Windows 7 is here, and a new operating system makes for a raft of new questions. While you could certainly spend your days plugging away at Google for the answers, Icrontic has made it easy for you by putting all of them in one place.
This FAQ covers questions related to Windows 7’s development, editions, licensing, installation, features and applications. This is a living document, which means it will be updated frequently with questions we find, and questions you ask of us. Questions which can be concretely answered will be added to this guide, while questions with multiple variables will be answered in the comments as they come.
Without further ado, let’s get down to business.
Q: When did Windows 7 begin development?
A: There is no precise date, but estimates place the beginning around Vista’s release in January of 2007.
Q: What was Windows 7’s codename?
A: Windows 7.
Q: I thought Windows 7 was codenamed Vienna?
A: Windows 7 is based on the Vienna project, which itself was based on the hugely-delayed Blackcomb project. However, Vienna was renamed to Windows 7 when development began in 2007.
Q: How long was Windows 7 in development?
A: Windows 7 was in development for approximately 30 months.
Q: Was the development period considered very long?
A: With respect to Vista’s six-year development cycle, 30 months is lightning fast. In fact, it’s a timetable that has caused people to accuse Windows 7 of being a Windows Vista service pack. That accusation is fairly groundless, however, as Windows XP was recognized as a radical step for Windows, and it was only in development for 18 months.
Q: Who oversaw the development of Windows 7?
A: Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft President of the Windows Division.
Q: What versions of Windows 7 were offered to the public?
A: Microsoft offered three versions of Windows 7 to the public.
Q: But weren’t there other versions for download?
A: Yes. Microsoft compiled a total of 313 builds of Windows 7, 14 of which were leaked after the January 9 Beta.
Q: What are the different editions of Windows 7?
A: Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, and Windows 7 Enterprise.
Q: Why are there so many different editions?
A: Starter and Home Basic were designed for emerging markets with economies that may not be as robust as those found in North America or Europe. Enterprise is strictly for businesses looking to buy a large number of licenses at a time. The remaining editions (Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate) allow the consumer to buy Windows 7 without paying for unneeded features.
Q: I only see Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate at stores. Why is that?
A: Microsoft has chosen to focus only on these versions in North America and Europe.
Q: How do the editions of Windows 7 differ?
A: Each version includes and builds upon the features offered in the lesser versions. The following table illustrates the major feature differences between the versions, but there are other, more subtle differences as well.
Q: Which edition of Windows 7 is right for me?
A: Unless you know for certain that you need one of the features in a higher version of Windows 7, Home Premium is most likely the best choice. Indeed, most users who, for example, need to boot virtual hard drives or encrypt file systems are explicitly aware of that need, and why. However, users that use personal laptops at work or school should check with IT to see if the PC needs domain support, because Windows 7 Professional is the best choice if it does.
Lastly, know that Windows 7 Ultimate has very little value to the average Windows user. Ultimate is more appropriate for corporate environments which have a large number of satellite users which must be able to seamlessly check in and work with remote assets. If this doesn’t sound like you, steer clear of Ultimate.
Q: Okay, I know what edition I want. What’s the difference between OEM, Upgrade, Full and Family Pack?
A: These are license types. Each type is priced differently because each one has different restrictions that are detailed in the following questions.
Q: What is a Full license?
A: A Full license allows a user to perform a clean installation of Windows 7 without any stipulations. A Full license may only be installed on one computer at a time. It is legal to move this license to a new PC, or to reinstall the OS when the motherboard has been changed. It is not necessary for the user to own any prior copy of Windows.
Full licenses ship with installation media for 32-bit and 64-bit installations.
Q: What is an OEM license?
A: OEM licenses come pre-installed on a new PC, or are purchased by system builders to bundle with new PCs. OEM licenses are Full editions restricted by a non-transference clause which states that the OS may only ever be installed on one computer. It is not legal to move an OEM license to a new PC. It is also not legal to reinstall the operating system if a new motherboard with a different chipset is installed.
