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Showdown at the Microsoft Corral
Windows Vista didn't go over so well. It was in many regards a necessary update which changed large parts of the Windows operating system, but changing so many things also meant that Vista was rather buggy at release. It has since been updated, but now Windows 7 is out.
The question is what, exactly does, Windows 7 do better than Vista, and is worth upgrading from Vista to Windows 7? To answer that question I'll take a look at the Windows 7 vs. Vista debate from several different angels including interface, performance and stability.
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Windows 7 vs. Vista: Taskbar Updates
Windows 7 is arguably the largest interface update which Windows has ever dared when introducing a new operating system. The first thing you'll notice when you boot up a Windows 7 system is that the taskbar has, for the first time since Windows 95, undergone a complete revision. It is still, indeed, a bar. But instead of labeling items with text, only icons are shown. If you have multiple windows of the same program open, hovering over the taskbar icon will generate thumbnail sized previews of the windows you have open.
The taskbar also now doubles as a method of launching programs, as you can "pin" programs to the taskbar whenever you'd like. While these revisions can be disorienting to Vista users at first, they make a lot of sense. It is now far easier to select the correct window when you have multiple windows open, and the larger icons are more intuitive and easier to click than the smaller, text-based taskbar of old.
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Windows 7 vs. Vista: Other Interface Updates
That's not all. Another major revision in the interface is the introduction of libraries, which can be viewed in Windows Explorer. Libraries are "virtual folders" which aggregates content from multiple locations on your computers and makes them viewable as if they were all in the same folder. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it actually opens up a world of possibility, particularly when network drives are put into the picture. With the libraries feature it is possible to access multiple files across multiple hard drives and network locations as if they were all stored on your primary hard disk.
Two new Aero interface features, called Aero Snap and Aero Shake, have entered the picture. Aero Snap is an automatic window maximizing and tiling feature. Want to maximize a window? Just drag it to the top of the screen, and presto! It maximizes. If you drag it away from the top it returns to the window's previous size. Aero Snap also allows you to line up two windows so that there contents can be compared easily by dragging one window to the right side of the desktop and one to the left, automatically splitting them up so each window takes up half of your display. Aero Shake allows you to clear up your desktop space by "shaking" a window back and forth on the desktop. This minimizes all other windows currently open.
These features represent a major rework of the interface compared to Vista. Of course, all of the interface features which debuted in Vista, like the Aero desktop theme, are also included. The really is know question which operating system takes the cake here - Windows 7's improvements are solid, and clearly give it a better interface than what is found in Windows Vista.
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Windows 7 vs. Vista: Performance
One common complaint about Vista was that it often felt slow. The operating system seemed to be much more demanding than Windows XP, particularly on older systems and less powerful systems like netbooks and ultraportable laptops. Microsoft promised that this problem would be taken care, but promises aren't always kept. In a Windows 7 vs. Vista performance battle, who wins?
That depends on how you look at it. When viewed strictly through the lense of benchmark results, Windows Vista and Windows 7 are virtually identical. Sometimes Windows 7 is a little slower, while sometimes Windows 7 is a little faster. Usually the overall difference is so minor that you'd never know there was a difference unless you had a benchmark spitting out numbers for you.
So Windows 7 isn't faster? Well, hold on. The thing is, Vista actually doesn't perform that much different from XP in many benchmarks, as well, but it still "feels" slower. This subjective feeling of sluggishness isn't something that is easily detected in a benchmark. Windows 7 has been optimized to "feel" more nimble. Web browsers open more quickly. Windows drag more smoothly. And most importantly of all, relatively low performance systems no longer feel as if someone had poured molasses all over the processor. In the Windows 7 vs. Vista performance battle, Windows 7 wins not because it is faster in benchmarks, but rather because Windows 7 is kinder on system resources and has a snappier interface.
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Windows 7 vs. Vista: Stability
Another major problem with Windows Vista was the lack of stability. The new operating system made major changes, and as a result there were a lot of old device drivers which no longer worked. This led to a lot of frustration as users tried and failed to use hardware which seemed to be working fine with XP. Does Windows 7 repeat the same mistakes?
Thankfully, no. While it would be nice to praise Microsoft for its suddenly great quality assurance, the truth is that Windows 7 is much more stable because, in a deeper sense, much less has changed. Windows Vista made big, sweeping changes to Windows. It was the first Windows operating system to offer a serious 64-bit option, it completely revised the Windows shell, and it dramatically altered how Windows handles security. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Windows 7 makes some critical changes, but is ultimately an evolution of Vista. As a result, pretty much everything that works with Vista works with Windows 7. Vista, to a degree, could be considered an extended trial run for Windows 7. Now that Microsoft has worked out all of the kinks which resulted from the huge changes made in Vista they are again able to offer a stable operating system.
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So, Windows 7 vs Windows Vista. The gloves are off. Should you upgrade?
The verdict is quite clear. In every area discussed in this article - interface, performance and stability - Windows 7 beat Windows Vista. Vista was something of a disaster, but it allowed Microsoft the chance to listen to feedback and create a very solid, consumer-oriented product. Windows7 is not only better than Windows Vista, it is the best Windows operating system ever. If you're one of the hold-outs still using XP, come on. Get with the times. Windows 7 is amazing and is easily worth the price of an upgrade.