Well, Windows 7 is finally here. The question is, with full retail versions going for $199, $299 and $319, is it worth the cost and which do I need Premium, Professional or Ultimate?
My emphatic answer is that if you’re into media, you definitely want to make the switch. The native support for Blu-Ray and AVCHD files makes Windows 7 a pleasure to work with. Plus, Windows Media Player now supports AAC music files, so your entire iTunes library will seamlessly integrate into Media Center. The beautifully designed media center will also then work with your Xbox 360 to stream movies and music to other rooms. It all works great.
If you just need Windows running on your home network, you’re going to be perfectly happy with Premium, the most affordable version of the bunch. However, if you have key applications that need to run in XP, Professional has a virtual XP environment, which works very well, and can run your apps. Network backup is also built into Professional. The big difference between Professional and Ultimate is language support. During my testing with Win7 Release Candidate, it must have installed 15 different language support packs. Personally, I have no use for that, so I’ll most likely go with Professional.
If you decide at any time, you need more Windows Power, Microsoft sells cheaper stand-alone upgrade packages to upgrade Premium to Pro or Ultimate and Pro to Ultimate, so you won’t have to buy the entire software package again. If you’re on a budget, you might want to go with Premium for now and wait for prices to fall on the upgrades.
Now the smartest users were the ones who jumped on the pre-sale upgrade price of $49. That price ended in July, and I’m kicking myself for not jumping on that bargain. However, there are a few ways to get around paying the full retail value.
The most obvious way is to buy the upgrade. If you have a licensed copy of XP or Vista, you can upgrade. This is the route I’ll be taking. However, be aware that just because it’s called an “upgrade,” if you’re switching from a 32-bit system to a 64-bit system, which I highly recommend you do, you will still have to do a clean install. Upgrade versions comes in at $119, $199, and $219. You can also get a 3-license family Premium upgrade pack for $149 – which is definitely the best deal around. Unfortunately of the three computers in my house, only one has enough power to run Windows 7.
In Vista, users found a loophole in which you could install an upgrade version of Vista on a new machine, but not activate it since Microsoft gives you 30 days of use before activation is required. Then they would install Vista again as an upgrade on top of itself and activate it. It detected the un-activated version as being a previously licensed version of Windows. However, I’m willing to bet that Microsoft has been smart enough to close that loophole in Windows 7.
However, fear not. If you can’t upgrade, there is still another alternative to paying full retail. Both Fry's and Newegg.com carry Windows 7 for System Builders. These are discounted versions meant for sale to small retail companies that build and sell computers. The catch with the system builder versions is that the builder becomes responsible for Windows support after the machine is sold to the end user. However, if you built your own machine, you're the one who is supporting it anyway. Now, how this affects the support and help you might get from Microsoft as the system builder, I don’t know. Personally, I’ve never had to contact Microsoft for help on anything, so it doesn’t worry me, but if you think you’re going to need support, this is not the route for you. The system builder versions come in at $109, $149 and $189.
Having worked with the Beta and Release Candidates, I was sent the invite to be a Windows 7 launch party host. I took a pass as nobody comes to my parties. I kind of wish I’d done it just for the free copy of Windows Ultimate, but one of my friends has taken up the challenge, so depending on how exciting/unexciting the Porsche Panamera Event is this evening, I may get the chance to stop by the launch party and snap a few photos of the Microsoft-induced festivities.