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With Windows 7 due out later this month, many of you are no doubt counting the days until release. I've played with both the beta and RC of Microsoft's latest OS, and quite honestly, I liked what I saw. If this had come out in 2006 when 'Longhorn' was promised, I have no doubt that I would not have switched to Linux (at least not yet).
However, that's not how events played out. What really happened was 'Longhorn' became Vista, and it didn't make it out the door until 2007. It arrived late, buggy, irritating (UAC), overpriced, underwhelming, confusing (licensing), and in some cases, incompatible. Now, almost three years later, and almost five since Longhorn's initially-planned release, Microsoft is releasing the OS they should have launched several years ago. Unfortunately, Windows 7 is also overpriced (slightly less so than Vista), and even more confusing.
But first, let's go over what Microsoft did right. Windows 7 is going to launch when the company said it will launch. Because of a long beta and RC testing phase, 7 is not going to be as buggy as Vista was when it debuted. Microsoft has taken the UAC down a notch. It has also come down on the price a little. The highest edition of 7 (Ultimate) is fifty percent more expensive than the highest edition of XP (Pro). This is opposed to 100% more expensive (Vista Ultimate versus XP Pro). But fair enough, the price did drop somewhat.
Underwhelming, 7 is not. In terms of its user interface, Vista was pretty much XP with a reorganized Start Menu and a black taskbar. Flip 3D was basically nothing more than a choppy gimmick (though the thumbnail previews of windows within the taskbar are pretty sweet; Windows 7 kept them, and I use them in Linux). Windows 7 actually succeeds in terms of a being a unified vision that pays tribute to the brand. Everything is made of glass in 7. Vista began this trend with the transparent glass window borders and the overlaid faux-reflection texture. But 7 really takes the use of transparent glass and reflections to the extreme. The window borders, menus, some applications, and even the taskbar and start menu are all made of glass. New tricks include being able to make all windows transparent to see the desktop. As a total package, Windows 7 has what I consider to be the first true Windows theme.
Finally, we're left with how Microsoft figured out how to solve its backward-compatibility issues.
With the introduction of XP Mode (XPM), Windows 7 will not fall victim to the nightmare of incompatibilities suffered by early-adopters of Vista. XPM is a fully-licensed copy of Windows XP Service Pack 3 running in a VirtualPC Virtual Machine (VM). In many cases XPM is the clincher that holdouts needed in order to finally upgrade. Unfortunately, the confusion created by the Windows 7 licensing scheme has all but ruined their compatibility fix.
XPM is only included in Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate. If you want a full retail boxed copy of Windows 7 with XPM, you're going to have to fork over $300 for Professional, or $320 for Ultimate. If you already own a copy of Windows XP or Vista, you can pay $200 for the upgrade to Professional, or $220 for Ultimate. Let that sink in for a minute.
That's right, Windows 7 Home Premium (and below) does not have XPM. Most systems sold by retailers come with a version of Windows completely lacking XPM. Wait, it gets better. Thanks to Microsoft's ingenious Windows Anytime Upgrade, consumers who bought a new PC with Windows 7 Home Premium can upgrade to Professional for $90 or Ultimate for $140. If you were sold Home Basic or Starter edition, you'll have to first upgrade to Home Premium for $80. Like I said, 'ingenious.' One way or another, you are probably going to have to pay Microsoft some amount of money if you want XPM...
...or not. If you're open to using Linux , you too can have a fast and secure next-gen OS with full XP compatibility, all for free!