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Windows 7 - Introduction
Windows 7 is a very nice upgrade from XP and Vista. It offers a stylish new interface and some very useful features for modern computers. It's definitely a step in the right direction for Microsoft's operating systems.
Chances are, if you're using a newer computer or you're planning to buy a new computer, you'll need to decide which type of Windows 7 you'll want. Windows offers three different versions, with different features and limitations. Hopefully learning about these features will help you make a well informed decision that picks the right OS for your needs.
Note that if you're merely upgrading your computer, you will want to look for a special "upgrade" license. These are much cheaper and you're eligible for them as long as you have a current license for XP or Vista.
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Windows 7 - Home
Windows 7 Home is just the bare bones version. It has the basic upgrades that Windows 7 offers without any extra flair. Just to be clear, that includes features such as the new Windows Media Center, the Windows search function for quicker start menu and desktop access, a faster "enhanced" desktop with a new sleek look and options for forming home networks easily. If you'd like to know more about the basic features of Windows 7, we have an article for that.
This isn't too different from Vista, so it will be a smooth transition for users. If you just need the basics, then this is actually a pretty good choice. You should at least consider other upgrade options though, before you lock yourself in. The package is currently priced at $119.99.
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Windows 7 - Professional
The most useful feature is the option to run old programs in XP compatibility mode. This allows you to turn on XP mode and continue to use any old programs that don't play well with Windows 7. If you have any old software that may face problems under the OS, you will definitely want to consider this. Now that Windows 7 has been out for a fair amount of time, this should be less of a problem, but it's good to have the option.
Windows 7 Professional also includes the option to use the backup feature to save your backups to a network, instead of just an external storage device. Along that same line, it features "Domain Join", which makes it much easier to connect to company networks.
This package currently costs $199.99, although there are many student discounts for Windows 7 Professional available.
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Windows 7 - Ultimate
The only notable feature is its ability to switch between 35 different language packs. If you plan to do a lot of international business or communication, then you'll need to pay extra for Ultimate. I don't think that most users will actually need these language packs though.
Ultimate's other big feature is BitLocker, which offers encryption for files on your computer and for your stored backup files, but there are plenty of free encryption tools available. I wouldn't suggest buying it just for the encryption tool.
Ultimate is definitely a specialty program. You can buy it for $219.99, although there may be similar student discounts available, depending on the deals made by individual colleges.