Where do you start with a choice like that? Fortunately, most individuals and small businesses can knock off a few options right away: The Enterprise edition is available only to large corporations, Home Basic will be sold only in "emerging markets," and the Starter edition will be sold only with netbooks. But that still leaves three editions to choose from in the U.S.
I've been using the beta and early release candidates of the top-end Ultimate version for months now, but it's pricey ($320 for the full version; $220 for the upgrade). If I'm not prepared to spend that much when I come to plop down my dollars, which of the two scaled-down versions will best fit my needs? I'm still trying to figure that one out.
And even after you settle on an edition, you're not done making decisions yet. All packaged retail versions of Windows 7 come with both 32- and 64-bit versions of the OS, so you'll have to choose which one to install. The 64-bit question isn't easy even if you have a 64-bit CPU: While 64-bit computing promises better data handling and more speed, the "con" list for installing 64-bit operating systems includes not knowing whether 32-bit drivers will work at all, and whether some 32-bit applications may actually run more slowly in a 64-bit environment.
It looks better...
Yes, this is relatively frivolous as reasons go, but you can't knock the psychological boost you get from a good redecorating job. Windows 7 themes make your workplace fresh again. They let you cycle through different background images and screensavers, and enable you to build your own desktop themes and share them with others.
Windows 7 also fixes a half-cooked Vista feature: Gadgets, those handy little desktop tools modeled after Mac Widgets that include clocks, weather tickers and up-to-the-minute headlines. But Vista docked Gadgets in a horrible sidebar that took up too much desktop space. Windows 7 gets it right: You can slide your clock to the top left, tuck your weather ticker halfway down the right ... in short, stick them where you want them.
...but it's not necessarily faster
It has been reported widely that Windows 7 is faster than ever, in part because of its ability to take advantage of multicore and multithreaded chips and GPUs. I'm not disputing any of that, but I did experience a little disappointment when upgrading one of my XP machines.
Oh, Windows 7 boots up much faster than XP on my spiffy year-old Toshiba Satellite Pro S300M notebook, but it's no speedier than XP in daily use. (Adobe's chronically slow-loading Creative Suite apps, for example, aren't any sprightlier under Windows 7 -- or could they possibly be a little slower? Hard to say.) This is a good notebook with a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and 2GB of RAM, but Windows 7's evaluation of hardware components, the Windows Experience Index, gave it a pitiful score of just 3.1 out of a possible 7.9.
The culprit? The graphics subsystem, based on Intel's Mobile 45 Express chipset, isn't good enough for the Aero interface. The exact same Windows Experience Index gives a much more generous 4.9 rating on the same system for 3D business graphics and light gaming. It's the pretty transparent title bars and animations that Windows 7 inherited from Vista that pull all the processing power from the graphics subsystem. And that's bad news for cheaper computers with onboard video subsystems.
Back when I got Vista, the first tweak I performed was to turn Aero off. Guess what? I had to do the same with Windows 7. And that's a shame: Is the first thing you want to do with an upgrade to turn bits of it off so you can win back some performance?