Are Your PCs Ready for Windows 7?

Microsoft's new flagship desktop operating system is here. The failure of Windows Vista, combined with the lengthy exposure the public has had to Windows 7 during the development process have resulted in a fairly successful launch of for Windows 7 (perpetual rebooting issues notwithstanding).

Windows 7
Because of the issues, both real and perceived, with Windows Vista, the vast majority of PC users have clung to Vista's predecessor, Windows XP. According to Net Applications, Windows XP holds a dominant share of the operating system market with 71 percent. That means that nearly 3 out of 4 PCs are still running the legacy operating system.

Time to Make the Change

There are a lot of good reasons to go ahead and make the switch from Windows XP (or Windows Vista for that matter) to Windows 7. Businesses have even more reason than consumers. The differences in the security and functionality of the operating system between XP and Windows 7 are significant, and businesses have legal and regulatory requirements to be concerned with.

Large enterprises generally have some sort of volume licensing agreement with Microsoft that allows them to upgrade operating systems in bulk. Small and medium businesses still want cutting edge features and functionality, and they must still meet compliance mandates, but purchasing all new systems can put quite a sting on the bottom line.

While there are good arguments for simply upgrading by purchasing new systems, it is simply cheaper to upgrade the operating system on the existing hardware...assuming the existing hardware is capable of handling Windows 7.

Assessing Your Hardware

Are your systems ready to handle Windows 7? Even if they meet the Windows 7 minimum system requirements on paper, there are a variety of other issues you could run into with existing software and peripheral hardware devices.

Microsoft created the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor tool to scan your hardware and software and analyze it for known compatibility issues. The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor report also provides guidance to help resolve any identified issues. If a critical accounting application your business relies on won't work in Windows 7, its better to figure that out up front.

Planning the Upgrade

With your Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor reports in hand, you can begin to chart a path for upgrading. Obviously, if the reports show that the PC hardware is simply inadequate you will either have to invest in new computer systems or keep on keeping on with Windows XP.

Assuming the PC's themselves, or at least the majority of them, get passing grades from the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, you can still use the reports to identify any hardware devices such as printers, display adapters, wireless network adapters, etc. that may have issues with Windows 7.

Using the guidance in the report, as well as the vendor Web site, determine whether there are software updates or drivers that will make the devices compatible with Windows 7. If not, factor the cost of replacing any necessary hardware devices into your Windows 7 upgrade costs.

For software that is identified as incompatible, there is a simpler solution. Microsoft has created Windows Virtual PC - Windows XP Mode to solve the problem. Basically, XP Mode runs a virtual version of a Windows XP computer so you can install any incompatible legacy software and continue to run it from within Windows 7. Its not the most elegant solution, but it works.

Choosing Your Flavor of Windows 7

Once you have assessed your hardware and upgraded or replaced where necessary, you will have to decide on which version of Windows 7 to go with. Microsoft suggests Windows 7 Professional for small and medium business customers, but for a variety of reasons I highly recommend making the additional investment in Windows 7 Ultimate.

For more real-world tech solutions for small and midsized businesses--including cloud services, virtualization, and complete network overhauls--check out PC World's Tech Audit.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com .

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