Mainstream Support Has Ended
Mainstream support for Windows 7 ended on January 13, 2015.
There will be no further free updates to the operating system; only essential fixes and security updates. Extended support doesn't expire until January 14, 2020.
Microsoft Anxious to End Windows 7 & 8.1
Microsoft wants you to move to Windows 10 on July 29, 2015.
Free Upgrade Offer
Microsoft has offered a free upgrade to Windows 10 to Windows 7 and 8.1 users which is available for the first year after release.
- Microsoft has already placed notices on many Windows 7 and 8.1 computers urging users to “reserve their copy of Windows 10.”
- Once reserved the upgrade will automatically download on July 29th followed by a prompt to install it (replacing your current Windows installation).
I Recommend Waiting
There are some good reasons to stick with Windows 7 for the time-being.
My current recommendation (see my Windows 10 sidebar) is to wait for at least a couple of months after the release to obtain your upgrade.
- Current Windows 10 Technical Preview builds are still relatively unstable.
- There is uncertainty regarding what Microsoft means by “supported lifetime of the device.”
- Some feel that free Windows 10 support could last for as little as 2–4 years.
- You have a year after release to obtain the free Windows 10 upgrade.
- This wording seems to end any ability to transfer a Windows license to a newer computer.
Windows 7 Documentation Disappearing
Microsoft's documentation for Windows 7 is being replaced first with promotions for Windows 8.1 then with Windows 10 as the release deadline approaches. Much of the information previously provided on this page has become obsolete following the end of sales of Windows 7 on October 31, 2014.
- Windows 7 TechNet resources are aimed at technical support staff.
Windows 7 Editions
There are four primary editions of Windows 7:
- Starter (aimed at NetBooks — small notebook PCs)
- Home Premium (recommended for most home users)
- Professional (aimed at the needs of small businesses and advanced home users including the ability to log into a domain and run productivity programs in Windows XP mode)
- Ultimate (combines the features in Professional with bit-locker encryption and 35 languages)
Microsoft offers an anytime upgrade but you'd be better to purchase the version you need to begin with because the upgrade costs more than if you purchased the version you need to start with.
“Starter” Has Limitations
Most hardware with Starter edition installed are incapable of upgrade so you'll want to be sure that you'll have no need to upgrade in the future and your requirements are very limited.
Windows 7 Starter edition can only run 3 processes at a time and forces you to search for many of the customizations that are quickly available in other editions.
Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate versions can be downgraded to Windows Vista or XP (not recommended), but it's up to the vendor if and how they want to implement that option. See Understanding Downgrade Rights for details.
Windows 7 Hardware
Installing Windows 7
Microsoft has instruction on how to Install, reinstall, or uninstall Windows but the following may be more useful if you're upgrading from Windows XP:
Can You Run Windows 7?
I don't usually recommend an upgrade of your current hardware to Windows 7 unless you are running a compatible Vista machine or a relatively powerful XP computer. I upgraded two XP machines (including my Lenovo T61 laptop), but not before ensuring the necessary Windows 7 drivers and software upgrades were available.
You'd best look at new hardware if you want to optimize your experience with Windows 7. See the general notes about Windows hardware requirements.
Microsoft lists the following system requirements:
- 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
- 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
- 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
- Some games and programs might require a graphics card compatible with DirectX 10 or higher for optimal performance.
Windows 7 was designed to work with today's multi-core processors. All 32-bit versions of Windows 7 can support up to 32 processor cores, while 64-bit versions can support up to 256 processor cores.
Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor will tell you if your computer is capable of running Windows 7 or what upgrades may be needed.
You can visit these sites for more information about Windows 7:
32- or 64-bit?
Windows 7 comes with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Always install the 64-bit version on 64-bit hardware. Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages on the Windows Resources page.
Other Installation Issues
There are also some documented issues with installation, particularly with upgrade versions (it appears they were not intended to be used for a clean install — something that will haunt you in future years. Go here for help:
No Built-in Email Client
Windows 7 has no built-in email client. Vista, the last version of Windows to have a built-in email client, came with Windows Mail. Windows XP came with Outlook Express, but that program is dangerous to use (part of Internet Explorer 6, it is not maintained and there were many security issues to begin with).