OEM licenses ship with installation media for 32-bit or 64-bit. You must purchase two separate DVDs if you want both ISAs.
Q: What is an Upgrade license?
A: An upgrade license allows a user to perform a clean installation of Windows provided he or she owns a valid, licensed copy of Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista. An Upgrade license may only be installed on one computer at a time. It is legal to move this license to a new PC, or to reinstall the OS when the motherboard has been changed. Once Windows 7 has been installed, it is not legal to use the valid copy of Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista on another system.
Note that if an Upgrade license is used to upgrade an OEM installation, the non-transference clause of the OEM license applies. It is not legal to install and then upgrade the OEM copy on another PC, or after a motherboard swap.
Upgrade licenses are cheaper because they do not allow a user to run more copies of Windows than they already own. Windows 7 has taken the place of another version of Windows. On the other hand, think of Upgrade licenses as something of a buyer loyalty program for those who have bought into Windows in the past.
Upgrade licenses ship with installation media for 32-bit and 64-bit installations.
Q: What is a Family Pack license?
A: A Family Pack license is three Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade licenses. All the rules and restrictions of an Upgrade license applies to the Family Pack, but it is an economical option for users who have to upgrade several computers.
Q: Which license is best for me?
A: That really depends:
- If you do not plan to upgrade the motherboard or replace the PC, an OEM license is the best choice.
- If you plan to upgrade or replace the PC and/or you have a prior copy of Windows that is not an OEM license, the Upgrade license is the best choice.
- If you own an OEM license for a prior copy of Windows, plan to upgrade/replace the PC, or do not own a prior copy of Windows, the Full license is the best choice.
- If you have multiple PCs to upgrade and your needs are met by Windows 7 Home Premium, a Family Pack license is the most economical choice.
Q: I’ve heard that I can’t get an Upgrade license in Europe. Is this true?
A: Not any more. Though Microsoft was not originally prepared to sell Upgrade licenses in Europe as a result of a dispute with the European Union, this situation has since been resolved. Users who pre-ordered Windows 7 prior to the end of the dispute received Full licenses at Upgrade prices. This program is no longer available, but Microsoft is now offering discounts on Upgrade licenses until December 31.
Q: How is Windows 7 priced?
A: The following chart offers a price breakdown. Please note that many of the European prices are only valid until December 31. This chart will be changed when Microsoft revises European Windows 7 pricing to reflect the resolution of their dispute with the European Union. Please also note that European prices tend to vary, so users are encouraged to check multiple vendors.
Q: Can I upgrade from the Windows 7 Release Candidate?
A: Yes you can, but this method is not supported by Microsoft.
Q: How does the upgrade process work with an Upgrade license?
A: Paul Thurrott has an excellent article which dissects the perks and pitfalls of performing an installation with an Upgrade license.
Q: Can I install the Windows 7 Release Candidate, and then use an Upgrade license to install Windows 7?
A: Yes, it is theoretically possible to do that. This is called the double-install trick.
Q: Can I perform a clean installation of Windows 7 with only an Upgrade disc, and no prior version of Windows?
A: Yes you can, but it’s forbidden according to the Windows 7 EULA. Microsoft has, on the other hand, publicly and privately turned a blind eye to this practice.
Q: Can I upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7?
A: Not directly. Windows XP is not an eligible upgrade target for Windows 7, which means Windows 7 cannot replace and take the settings/files from your Windows XP install. You must back up your user data and start with a fresh installation of Windows 7. It is advised that you reformat your Windows XP partition from the Windows 7 installer to avoid any complications or conflicts. Be absolutely sure your important data has been backed up before doing this.
Q: Can I upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7?
A: Yes, Windows Vista can be upgraded to Windows 7. All of your files and settings will be retained in the process.
Q: I’ve heard my computer must be 64-bit in order to use Windows 7 x64. Is this true? How do I check?
