Microsoft’s sudden commitment to bringing Windows 7 out by the end of 2009 has been a surprising move. Windows Vista debuted on January 30th, 2007, which means that less than three years will have passed between the introduction of Vista and the debut of a new operating system. That is extremely quick – by contrast, about six years passed between the introduction of XP and the introduction of Vista. Microsoft’s decision to move forward the release of Windows 7 seems to have been spawned from the positive reception of the Windows 7 beta. Users of the beta seem to be satisfied with the product – and considering Vista’s bad reputation – Microsoft is surely eager to replace it with a more respected OS.
Of course, the sudden introduction of Windows 7 is bound to make current Windows Vista users wonder if they jumped the gun. Windows 7 seems, for the most part, to be a refinement of Vista, taking out the bad and adding in more of the good. Considering how well supported Windows XP has been during the three years since Vista was released, the introduction of Windows 7 makes it appear as if buying Vista was a bad move. So was it? And if you’re looking to buy an operating system right now, what should you purchase?
Better, Faster, Stronger
From the ground up, Windows 7 is a refinement, not a replacement, of Windows Vista. Vista itself was aimed to replace Windows XP, much as Windows XP was meant to replace Windows ME and Windows 98. Since it is aimed to be a refinement, and not a replacement, there are many similarities between Vista and Windows 7. Many of the features that were first debuted in Vista, such as user account control, are being made easier to live with, in hopes of making the technological advances in Vista more appealing to the average user. These are improvements, not replacements or brand-new features. There are many places where Windows 7 looks better than Vista and feels easier to use, but many of the underlying goals and features are the same.
Ironically, the fact that Windows 7 isn’t meant to be a replacement will likely result in broader appeal than what could be achieved in Vista. Vista was an important step for Microsoft, but new, different, and/or better features often conflict with older programs and drivers. Enterprise users have been particularly skeptical towards Vista for this reason, as most of them have business-critical programs that were made specifically for XP, and which would require a large investment in order to work out conflicts with the new operating system. Windows 7, however, doesn’t change the rules like Vista did, and since Vista has been out for several years now, companies have had time think about implementing their existing software into a new operating system.
Putting Vista To Bed
As many refinements as there are to Windows 7, it must be stressed that Windows 7 is only a refinement. Because of this, the question "Does Windows 7 make Vista obsolete?" becomes difficult to answer because there are two ways of responding.
On the one hand, the improvements to Windows 7 will probably make it a far better operating system in numerous ways. It will look better. It will have fewer compatibility issues. It will provide support for advances in touch screens and speech recognition. It should be better at distributing tasks between multiple processor cores. The interface will be improved, including a replacement for the taskbar known as the "Superbar." All of these features will make it clearly superior to Vista.
On the other hand, the improvements to Windows 7 have nothing to do with basic functionality. One of the greatest advancements Vista made, in comparison to XP, is the implementation of an easy-to-use 64 bit operating system. Windows 7 will carry this torch, but will not replace it. Direct X 10 was a stride forward made by Vista, and again, Windows 7 does nothing to replace or modify that advancement. Anything that runs on Windows Vista should run on Windows 7, and early indications are that performance will be similar between the two operating systems. There is nothing in Windows 7 that creates a fundamental advantage that cannot be found in Vista.
But What Should I Buy?
Of course, obsolesce is driven as much by market forces as by technology. A great operating system wouldn’t sell if it was priced poorly or there was no programs written for it that were worth buying. The important question, then, is this – what should I buy? Should I buy Vista now? Or should I grab XP and instead wait for Windows 7 to come out?
The answer to that question depends on why you’re buying an operating system. Because Windows 7 is a refinement, it is not going to make Windows Vista functionally obsolete. It is unlikely that you’ll run into programs that will run on Windows 7, but not on Windows Vista. The two are similar enough that programs written for one operating system should work in the other. On the other hand, Windows 7 will add many features that Windows Vista does not support, along with an improved interface.
This means that if you’re thinking about buying Windows Vista as an upgrade, you probably shouldn’t. Windows 7 is not far off, and as long as your current operating system is working fine for you – and it probably is, since chances are very high that your current OS is Windows XP – there isn’t much reason to upgrade to Vista.
However, if you’re buying a operating system for a new machine, you’re better off buying Windows Vista now. You will likely be able to keep Vista until near the end of the life-cycle of Windows 7. Buying Windows XP for a new system is, at this point, extremely foolhardy, unless you’re building a low-performance computer that can’t handle Vista.
I think time will cause Windows Vista to be largely forgotten, whispered in the same sentence of other duds like Windows ME. But if you’re thinking of buying Windows Vista for a new computer, don’t fret. Just do it. Windows 7 may end up being superior in many ways, but it won’t cause Microsoft to cease support of Vista any time soon.