I'd strongly recommend moving to Mozilla Thunderbird or one of my other recommended email options. Details here….
What's New in Windows 7?
New features in Windows 7 include Libraries, Jump Lists, HomeGroup (works only with Windows 7 or newer computers) and Snap. Explore all the new Windows 7 features on Microsoft's site.
Libraries provide for the way we operate computers today — allowing you to pull similar content together from multiple sources.
Libraries are a Windows 7 feature that gives you a consolidated view of related files in one place. A Library doesn't contain files. Rather, a Library provides a single aggregated view of multiple folders and their contents.
— Microsoft TechNet
You add files to a Library by linking to them. New Libraries can be added by right-clicking in the Libraries bar and selecting New then Library.
Learn more about Libraries by visiting these resources:
- Introducing Windows 7 Libraries — MSDN Magazine.
- Organizing with Windows 7 Libraries: TechNet Overview.
- Windows 7 Libraries: Walkthrough.
- Windows 7 Libraries: Frequently Asked Questions.
Jump lists give you quick access to your favorite content — on your computer and elsewhere.
If you use a program like CCleaner to remove temporary files, you may need to change the settings if you wish to retain jump lists. Otherwise, your jump lists will be removed each time you run CCleaner.
Some of the limitations of ReadyBoost (introduced with Vista) were removed in Windows 7. The benefits of ReadyBoost are minimal for most Windows 7 users and you need to ensure you're using a device that works with ReadyBoost. Those seeking performance would be better served by a SSD boot drive large enough to install Windows 7 on it (you can still use a regular drive for storage).
Tweaking & Customizing Windows 7
Tweaking and customizing Windows involves changing the way Windows 7 does certain tasks or displays its content. Themes and other features are built into Windows 7, but there are other ways to make these changes.
If you're like me, you find the "shortcut to" in the name of new shortcuts annoying because this adds extensively to the size of icon descriptions for little value. You can tell it's a shortcut by the little arrow placed on the icon.
- You can simply rename the shortcut text (right-click the shortcut then select Rename) to remove the “— Shortcut” text in the description.
- How to Disable or Remove “— Shortcut” Suffix Text When Creating Shortcuts (I recommend copying the registry entry into a text editor to create the remove-shortcut-suffix-prefix.reg file as instructed).
Editing the Windows Registry directly is for advanced users.
Use Shortcuts to Resources
Although many program settings save downloaded files to the desktop (because people can find them there) I discourage the use of the desktop as a storage place because it is cluttered enough as it is. Additionally, most folks don't know how to backup files on the desktop.
Instead, create appropriate folders in your My Documents folder (accessible via your “User's Files” folder) and create shortcuts on the desktop for those folders by dragging them to the desktop using the right mouse button and selecting “create shortcuts here” (the default action is to move the folder).
By creating a shortcut to the Downloads folder on the desktop, you can drag newly-downloaded files into the correct location for later retrieval.
Broadband and Networking Tweaks
Tweaking broadband and network settings is not recommended in Windows 7.
- Windows Registry Guide. Be sure to backup your registry before making changes.
Editing the Windows Registry directly is for advanced users.
Changing the Look
Windows 7 is much easier to personalize than earlier versions of Windows. The Aero transparency introduced in Vista and multiple background, icon and other settings can make your desktop truly unique.
Install and Use Windows XP Mode in Windows 7
Using Windows XP Mode, you can run programs that were designed for Windows XP on computers running Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate editions.
With the end of support for Windows XP, you should disconnect from the Internet before running programs in Windows XP Mode.
Windows 7 Security
Windows 7 security is better than XP's and the bitlocker drive encryption, encrypting file system and shadow copy introduced in Vista remain (not provided in all editions, although third-party versions are available). The User Account Control remains, but is more configurable (you can even turn it off) and therefore less annoying in Windows 7.
