SocketHop explains technology affairs to the technologically-impaired.

Today marks the public release of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 7.  There’s a lot of information and a lot of technical details flying around the web, so we’ve tried to distill it down into a chunk of need-to-know information.

What is Windows 7?

Windows 7 is the newest version of the Windows operating system from Microsoft.  The “7” signifies that, with a little magic counting, it is the seventh version to be released.  It comes out barely three years after Windows Vista, the much-maligned successor to the still-popular Windows XP.

Is it as bad as Vista?

Almost all reviews call Windows 7 a variation of “Vista done right.”  Rather than a massive overhaul, Windows 7 improved the good parts of

Windows Vista and redid the clunky parts.  Microsoft decided to douse the public relations fire that raged after Vista and created a solid operating system, instead of playing a game of lengthen-the-features-checklist.

What’s new in Windows 7?

In short, it’s less annoying and more intuitive.  A major complaint with Windows Vista was the constant interference of User Account Control, which was designed to keep your systems settings safe.  However, it turned out that no one appreciated double-confirming every action they wanted to take.

The task bar (the menu at the bottom of the screen) is much more Apple-like, showing program icons instead of names.  Features such as jump lists (shortcuts to commonly-used tasks) and libraries (collections of related files that reside in different locations) will definitely save this Bwogger a lot of clicking.  Power management and wireless network connectivity were improved.  In addition, Windows 7 is less of a resource hog than Vista was, and some tests even show it taking 20% less time to boot up.

Check out Lifehacker’s Complete Guide to Windows 7 for a long list of features and enhancements.

How do I get it?

If you’re a student, you’re entitled to one upgrade copy of Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional (it officially comes in seven editions with various features) for a mere $29 by clicking here.  

If you bought a computer over the summer with Vista installed, you’re most likely eligible for a free upgrade.  Check with your computer manufacturer by visiting their web site.

Otherwise, you can buy it from most retailers that deal in computers, such as Staples or Amazon.  If you’re upgrading all your family computers, Microsoft is offering a three-copy family pack of Home Premium for $149, saving you about $200.

Should I get it?

That’s really up to you.  If you’re still on Windows XP, it might be time for an upgrade.  Be aware that you can only upgrade in place (i.e., without deleting all your data) along certain paths.  Upgrading from XP requires a clean install.

Use Microsoft’s upgrade checker to make sure that your software and hardware are compatible with Windows 7.  In addition to using this tool, check the web sites of your hardware manufacturers for information.  Older software might be able to run in 7’s “XP Mode,” available in the Professional edition.  For older hardware, it’s hit-or-miss.

If you want to learn more, all tech websites have pages upon pages of information.  Try CNET, Tom’s Hardware (forums), and ArsTechnica to start.

– AB

Photos via Wikipedia