If you’ve missed Windows Vista, like so many others, you might be shocked when upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7. Microsoft’s newest operating system is a major shift in usability, usability, and overall processing power over previous versions of Windows.
While not all of the changes are grandiose, below are the top 10 differences between Windows XP and Windows 7. Many of these changes may seem dramatic because you’re so used to how things work in XP. If you are planning to upgrade from XP to Windows 7, be prepared for these changes.
1. No Email Client
Outlook Express (OE) has been a trusted friend since Windows 95, so much so that many people have never used any other email client. OE was removed from Windows Vista but was replaced by Windows Mail. Funnily enough, Windows doesn’t come with an email client at all. Users must either purchase an email client such as Outlook, use a free service such as Windows Live Mail or Outlook.com, or download an open source email client such as Thunderbird.
2. 32 bit vs. 64 bit
Although Windows XP had a 64-bit version (Windows XP x64), many people are not even aware of its existence. When upgrading from XP to Windows 7, you will need to decide if you want 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64). Which one you choose depends a lot on your computer’s hardware and the availability of drivers and other software to make everything work on your computer.
You can download Microsoft’s Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, which will check your hardware and recommend whether you should upgrade.
3. Aero Desktop
Aero Desktop is really nothing more than a collection of window and desktop behaviors that make Windows 7 the prettiest version of the operating system to date. Features like Aero Snap let you quickly organize your open windows, and transparency makes it easy to see what’s underneath other windows. In Windows XP, think opaque, in Windows 7, think translucent.
4. Documents and Settings
The Documents and Settings folder, which contains all protected personal files and folders, has been replaced with simple Users folders. No big deal, but many technical support staff have spent hundreds of hours answering a simple question about where is the Documents and Settings folder in Windows 7.
5. Start Menu
The Windows 7 Start menu has been completely redesigned and has received a number of criticisms. The Start menu no longer pops up and scrolls to show you which shortcuts to programs and folders you have on your computer.
You should now use a more conservative folder system that forces you to use the scroll bar to access shortcuts that cannot be displayed because you have reached the maximum number that can be displayed at one time. However, if you really like the Windows XP Start menu, there are ways to make the Windows 7 Start menu work like it did in XP.
Introduced in Office 2007, it is clear that Microsoft will continue to promote the ribbon interface instead of the more familiar drop-down menu and toolbar for program use. If you want a taste of ribbon, launch Microsoft Paint or WordPad on a Windows 7 computer and see for yourself whether ribbon is useful or just another technology dictated to you.
Windows 7 Libraries are nothing more than collections of similar files. Content like this, which resides in multiple areas of your computer, is combined into a library system to make it easier to find files.
Of course, you can choose to use libraries or not, depending on whether you find them useful. However, if you have a lot of media files stored on your computer, such as music or videos, and you want to access them without physically moving them to the same location or folder, libraries might be for you.
8. DirectX 11
If you’re a gamer, you know you need to keep up with advances in hardware and software technology to get the most out of your games. Windows XP will not support DirectX versions higher than 9.0c, so if your games require a later version like 10 or 11, you have no choice but to upgrade to a newer version of Windows.
As more and more people move to Windows 7, game developers and publishers are likely to take full advantage of the more recent versions of DirectX. Sticking to XP for too long can result in being denied access to the latest games.
Whether you have a simple or complex home network, you know that any help you can get to make administration easier is always appreciated. HomeGroup is a major shift in the simplicity of home networking that makes old paradigms archaic.
Little has changed in setting up your home network since Windows NT 4, an operating system to Windows 95 that you may have never heard of. Combining simplicity, easy setup and stable connections, HomeGroup eliminates the guesswork and troubleshooting of home networks of all sizes.
10. Touch Support
Although touch-based interfaces have been around for most of a decade, touch has not yet replaced the familiar keyboard and mouse combination for navigating personal computers. However, Windows 7 is the first operating system from the software giant to natively support touch as a computer interface.
If you think you would like to be at the forefront of this new interface paradigm, Windows 7 is your only real choice if you want to use Microsoft’s operating system.
Some people are so comfortable with Windows XP that they avoid upgrading to the latest Microsoft operating system. The Windows Vista fiasco did not help, forcing some die-hard XP fans to downgrade to get their PCs working again.
If you are thinking of upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7, be prepared for some new things, some missing pieces, and some in-between. Also read my post on which version of Windows 7 is right for you. However, the stability and usability of Windows 7 is more or less proven, so you can be sure that you are taking a step in the right direction and leaving XP behind. Enjoy!