Windows 7 Huge Upgrade, Upgrading Impossible

Walter Mossberg says Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 7, is good enough to help erase memories of the Vista fiasco. Not only is it “the best version of Windows Microsoft has produced” and “a boost to productivity and a pleasure to use” but it’s every bit as good as Apple’s Snow Leopard.

Windows 7 introduces real advances in organizing your programs and files, arranging your taskbar and desktop, and quickly viewing and launching the page or document you want, when you want it. It also has cool built-in touch-screen features.

It removes a lot of clutter. And it mostly banishes Vista’s main flaws—sluggishness; incompatibility with third-party software and hardware; heavy hardware requirements; and constant, annoying security warnings.

It’s a little expensive — $120 for the version most home users would want — but probably worth it if it truly delivers a much better user experience. After all, most of us spend several hours a day in front of a computer.

One small problem: Upgrading from Windows XP, the version most of us are using because Vista was so awful, is next to impossible.

They’ll have to wipe out their hard disks after backing up their files elsewhere, then install Windows 7, then restore their personal files, then re-install all their programs from the original CDs or downloaded installer files. Then, they have to install all the patches and upgrades to those programs from over the years.

Microsoft includes an Easy Transfer wizard to help with this, but it moves only personal files, not programs. This painful XP upgrade process is one of the worst things about Windows 7 and will likely drive many XP owners to either stick with what they’ve got or wait and buy a new one.

For years, Apple produced better software but ran it’s business stupidly. Windows shrewdly undercut them on price, marketing, and openness to third party software making its products so ubiquitous that it wasn’t worth it for most of us to buy Apple. In recent years, though, Microsoft seems to have lost its business acumen as well. Whether it’s because Bill Gates and Paul Allen have moved on to other endeavors, satisfaction with the status quo, or the constraints that various anti-trust suits have put around their old model, they’ve made it much harder to justify buying their products.

My guess is that I won’t bother with Windows 7 until and unless we get new machines at the office. I’m certainly not willing to go through such a radical installation routine to test out a new operating system when the existing one more-or-less suits my needs. Let alone do so on two PCs and a notebook. Especially when I’d still have XP at work, forcing me to have two different workflows.

UPDATE:   My summary that Mossberg finds Windows 7 “every bit as good as Apple’s Snow Leopard” elides some subtle distinctions.  Here’s what he says in full:

In recent years, I, like many other reviewers, have argued that Apple’s Mac OS X operating system is much better than Windows. That’s no longer true. I still give the Mac OS a slight edge because it has a much easier and cheaper upgrade path; more built-in software programs; and far less vulnerability to viruses and other malicious software, which are overwhelmingly built to run on Windows.

Now, however, it’s much more of a toss-up between the two rivals. Windows 7 beats the Mac OS in some areas, such as better previews and navigation right from the taskbar, easier organization of open windows on the desktop and touch-screen capabilities. So Apple will have to scramble now that the gift of a flawed Vista has been replaced with a reliable, elegant version of Windows.

So, he slightly prefers Snow Leopard but thinks they’re in the same league and Windows has some advantages.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anon says:

    I agree that this is a business acumen issue, but probably not quite in the way that one might think. Almost certainly, MS wanted to make it possible to upgrade directly from XP. It’s almost certainly technical issues that are preventing this.

    Technical decisions are not made in a vacuum, however. They are always made in the context of business issues. So that is why, ultimately, technical issues are still the consequence of business acumen.

  2. Triumph says:

    I’m certainly not willing to go through such a radical installation routine to test out a new operating system when the existing one more-or-less suits my needs.

    You ever mess around with Linux? Its *almost* getting to the point where you can get by without Windows–but my main problem is that there are a few specialized software vendors who insist on it.

    I use all three OS–Apple is OK, but their hardware is lame from a performance standpoint. They are nearly as bad as Microsoft in their insistence on using their entire suite of products.

