Worth the switch?

According to many reviewers of the new OS, Windows 7 is more than just a fix for Vista (even though both share the same basic platform). Among its new features are improved usability, windows-management tricks, and the much-touted Jump Lists–pop-up menus that can be summoned with a right mouse click on a taskbar icon.

[Click to see a video of Scott Thompson, academic solutions specialist at Microsoft, demonstrate the features of Windows 7.]

Kai Schmerer of ZDNet Germany recently compared all three systems–XP, Vista, and Windows 7–to create a series of detailed comparison charts. In his conclusion, Schmerer notes that Windows 7 “performs better than Vista and is also faster than XP, although XP remains more capable for devices with limited memory and outdated graphics.”

He goes on to liken using Windows 7 to “…releasing a car’s handbrake. This significant increase in performance has several causes: faster system startup and shutdown compared to XP and Vista; improved parallel processing; and faster loading of drivers and operating system components. Enterprise users will also appreciate the faster login to a domain. Microsoft has also thoroughly revised the SuperFetch feature, which results in quicker operational readiness after startup. Anyone migrating from Vista will notice a reduction in disk activity after startup, because SuperFetch spends less time loading applications into memory in Windows 7, which means less waiting for the system to be ready to use after launch.”

He continued: “In Windows 7, Microsoft has succeeded in providing an OS that’s likely to meet the performance requirements of consumers and business users alike. The early signs are that Windows 7 will enjoy a much better take-up than Vista. Of our three test platforms, only the low-end Intel Atom-based system is not really suitable for Windows 7. But even a single-core processor such as a 1.4GHz Core 2 Solo is sufficient to deliver smooth performance under Windows 7. High-end systems with quad-core processors also benefit from Windows 7, because many of the operating-system functions exploit the computing power of multi-core chips.”

What school IT folks are saying

With many schools still using XP, but Windows 7 promising so much, school technology chiefs appear to have mixed feelings about upgrading.

Christopher Dawson, technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in northern Massachusetts and a prolific ed-tech blogger, believes that even with the addition of XP Mode, “for many schools the move to Windows 7 simply won’t happen, because budgets have dried up completely and neither hardware nor software refreshes are happening. Where it does happen, it’s not going to be because of virtualized XP.”

Dawson notes that not switching would be a shame, however, because “it’s time to move on to a more secure and stable OS with both modern inner workings as well as a modern interface. Whether that’s some flavor of [Linux] or Windows 7, educational institutions need to leave XP behind.”

In an interview with eSchool News, Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas, said his district is “actively investigating many options with regard to our desktop OS, and … Windows 7 is one of those options,” despite the challenges of upgrading from XP.

According to Hirsch, more than 95 percent of Plano’s 34,000 PCs use the Windows XP operating system. The other 5 percent use Mac OS X or Linux. Because Hirsch’s district supports a large enterprise, however, “upgrading to Windows 7 would be a straightforward process,” he said. “We create an image on a master computer and then duplicate that image to the 34,000 PCs. In this case, straightforward does not mean quick, simply that we perform that process of re-imaging each year, so the process is already established.”

Hirsch believes districts without a formal imaging process in place likely will purchase computers with Windows 7 much as they purchased Vista computers. Districts that aren’t planning new hardware purchases probably will not upgrade right away, he said.

Another factor for schools might be the release date of Windows 7, which is slated for the end of October. That’s good for the Christmas market but bad for schools, because October is well past when most schools make their PC purchasing decisions for the new school year.

“The most interesting segment to watch will be the netbook group,” said Hirsch. “Given that you can install a Mac OS already on Intel Atom-based netbooks, certainly Apple will enter this fray soon; and with Google’s Chrome OS looming, along with established Ubuntu and related Linux distributions, the netbook segment could be quite a mixture [of available operating systems].”


Microsoft’s Windows 7

Microsoft’s XP Mode

Christopher Dawson’s blog

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Empowering Education Through Technology resource center. Integrating technology into the classroom can be a challenge without the right guidance. Go to: Empowering Education Through Technology