Is Windows 7 worth it?

We went to the launch of Windows 7 this week, and ‘simplicity, speed and fun’ were the big buzz words. Wait – fun? Yes, that’s right, Mr Gates has finally realised that consumers like a little more than stark functionality.

And it does have nice little quirks to make the user-experience more enjoyable, such as being able to ‘shake’ a window to make others immediately shrink down, which is proving very popular among early users.

But small business owners need more than just bring-a-smile gimmicks to justify spending upwards of £189 on a new operating system (which is the cost of an upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, the one you want if you're going to take the plunge).

So we’ll level with you. Windows 7 isn’t a complete revolution. But it is quicker and slicker than previous versions. And if time spent on a computer is of the essence for the way you work, it’s well worth a look.

It powers up and shuts down your computer or laptop much, much quicker than previous versions, and lets you access applications and the internet faster too. It also has nice functions such as being able to click two different windows side by side to take up half the screen each instantly (called 'snap'), rather than having to faff about resizing when you want to compare two windows.

You can search your whole system – and your office’s server too – quicker than we’ve ever seen on Vista or XP too.

Microsoft has also worked on making the work-life crossover more seamless, and this was another big focus at the launch. Windows 7 has been built to do things like detecting which printer it should be using automatically according to whether you’re at home or in the office, and enables media to be moved between different devices relatively easily.

It’s also been designed to be less irritating – or so goes the hope. Microsoft employees spoke with relief and enthusiasm about there being less pop-ups and better behind-the-scenes security, meaning less interruptions for your work.

Windows 7 also crashes far, far, far less than Vista (affectionately referred to as ‘the one we don’t like to talk about’ by a Microsoft employee at the launch thanks to its spontaneous restarts). One tech journo who’s been trialling Windows 7 for the last seven months or so ebulliently explained to us he’d only had one slight crash-like hitch in that whole period, and he was pretty sure even that was down to a dodgy download he was doing.

So – so far so good. The only real quibbles we’ve picked up on are with the upgrade process, though those who’ve encountered problems seem to forgive them once they discover make-it-easier steps in the same process.

If you’re on Vista, your upgrade is likely to be relatively seamless according to the BBC, but you can run into problems with older computers. The install can take up to 11 hours, but leave it running overnight and you’ll be fine.

Upgrading from XP got a glowing report from the BBC, and had been well received elsewhere too, despite the need to do a ‘clean’ install and uninstall all your applications and backup all data before loading up 7.

Whether it’s worth investing £189.99 (for an upgrade) or £219.99 (for a completely new version) for all this very much depends on how much you use a computer for your business. Windows 7 may only save you a few minutes day – or up to 10 or 15 if you use it all day – but those minutes add up. An hour or two a week saved on waiting for programmes to load up can make a pretty big difference. And if you handle sensitive data, the increased security of Windows 7 will also be a strong draw.

Of course, if you’re using Vista at the moment, you may well want to upgrade as soon as possible just to safeguard yourself against those pain-in-the-backside crashes that can see hours of work or carefully drafted emails completely vanish.

It’s worth talking to a shop assistant if any of the above has sparked interest for you. PC World is acting as commercial partner to Windows for the launch and has some great offers on, on new computers and laptops with Windows 7 ready-installed as well as on just the software. And there are plenty of reviews online to help you out too.

We'll be uplaoding our Professional version sharpish so keep your eyes on @smartaHQ on Twitter to find out more.

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