Later this month, you'll have the opportunity to purchase a shiny new copy of Windows 7, but will you make the investment in it or will you wait for Windows 8? Most likely, you've created dependencies on Windows XP over the past eight years, and it's going to be hard to move away from it. You knew this day would come, but there is a glimmer of hope with Windows 7, in that it's what Vista should have been: Better than XP.
Windows 7 is part of the new age of Microsoft operating systems that includes Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V. It's better designed, less of a hardware resource glutton than its predecessor and ready to run on the newest hardware even Netbooks something you'd never attempt with Vista.
Windows 7 Investment
You probably don't consider your switch to Windows 7 an investment, but that's exactly what it is. You'll invest time and money in the upgrade and, depending on where you are now with your current Windows versions, it could be a significant investment in both. If you're using Windows XP, there's no easy upgrade path to Windows 7, which is a poor choice on Microsoft's part, I believe. Your best move is to make a backup of your documents and data, wipe the hard drive and start from scratch with a fresh installation. Those who "upgraded" to Vista will have a smooth transition during the upgrade. That said, you should still make a backup before attempting the upgrade. If you currently use Vista, I'd do the right thing, wipe the disk and perform a fresh install, removing all remnants of Vista's demons from the system.
Either new computers will arrive with Windows 7 pre-installed or you'll receive a voucher for a free upgrade. Financial setback for each copy of 7 is about $200 for Professional or Ultimate Upgrade and around $300 for the full versions. It's worth the extra hundred bucks to rid yourself of any software weirdness or pre-existing condition that's plagued you for the past few years. Windows 7 takes about 15 minutes to install from first boot to first login, so the time requirement for a fresh install is minimal. Don't bother wiping the disk prior to booting from the Windows 7 DVD; the installer prompts you to upgrade or install fresh, which then wipes the disk for you prior to installation.
Windows XP Mode
Windows XP Mode (XPM) is for those who reach to the future but yearn for the past. It's also for those of who have to get some actual work done post migration to Windows 7 because it's possible your favorite non-Microsoft applications won't work so well on Windows 7. XPM is a free for Windows 7 Ultimate, Enterprise or Professional users download that enables you to run your applications on an XP virtual machine.
Microsoft views XPM as a safety net, not as a crutch for early adopters. The company knows how good XP is, hence the transition option.
Windows XP to 7 Solutions
If migrating completely to Windows 7 doesn't give you the warm fuzzy feelings Microsoft wants it to, you still have options. You can dip your toe into the icy unknown Windows 7 waters by purchasing a few copies for your office guinea pigs to try out until you feel you're ready to go "all in" with 7. You can "upgrade" to Windows Vista and hope for the best until Windows 8 hits the market in two to three years. Or, you can convert everything to Windows 7 and create a few Windows XP virtual machines on your virtual host machine for running those "legacy" applications. You do have a virtual infrastructure setup for such things don't you?
If none of these options particularly appeals to you, you're not alone. I'd suggest keeping a Windows XP computer or two around for a while until you wean yourself off of XP's familiar sweetness.
So, why bother at all with the time and money required to upgrade to Windows 7? Microsoft, after all, extended partial support for Windows XP until 2014. If you aren't buying new computers or software any time soon, sticking with XP for a while longer isn't a bad choice. Newer hardware calls for a newer operating system to power it and take advantage of its capabilities. You might find yourself disabling all the good stuff on the new system just to keep your beloved XP.
Think of it like this: You don't keep your old car around for sentimental reasons after you've bought a new one. You pay, you drive off the lot and you enjoy that new car smell. Oh, you might take a peek at the old one in the rear view mirror, but you keep driving forward with your eyes on the road in front of you. Windows 7? Definitely a keeper.
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.