A: Yes, the processor in your PC must be 64-bit in order to use a 64-bit installation of Windows 7. To check, download CPU-Z and look for EM64T or x86-64 in the “Instructions” box. Examples have been circled in the following image.
Q: How do I choose between 64-bit or 32-bit?
A: Full and Upgrade licenses of Windows 7 come with discs for both. OEM licenses can only be bought with one or the other.
Q: Which should I choose? 32 or 64?
A: Windows7Forums offers an excellent analysis which answers this question in detail. In our opinion, it is best to try Windows 7 64-bit first, then try 32-bit if you encounter issues. The driver and manufacturer ecosystem surrounding Windows 7 64-bit is very strong, so only users with very old applications or hardware should encounter issues.
Q: How do I switch from 64-bit to 32-bit if I run into problems?
A: Windows 7 must be erased and reinstalled from the 32-bit installation media.
Q: How much space should I give to a Windows 7 partition?
B: A 30GB partition is more than ample if you’re careful to install all programs and save all files to a secondary partition. This is a good practice to follow as it minimizes the risk of lost files in the event of an unavoidable reformat. It also significantly decreases the amount of time needed to reformat the PC as only email, saved games, and the browser configuration must be backed up.
Q: What anti-virus application should I use on Windows 7?
A: We strongly recommend Avira AntiVir. Several studies have proven it is one of the most effective antivirus apps in the world, and it also happens to be free.
Q: Should I run a firewall on Windows 7?
A: Users who have their computers connected to a router should not run a software firewall application. Users who are connected directly to the Internet should get a router. No, this is not a sarcastic suggestion.
Q: What version of DirectX is included with Windows 7?
A: Windows 7 uses DirectX 11, and is backwards-compatible with all prior DirectX levels.
Q: I’ve heard it’s best to use an SSD with Windows 7. Why is that?
A: An SSD’s total size is composed of thousands of smaller units called “blocks,” which average about 512k these days. SSDs deliberately try to spread written data across all of these blocks so as not to prematurely wear out the memory chips, which can only accept a limited number of writes. This technique is called wear leveling. Over time, wear leveling guarantees that every block on the SSD will become filled with a hodgepodge of active and deleted data. Once this happens, new writes force the drive to perform an intensive process called the read/erase/modify/write cycle.
An REMW cycle forces an SSD to scan its blocks for deleted files, copy active data to cache, purge the deleted files, append the new data to the data in cache, and then write the cache back to the new free space. This is called write amplification, and in serious cases, it can force an SSD to shuffle up to 20GB of data just to write 1GB of new information. This causes significant performance issues for SSDs.
The solution to this problem is to let SSDs physically erase files the moment they are deleted in the OS, and that is precisely what the TRIM command does. Windows 7 is the only Microsoft OS that supports it, and it must be used with a TRIM-compatible drive like the OCZ Vertex, G.SKILL Falcon and the Intel X25-M G2.
Q: A program I tried to install said that Windows 7 was Windows Vista. Why?
A: At the heart of every copy of Windows lies a piece of software called the kernel. The kernel can best be thought of as the brain of the operating system; everything ultimately plugs into and depends on it. The kernels in all recent versions of Windows are ultimately based on the groundwork laid by Windows NT 4.0 which, perhaps unsurprisingly, used kernel version 4.0. Windows Vista subsequently used kernel version 6.0, and Windows 7 uses version 6.1 for compatibility reasons (it was supposed to be 7.0).
Many installers use these kernel versions to detect what operating system the program is being installed on. Unfortunately, installers often only check the first digit of the kernel version. This means that many installers assume that Windows 7 (NT 6.x) is Windows Vista (NT 6.x). The solution is to use two-digit version checking to identify Windows 7, but many installers will not be updated to do this for quite some time.
Q: There are shortcuts for Internet Explorer 32-bit and Internet Explorer 64-bit in my start menu! Which one do I use?
A: Use the 32-bit version. IE64 cannot use many common browser plugins that allow sites like YouTube to function. On the other hand, IE64 can be more secure when Adobe Flash is not required.