Windows 7 Forever! Why Windows 7 is the Next XP

We love Windows 7: That's the message loud and clear from people this week at the TechMentor Conference held at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. With Windows XP reaching end of life for support in April 2014, the plan for most organizations is to upgrade -- to Windows 7.

Although Windows 8 has reached its final version (the RTM, or release-to-manufacturing, version) and will be publicly available on Oct. 26, the plan for most organizations is to upgrade to Windows 7. It's a win for Microsoft either way. It's not like companies are dropping Windows in the enterprise for Macs (not in bulk anyway, though there seems to be more Macs in the workplace than ever before).

But it does indicate a repeat of history for what we've seen with Windows releases, the original-cast "Star Trek" movie pattern where every other version was beloved and the ones in between decidely not so. In Windows' history, Windows 95, Windows XP, and Windows 7 were loved; Windows ME, Windows Vista, and now Windows 8 (at least by reviewers) were hated. (Windows 98 was essentially a minor upgrade to Windows 95, and Windows 2000 was essentially a niche corporate version in its era, so neither counts.)

But what do we actually love about Windows 7? Sometimes it's easier to see its charms (no pun intended) when looking back from the newest OS. For me, Windows 8 has crystalized the five Windows 7 features I love most.

1. The user interface
With a dramatic UI change in Windows 8, I love the UI of Windows 7 -- especially its Start Orb and Start Menu -- more than ever. Keep in mind it's not as tablet- or touchscreen-friendly as I'd like -- Windows 8 certainly has it beat in that regard. However, Windows 7's UI is comfortable, and rolling out Windows 7 won't have your users cursing your name as they will if you spring the Windows 8 UI on them.

2. The security enhancements
Although Windows 8 comes with great security features like picture passwords and malware-protected secure boot if you have a UEFI system, let's not forget that Windows 7 provided a much better -- by far -- set of security features than XP. For example, the Windows 7 Action Center offers immediate access to information about the security and maintenance of your system. The UAC slider lets you take your system security levels into your own hands and take it to superstrong (the Vista setting) but not crazy levels with UAC pop-ups (the default Windows 7 setting); you can even completely shut down the security settings and fly blind, aka the Mac setting. Kidding -- Mac people love that joke at conferences. For home users, Windows 7 has parental controls built right in.

3. The ease of networking
If you've been around long enough to remember the days of Windows NT 4.0 networking (or Windows 95/98 networking), you still flinch in pain from memories of the many sleepless nights you spent gathering drivers, worrying about protocol options, and so forth. XP was better, but still not easy. By contrast, it's easy to get your system connected with Windows 7. With features like HomeGroups, home users and small businesses can share printers nearly without effort compared to the previous versions.

[A Guide to Windows 7 Networking]

Likewise, wireless connectivity was simplified, and the ability to lock down your public and private (or home/work) networks through Advanced settings ensures better online safety. In addition, when combined with Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 7 takes advantage of features like BranchCache and Direct Access that provide for faster access to data and connectivity without a VPN.

4. The manageability through PowerShell
Being able to use PowerShell to manage systems -- especially with the remoting capabilities that come with Windows 7's Version 2 -- is incredibly helpful to IT admins. Because PowerShell Version 2 was designed for Windows 7, you get all the management hooks. Although PowerShell Version 2 is available for XP and Vista, they lack some of the hooks, so they can't exploit PowerShell completely as Windows 7 can.

5. The improved performance
Windows 7 boots incredibly fast compared to XP or Vista. On laptops, battery life is longer, and recovery from sleep and/or hibernation is improved. Windows 7 also offers features like ReadyBoost to use USB storage space to address low-memory issues, improved search results without tanking the system, and a variety of other under-the-hood improvements.

Windows 8 takes computing to a new level
As much as you've heard me complain about working with Windows 8 from the user perspective, you won't hear me complain about the features and improvements outside the UI. At heart, Windows 8 is Windows 7 taken to the next level. All the features I love in Windows 7 are still available in Windows 8. Some items, like Network Map, that I didn't love are gone. And many Windows 7 aspects are further enhanced in Windows 8: File History, secure boot, built-in antivirus protection, Hyper-V 3 on supported systems, and PowerShell Version 3 are all examples.

Still, those are enhancements to Windows 7 -- the Windows 7 your users know and love on their home PCs. Don't feel bad if you've decided to go with Windows 7 as you move from XP because you can't make that jump to Windows 8. Windows 7 is simply an awesome OS.

If you decide to take the plunge and go to Windows 8, you'll get the features everyone loves in Windows 7 and more. If you can get past the UI challenges, the rest of Windows 8 -- that is, the Windows 7 part -- is solid.

This story, "Windows 7 forever! Why Windows 7 is the next XP," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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