* Aero Shake: When you find yourself with a dozen or more windows open, Aero Shake will minimize all but the active one. Simply click and hold any blank space in the bar at the top of the window you are working on, drag it down slightly if the window is in full screen and then shake the mouse.

* Aero Snap: Aero Snap enables the user to grab a window and "slam" it to the right and another to the left, perfectly resizing each window to fill 50 percent of the screen.

* Aero Peek: The Windows 7 Taskbar has eliminated the text descriptions that we became accustomed to in previous versions of Windows. Without these descriptions it can be tricky to recognize what windows are open. Aero Peek can help.

Simply hover over any icon on the Taskbar and up pops a thumbnail image, providing a visual reminder of what is in the window. Move the mouse over the thumbnail for a full-screen preview.

The new task switcher (accessed by holding the Alt key and pressing Tab) continues to reveal a thumbnail image, but adds a full screen image as you toggle through each application.

Finally, you don't have to minimize all your windows or click "show desktop" to peek at gadgets or icons on your desktop; just hover over the translucent vertical bar in the bottom right corner to reveal your Windows desktop and all its gadgets.

Lots of Small Stuff

* Built-in backup and restore has been enhanced to enable users to selectively backup and now selectively restore files and folders.

* Backup and restore also provides the ability to make a complete image backup of your hard drive, along with a system restore CD that will enable you to recover your entire system in the event of a hard drive failure or other catastrophic loss.

* One of the most useful improvements in Windows 7 is the addition of Jump Lists, which provide contextual menus that pop up when hovering over icons in the Start Menu and when right-clicking on an icon in the Taskbar. Jump List will feature items recently opened in that program.

* Advanced features include BitLocker support for portable devices, such as USB flash drives and external USB drives; multi-touch support for touch screen monitors and tablet PCs; new features to support remote connections and branch offices; and the use of libraries to aggregate content on your local machine, network or extended network.

Making the Move: Upgrade or Buy New

The first question to answer is whether you will upgrade or buy a new machine running Windows 7. The answer is simple if you are running anything older than Windows XP. Give up the relic!

If you are running XP on a machine that is two to three years old, you are probably fine upgrading to Windows 7. Prior to taking this step, however, consider the following:

* Download and run the Windows Upgrade Advisor from the Windows 7 website (www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/get/upgrade-advisor.aspx) to determine if your hardware is compatible.

* Consider the time required. Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 involves backing up your user settings and data files (using the Easy Transfer Wizard), installing the operating system and then re-installing all your programs. While the restoration of your user settings and data files will save some time, upgrading from XP will be akin to installing a brand new machine. Expect that an upgrade from Windows XP will take approximately 90 minutes--excluding time spent, re-installing your program files.

If you are running Windows Vista and are satisfied with how the system is configured and how it is running, you are most, likely a good candidate to do an upgrade as opposed to a clean install.

It is important to note, however, that while an upgrade will work and save a considerable amount of time, Microsoft recommends a clean install to ensure everything works as precisely as Microsoft intended. It's a good idea to run the Upgrade Advisor prior to performing the upgrade, even if everything appears to be working on your machine.

If you are doing an upgrade from Vista (not a clean install) you must upgrade to a like version of Windows 7. Windows Vista Home Premium must be upgraded to Windows 7 Home Premium. Windows Vista Ultimate upgrades to Windows 7 Ultimate. You may not change versions in the upgrade process nor can you upgrade from a 32-bit to a 64-bit version.

If you desire to change versions, you'll be required to do a clean install. An upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 will take about 30-90 minutes, plus the time it takes to re-install applications that may no longer work after the upgrade. If you have a large number of applications running on your machine, plan to re-install a few of them. It is unlikely that all of them will work perfectly after the upgrade.

For instructions to upgrade from Windows XP or Windows Vista, consult the Windows 7 website: www.windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/help/getting-started.

If you elect to buy a new computer, I recommend a 64-bit version of Windows 7. While there are distinct advantages to running 64-bit software, which will be explained a little later in this article, it's important to bear in mind that 32-bit software will begin to sunset over the next couple of years, and upgrading from a 32-bit to a 64-bit version requires a clean install of Windows 7.

Playing Nice Together. Microsoft has gone the extra mile to ensure that Windows 7 is backwards compatible for almost all programs. Compatibility can be set to any version of Windows 95 or later. If your program still does not run and you're running Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate, you can run your old program in Windows XP mode. Download a free instance of Windows XP that will run in a virtual environment at www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx.

To use this feature, the PC's processor must support virtualization (a setting found in the computer's complementary-metal-oxide-semiconductor or basic-input-output-system set up).

32-Bit Versus 64-Bit. There are two major advantages to running a 64-bit operating system: performance and memory. Applications will typically run 10 percent to 50 percent faster in a 64-bit environment. While 32-bit versions limit memory to 4GB of RAM, which isn't much these days, a 64-bit version can address up to 16 million terabytes of RAM, which for the next few years ought to be enough for most of us.

It's important to confirm that your software is compatible with a 64-bit environment. To be certain, consult, the software publisher prior to making your final decision. Fortunately, almost all modern, 32-bit software will run in a 64-bit environment, as well as most accounting and tax software released in the last three to four years. And, given that older incompatible applications can still run in Windows XP mode if need be, there really is no compelling reason to buy a 32-bit version of Windows 7.

Choosing the Right Edition

There are five editions of Windows 7, of which only three should be considered for the business environment:

* Windows Starter is a stripped down version that has been designed for netbooks. This version should not be considered for desktops and excluded as an option for any netbook used for more than e-mail and browsing.

* Windows Home Premium is just what the title says, a "home" edition.

* Windows 7 for the Work Place: Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise. The differences between Professional and Ultimate (besides $20 in price) include the addition of BitLocker (file and drive encryption), AppLocker (application program while listing), virtual hard disk booting and DirectAccess (access to corporate resources without a VPN connection). For CPAs and other financial professionals, the addition of file and drive encryption provides a compelling reason to select Ultimate over Professional. Windows 7 Enterprise is identical to Ultimate and is available to businesses that subscribe to volume licensing.

Final Verdict

Reviews of Windows 7 have been largely positive. Without question, it makes sense to purchase new PCs with Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit for your office. Given the increase in performance and stability, compatibility and greater opportunity for productivity, firms should look toward developing a migration strategy that consists of upgrades and new machine purchases to move their offices to Windows 7 before 2010 comes to a close.

Microsoft has done well with this release and all indications are Windows 7 will be the standard PC operating system for the next several years.

Bob Gaby, CPA, CITP is a principal at Arxis Technology, Inc. and Arxis Financial, Inc. You can reach him at bgaby@arxistechnology.com.

want more?

The CalCPA Education Foundation is offering courses on Windows 7, as well as other Microsoft Office software. Find a course near you at www.calcpa.org/rsvp.

BY BOB GABY, CPA
COPYRIGHT 2010 California Society of Certified Public Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Software Update
Author:Gaby, Bob
Publication:California CPA
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 1, 2010
Words:1876
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