Windows 7 forever! Why Windows 7 is the next XP

Windows XP's most beloved factors are also driving Windows 7 to long-lasting stardom, even for Windows 8 adopters

We love Windows 7: That's the message loud and clear from people this week at the TechMentor Conference held at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. With Windows XP reaching end of life for support in April 2014, the plan for most organizations is to upgrade -- to Windows 7.

Although Windows 8 has reached its final version (the RTM, or release-to-manufacturing, version) and will be publicly available on Oct. 26, the plan for most organizations is to upgrade to Windows 7. It's a win for Microsoft either way. It's not like companies are dropping Windows in the enterprise for Macs (not in bulk anyway, though there seems to be more Macs in the workplace than ever before).

[ Ready to make the move from Windows XP to Windows 7? Windows migration expert Rhonda Layfield shows you how. | Serdar Yegulalp shows you how to take advantage of Windows 8's key capabilities. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

But it does indicate a repeat of history for what we've seen with Windows releases, the original-cast "Star Trek" movie pattern where every other version was beloved and the ones in between decidely not so. In Windows' history, Windows 95, Windows XP, and Windows 7 were loved; Windows ME, Windows Vista, and now Windows 8 (at least by reviewers) were hated. (Windows 98 was essentially a minor upgrade to Windows 95, and Windows 2000 was essentially a niche corporate version in its era, so neither counts.)

But what do we actually love about Windows 7? Sometimes it's easier to see its charms (no pun intended) when looking back from the newest OS. For me, Windows 8 has crystalized the five Windows 7 features I love most.

1. The user interface
With a dramatic UI change in Windows 8, I love the UI of Windows 7 -- especially its Start Orb and Start Menu -- more than ever. Keep in mind it's not as tablet- or touchscreen-friendly as I'd like -- Windows 8 certainly has it beat in that regard. However, Windows 7's UI is comfortable, and rolling out Windows 7 won't have your users cursing your name as they will if you spring the Windows 8 UI on them.

2. The security enhancements
Although Windows 8 comes with great security features like picture passwords and malware-protected secure boot if you have a UEFI system, let's not forget that Windows 7 provided a much better -- by far -- set of security features than XP. For example, the Windows 7 Action Center offers immediate access to information about the security and maintenance of your system. The UAC slider lets you take your system security levels into your own hands and take it to superstrong (the Vista setting) but not crazy levels with UAC pop-ups (the default Windows 7 setting); you can even completely shut down the security settings and fly blind, aka the Mac setting. Kidding -- Mac people love that joke at conferences. For home users, Windows 7 has parental controls built right in.

3. The ease of networking
If you've been around long enough to remember the days of Windows NT 4.0 networking (or Windows 95/98 networking), you still flinch in pain from memories of the many sleepless nights you spent gathering drivers, worrying about protocol options, and so forth. XP was better, but still not easy. By contrast, it's easy to get your system connected with Windows 7. With features like HomeGroups, home users and small businesses can share printers nearly without effort compared to the previous versions.

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