Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Windows 7

Win7 Editions | Hardware | Security & Patches | Customizing & Tweaking

Windows 7 -- a good upgrade path for XP users

Mainstream Support Has Ended

Mainstream support for Windows 7 has ended.

There will be no further free updates to the operating system; only essential fixes and security updates. Extended support expires January 14, 2020.

Windows 7 Documentation Disappearing

Microsoft's support documentation for Windows 7 is now placed within the context of “Windows 10: Previous Versions.” Some material may no longer be available.

New Privacy Concerns

Optional updates to Windows 7 have included some that are controversial as they add “customer experience and diagnostic telemetry” data collecting elements to Windows 7.

Besides the privacy concerns, these optional updates add to the load on the Windows 7 computer and may slow down older hardware. It also adds to your bandwidth usage which affects those with data caps or mobile plans.

You might want to avoid any optional updates that aren't clearly hardware fixes or updates that describe problems you're having with your computer.

Spybot Anti-Beacon

Spybot Anti-Beacon allows you to make significant choices about your privacy settings including many that are hidden or not easily altered. It immunizes your computer so you can check then reset your privacy settings after rebooting your computer (particularly after a Windows Update).

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)

*XP mode is no longer supported.

“Starter” Has Limitations

Most hardware with Starter edition installed are incapable of upgrade so you'll want to be sure that your requirements are very limited and that you'll have no need to upgrade in the future.

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.

“Anytime” Upgrade

Microsoft offers an anytime upgrade but ensure you purchase the version you need to begin with because upgrade costs are steep.

Downgrade Rights

Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate versions originally could be downgraded to Windows Vista or Windows XP but that was up to the vendor if and how they want to implement that option. That is unlikely to be an option now that support for Windows XP has expired and Vista's is about to.

Determining which version of Microsoft software you have a right to run, known as your downgrade rights, depends on the channel through which the software was purchased; Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), Retail (FPP), or Volume Licensing (VL) and also when it was purchased. — TechNet

See Understanding Downgrade Rights for details.

Windows 7 Hardware

Installing Windows 7

How to reinstall Windows like a pro.

Secure Boot

Windows secure boot was marketed as a way to protect you from malware. It has the potential to prevent you from installing any other operating system except Windows 8 or 10 on your computer. Windows 7 is not supported. Look for an option like “Other OS” in your system BIOS.

Issues with Windows Update

I've found that sometimes the update to Windows update itself following the installation of Service Pack 1 does something that causes Windows Update to run forever without resolving any updates. This problem is not unusual and is frustrating, particularly when the Microsoft recommended fixes don't work.

If you're having issues with installing Windows 7 try the following:

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 a Lenovo T61 laptop), but not before ensuring the necessary Windows 7 drivers and software upgrades were available.

System Requirements

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.


Released October 22, 2009, Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate sales terminated in October 31, 2014 (October 31, 2016 for Windows 7 Professional).

Upgrade Advisor

Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor will tell you if your computer is capable of running Windows 7 or what upgrades may be needed.

Learning More

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.

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. Microsoft's documentation is gone.

No Built-in Email Client

Windows 7 has no built-in email client. Vista came with Windows Mail and Windows XP came with Outlook Express (no longer supported and dangerous to use). Windows 10 has an email app.

I'd strongly recommend moving to Mozilla Thunderbird or one of my other recommended email options.

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.


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:

Jump Lists

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).

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Windows 7 Security

Windows 7 security is better than XP's and not as annoying as Vista's.

Windows 7 has bitlocker drive encryption (Ultimate Edition only, although third-party versions are available), encrypting file system and shadow copy. User Account Control is more configurable 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.

There are third-party commercial software including Acronis True Image.

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.

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Tweaking & Customizing

Tweaking and customizing Windows 7 involves changing the way Windows 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.

Removing Shortcuts

If you're like me, you find the "shortcut to" in the name of new shortcuts annoying. You can tell it's a shortcut by the little arrow placed on the icon.

  • Right-click the shortcut then select Rename to remove the “— Shortcut” text in the description.
  • There is also a Registry fix. Copy 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

Many people have lots of folders with photos, documents, tax information and more on their desktops.

This clutters your desktop. I recommend creating shortcuts to frequently-used content:

  1. Create unique folders in your Documents or Photos folders
  2. Create shortcuts on the desktop for the most used folders
    • drag them to the desktop using the right mouse button; then
    • select “create shortcuts here”.

Sort Downloads

A shortcut to the Downloads folder allows you to drag newly-downloaded files for later retrieval.

I recommend moving photos, videos and documents to the appropriate folders rather than leaving them in Downloads.

Broadband and Networking

Tweaking broadband and network settings is not recommended in Windows 7.

Windows Registry

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 and multiple background, icon and other settings can make your desktop truly unique.

Support for XP Mode has Ended

Windows XP Mode allows you to run older, unsupported programs on computers running Windows 7.

Support for XP Mode has ended. If you have this feature installed, you should disconnect from the Internet before running programs in Windows XP Mode.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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Updated: December 6, 2017