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Technology

Should You Upgrade to Windows 7?

Is an upgrade worth the price? If Vista’s nagging drives you nuts, definitely.

What is Windows 7? It’s the latest version of Microsoft’s operating-system software. It succeeds Windows Vista, which was introduced in 2007 and has been criticized for sluggish performance and for bugging users with security questions.

When is it available? New PCs with the software start shipping October 22. That’s when Windows 7 will also be available as a shrink-wrapped upgrade in stores or via download at online retailers, although you may preorder now.

What’s the best new feature of Windows 7? Less nagging. Although Windows 7 retains Vista’s security feature that seeks your permission before doing certain tasks, it’s less needy. It alerts you only about the really important stuff, such as allowing a program to change critical settings. And if you prefer Vista’s more pesky approach, you can make Win 7 act the same way.

What else is new? Windows 7 is faster than Vista. Applications and windows should load more quickly -- that is, assuming your PC meets the minimum system requirements. You’ll find dozens of other enhancements, too. For example, a streamlined taskbar at the bottom of the screen does a better job of organizing multiple applications. And Windows Media Player now plays songs in iTunes’ AAC format.

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I’ve heard that Windows 7 is missing some applications that Vista has. True? Yes. A few utilities for managing e-mail and editing photos and movies are missing, including Windows Mail, Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Movie Maker. But these programs weren’t that great in the first place, and most users won’t miss them. (For example, the free Google Picasa is a better photo organizer-editor than Photo Gallery.) You can, however, download the missing apps free at Microsoft’s Windows Live site (www.download.live.com).

What will an upgrade cost? Windows 7 Home Premium is the best choice for consumer use. An upgrade will cost $120, but look for Microsoft to offer promotional discounts near launch time. And if you’re planning to upgrade more than one computer, there’s a money-saving Windows 7 “family pack” ($150) that lets you install one copy on up to three PCs. (You can read more about it here.) Other retail versions of the Windows 7 upgrade include the business-oriented Professional ($200) and Ultimate ($220), an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink edition that’s targeted at tech nerds.

I use Windows Vista. Should I upgrade? It depends. Do you find Vista too sluggish? Do its endless security questions make you want to tear your hair out? If so, a Windows 7 upgrade may be worth it, particularly if you plan to keep your PC for a few more years.

I use Windows XP. Should I upgrade? Only if you know what you’re doing. You’ll need to erase and reformat your hard drive before installing Windows 7. And once Win 7 is up and running, you’ll have to reinstall all of your programs and files. This is a job for propeller heads with a weekend to kill. Our advice: Stick with XP until you buy a new PC, which will come with Windows 7 preinstalled.

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How do I know whether my PC is powerful enough to run Windows 7? In general, if your computer runs Vista, it can run Windows 7. But things aren’t as clear-cut for XP users. To diagnose your PC’s readiness for Windows 7, download and run Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor. (Go to www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/get/upgrade-advisor.aspx.) This free utility scans your computer and lets you know what changes, if any, are needed.