  3. I found the upgrade to Snow Leopard exhausting as well. You know what I had to do? I had to push the “Upgrade Now” button. Then I had to drink a beer. And then my computer worked perfectly and all my stuff was right where I left it.

    Why do you people put up with Microsoft?

  4. DC Loser says:

    I have only had my Macbook with Leopard for a few months, but have been very impressed with its tight software/hardware integration, and generally with how well it just works. No incompatability issues, no inexplicable crashes, computer freezes requiring multiple reboots, etc. I’ll suck it up and pay my $29 to get the Snow Leopard upgrade. Now, my creaky XP desktop is on its last legs, and I’ll wait for Win7 to come out before I get a replacement. Now, if I can only convince the boss (wife) to replace that with a Mac Mini.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Why do you people put up with Microsoft?

    Nowadays, the reasons are less obvious, since Apple now runs most Windows software apps. Still, Windows’ ubiquity is a major selling point. I either need to replace my two PCs and laptop with Apple machines — at a monopoly based premium price — and then live with the fact that I’m still on Windows XP at work, or I use XP everywhere and have a seamless work process.

    Since you’re self-employed, you don’t need to worry about that as much. Even then, not all that long ago, you probably had to cope with the fact that your publisher or editor or someone along the chain was using Office and could not read your files and you couldn’t read theirs. That’s changed only recently.

  6. McGehee says:

    Has Apple come up with a Mac OS that can be installed on a PC designed for Windows?

    If so, they need to make more noise about it. If not, maybe they should.

  7. odograph says:

    It’s generally easier just to plan your computer purchases around the MS release schedule. I bought this notebook the last month XP was standard … and it will last a while. I have Win7 beta on an old Dell (originally XP). I plan to buy a new PC when the beta expires (that’s 4+ years life on that PC), and put the old Dell aside as an extra box for UNIX/Linux development.

    I was a Mac guy, from 1984 until System-8, which put me off finally. I’ve dabbled with Linux and Win since … never really brought myself to pay the premium for another Mac. I tend to run $400-600 PCs.

    As an aside, I think Win7 is the first MS OS that I can actually call “pleasant.”

  8. Triumph says:

    Has Apple come up with a Mac OS that can be installed on a PC designed for Windows?

    Snow Leopard is designed for intel chips so you can do this relatively easily.

    I haven’t tried it, but since the main problem with Macs is their sluggish and overpriced hardware, it might be worth a try.

    Here’s the dummies guide:

  9. sam says:

    Has Apple come up with a Mac OS that can be installed on a PC designed for Windows?

    Yeah, well, as Triumph pointed out, MacOS runs on Intel chips. The dirty little secret is that Mac made a port of the OS to Intel chips, when Macs were running on non-Intel chips (Motorola), and it ran much faster on the Intel hardware.

    If Apple hadn’t had such an elitist stick up its ass, it could have conquered the desktop years ago. I recall reading a piece by Guy Kawasaki, the Mac evangelist, on why the PC beat the Mac. Basically, he said, the PC was good enough for the tasks needed to be done, and a lot cheaper. That the Mac was a better machine didn’t really matter, in the end — the PC was good enough.

  10. sam says:

    Ah, should have been clearer: That was the old OS, not the new sorta-Nix-based OS, that ran faster on Intel chips.

  11. anjin-san says:

    it’s every bit as good as Apple’s Snow Leopard.

    It was a long day. I needed a laugh 🙂

  12. DC Loser says:


    I reread the Mossberg article, and nowhere does he claim that Windows 7 is “every bit as good as Apple’s Snow Leopard.” His only reference to SL is that Win7 is an evolutionary upgrade to Windows just like SL is to Leopard, and that it incorporates some features like you find in SL like the Dock Expose.

    Having been a longtime reader of Mossberg, I know he’s a big fan of the Mac and its OS. While I understand his enthusiasm for Win 7 after the Vista debacle, he doesn’t say anywhere that it’s every bit as good as the Apple OS. I guess you’ll have to play with both to come to a judgment.