Windows Backup & Restore
Windows 7 has included an effective built-in backup and restore system to protect your data and to allow you to recover from a disaster quickly — provided you've taken advantage of these tools before the incident.
Windows 7 Service Pack 1
Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) offers
new improvements to features and services in Windows 7, such as improved reliability when connecting to HDMI audio devices, printing using the XPS Viewer, and restoring previous folders in Windows Explorer after restarting.
Some folks had problems installing the service pack from a separate download, so your mileage may vary. I recommend letting Windows Update perform the task automatically.
My Personal Experience with Windows 7
Testing Windows 7 Release Candidate
I first tried Windows 7 Ultimate Release Candidate — the pre-release (or testing) version — on a 3 GHz Celeron-based processor with only 512 MB of RAM (which I later upgraded to 2GB for improved performance).
The Windows Experience rating of 1.0 (see below) indicates that with a new add-in video card, the computer would perform reasonably well. Even though the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor indicated that the SiS 900-based internal network card was incompatible, it worked just fine.
|Processor:||Calculations per second||3.9|
|Memory (RAM):||Memory operations per second||3.9|
|Graphics:||Desktop performance for Windows Aero||1.9|
|Gaming graphics:||3D business and gaming graphics||1.0|
|Primary hard disk:||Disk data transfer rate||5.9|
Purchased Windows 7 Professional
As a result of this experience, I purchased a new Intel® Core™2 Duo CPU E8400 (3.0 GHz) 64-bit computer with 4 GB RAM and running Windows 7 64-bit Professional edition.
Not being a gamer (those looking to wring the most out of their computer's performance), this machine was chosen to give a long service life for a reasonable investment. Photoshop CS4, which can use lots of RAM when working with larger images, is the most demanding program on my system.
The Windows Experience rating of 5.9 was limited by the hard drive (interesting, considering this was the strongest point in my RC1 test computer).
|Processor:||Calculations per second||6.5|
|Memory (RAM):||Memory operations per second||6.6|
|Graphics:||Desktop performance for Windows Aero||7.2|
|Gaming graphics:||3D business and gaming graphics||7.2|
|Primary hard disk:||Disk data transfer rate||5.9|
I initially experienced a number of issues with Windows 7:
- There were some BSODs (it can be difficult to track down their cause).
- Transferring files between my XP-based laptop and my Windows 7 desktop wasn't easy (only the Windows 7 computer's public folders could be seen from the Windows XP machine). Home Group only works between Windows 7 machines.
- I didn't have sound when playing a movie with Roxio Creator 2010. My ATI Radeon HD 4770 video card insisted on using the HDMI rather than the legacy sound. The free VLC media player provided an interim solution.
These issues have since been resolved over time with a clean install, the installation of Service Pack 1 and the upgrade to an HDMI monitor. The networking issue was resolved with the upgrade of my laptop to Windows 7.
Windows XP to 7 Upgrade
As noted earlier, I upgraded two Windows XP computers to Windows 7 Home Premium. My Levovo T61 laptop had been running Windows XP Pro and the desktop computer had been running Windows XP Home.
I found that both upgrades went relatively smoothly, having evaluated both using the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor and doing a clean install of Windows XP on both before proceeding.
Windows 7 will install over XP and saves many of the settings and files in a Windows.old directory (in the Documents and Settings, Program Files and Windows folders) but you'll need to reinstall your programs. Upgrades of Vista doesn't require the reinstallation of programs (but your mileage may vary).
|Processor:||Calculations per second||5.1|
|Memory (RAM):||Memory operations per second||5.1|
|Graphics:||Desktop performance for Windows Aero||3.4|
|Gaming graphics:||3D business and gaming graphics||3.1|
|Primary hard disk:||Disk data transfer rate||5.7|
As you can see, the performance on the laptop was significantly less than on my desktop, but considering the computer is using older technology designed for an operating system two generations older, it is not bad. Note that this was a significantly more powerful laptop than most folks would buy (aimed at mid-level management, not consumers).
Updated: June 27, 2015