Windows 7, which hits stores in October, is shaping up to be the best version of Microsoft’s widely used operating system yet.
But nothing’s perfect. Windows 7, like any product, has flaws — some of them big ones. Wired.com on Tuesday laid out a list of good reasons to upgrade to Windows 7, including an enhanced user interface, improved compatibility with newer hardware and a seamless entertainment experience. (For even more background, see our first look at Windows 7.)
Now let’s look at the other side of the story: The reasons you might consider skipping this upgrade altogether.
Upgrading From Windows XP Requires a Clean Install
If you’re a Windows XP user, upgrading isn’t as easy as inserting a disc and running the installation. Instead, you must back up your applications and files, wipe your hard drive and perform a clean install of Windows 7. After getting Windows 7 up and running, you must either manually reinstall your software and repurpose your file library or trust Microsoft’s Easy File Transfer to migrate your files for you.
We don’t see this as much of a headache, because data backups should be performed regardless of whether you’re switching to a new OS. Plus, a fresh install is preferable to ensure clean performance. But we understand why this would bug many XP users. For one, it’s time-consuming. For another, many are sensitive about their data, and they don’t trust Microsoft. (We don’t blame them.) Third, if XP is working fine for you, why fix something that isn’t broken?
Vista users, on the other hand, can upgrade to Windows 7 without a clean install. They might as well climb out of that train wreck, since it’s easy.
The Upgrade Is Expensive
Windows 7 isn’t cheap. Pricing varies based on the version you choose, but you’ll be paying at least $120 to upgrade from XP or Vista. And if you don’t already own a copy of a Windows OS, you must pay the full price of at least $200 for Windows 7.
In the software market, $120 isn’t ridiculous for an upgrade. Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard costs $130, for instance. However, Apple plans to sell its next OS, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, for $30 to current Leopard users. This Apple power move alone makes Windows 7’s pricing look pretty steep.
It’ll Cost You Time, Too
The customers most likely to opt against upgrading to Windows 7 because of money are businesses. Joe Ansel, owner of a company that plans development of science centers, wrote in an e-mail stating his reasons for not upgrading to Windows 7: “Upgrades cost us time and money as we find ourselves playing with our computers to make them do the things they used to do seamlessly — while the phone never stops ringing and you’re getting 60 e-mails a day. Make no mistake, as a business owner, the cost of the upgrade itself is nothing compared to the lost wages trying to get the new OS to do what the old one did.”
Ansel added that companies running obscure software will also feel disinclined to switch. Microsoft promises Windows 7 will support almost every piece of software compatible with XP, and in the few cases it doesn’t, there’s an XP virtualization mode ensuring backward compatibility. Still, companies invest thousands of dollars to create a stable IT environment, and it’s understandable why they wouldn’t wish to upset their non-Apple cart.
It’s Still Windows
Despite delivering an intuitive, modern interface in Windows 7, this OS is still Windows. In our first look at Windows 7, we complained about the OS’s inability to recognize an Adobe AIR file followed by its failure to search for software to run the file.
Also, Windows 7 doesn’t immediately know what to do with some pretty obvious tasks. When you insert a thumb drive, for example, you must tell Windows 7 what to do with it (i.e. open the folder and view the files) and customize a setting to get the OS to automatically behave that way. In short, when getting started you’ll have to do a lot of tweaking and customizing to get moving smoothly. That’s unfortunately an experience all Windows users are accustomed to — things don’t “just work.”
Security Isn’t Automatically Better
Computerworld’s Steven Vaughan-Nichols stands firm that Windows 7 won’t change anything from a security perspective: “Windows 7 still has all the security of a drunken teenager in a sports car,” he wrote. “Millions of lazy Windows users are the reason why the internet is a mess. If you already do all the right things to keep XP running safely, you’re not going to get any safer by buying Windows 7.”
Good point. Because Windows 7 is still Windows, you’re again the primary target of attack for hackers and virus coders. Therefore, it’s up to you to protect yourself with anti-virus software and running update patches to keep the OS as secure as possible. (Compare this experience to Mac OS X Leopard, for which many don’t even run anti-virus software, because it’s more secure out-of-the-box compared to Windows.) Though Windows 7 does deliver some security enhancements, such as data encryption for thumb drives, and a feature for IT administrators to control which applications can run on a corporate network, these are not general security improvements that change much for the overall user experience.
Built-In Support for Egregious Hardware-Based DRM
Paranoid XP users won’t wish to upgrade to Windows 7 for the same reason they didn’t switch to Vista: Like Vista, Windows 7 includes support for digital rights management technologies that could potentially regulate how you use your media. Though some alarmists have called Microsoft’s DRM “draconian,” the implemented DRM hasn’t proved to bear significant consequences yet.
Ars Technica provides a thorough explanation of the DRM in question. In short, the technologies called Protected Video Path (PVP) and Protected User Mode Audio (PUMA) provide secure playback of video and audio media, respectively. “Little or no media actually demands the use of the protected paths, so on most users’ systems, Windows never invokes them,” wrote Ars Technica’s Peter Bright. “Play back unprotected media on a Vista machine, and the DRM subsystems simply don’t get used.”
Still, there are going to be people cringing in fear that one day PUMA and PVP will screw them over. And for that reason they’ll be sticking with XP — or a totally open OS like Linux.
Snow Leopard Is Almost Here
Apple’s next-generation Snow Leopard is arriving September — a month before Windows 7. Apple is promising its OS will deliver on many of the improvements Microsoft highlights in Windows 7 — 64-bit addressing, improved efficiency with task management on multiple processors, and others. It’s undetermined which OS is better, but from my own perspective as a long-time Mac user, I will say I already prefer the current Mac OS X Leopard to Windows 7. If you’re looking (or willing) to switch to a radically different OS, then OS X Snow Leopard is an option to consider before committing to Windows 7.
Do the cons outweigh the pros? That probably depends on how committed you already are to Windows. If you’re currently using Windows Vista, the upgrade to Windows 7 is a no-brainer. Most of those currently using Windows XP should also upgrade, to take advantage of Windows 7’s usability, enhanced device support, and other features. But if you’re currently using a Linux distribution or a version of Mac OS X, Windows 7 isn’t going to offer much to get you to switch.