Craig LamsonI would like to introduce Craig Lamson. Craig has been a professional product photographer for over 3 decades.  Craig has done it all and I encourage you to check out his website for the best product photography you’ll ever have the privilege of viewing.  Often times I can spend a great amount of time viewing just one of his images and learning while observing how he uses light.  Craig is a master of light, and I’m afraid that is an understatement.  If you've ever wondered who I go to when I have a question you now have your answer.





By now the net is full of stories about Windows 7, some good and some bad.  I had to ask myself before writing this, do people really need someone else telling them about Windows 7?  I guess not, but I'll write it anyway.

What I’m not going to do is explain the program and the differences between it and XP or Vista.  What I want to do is describe my experience with the installation and early use.  I’ll leave the nuts and bolts to others.


Which Path?

Should you decide to do Win7 you will have two choices on how to get there…well almost…since if you are upgrading from XP you only have one choice.  Let me explain.

Computers that are running Vista can run an in-place upgrade, providing it is version to version. If you are using Vista Home Premium 32 bit, you can do an upgrade to W7 Home Premium 32 bit.  Same with Vista Home 64 bit to W7 Home 64 bit, and on down the line with the various Windows versions. 

If you are moving to a different version of windows like Vista Home 32 to Win7 Home 64 bit you will need a clean install.


The In-Place Upgrade

This is a very good way to move to W7 as it leaves all your programs and documents untouched. You just upgrade and go.

If you choose this method, be sure to run the Windows Upgrade Advisor, available from Microsoft.

This is important.  The Advisor will check your computer from top to bottom and see what, if any, problems you might have with hardware, drivers and programs.  Trust it.  If you find faults, be prepared to do the research to find the solutions.  The most common fault will be drivers.  Windows7 will do a pretty good job of finding the drivers needed at install but you might need to update a few yourself.

As a general rule, most newer computers (two years old or so) will do well with an upgrade to W7.  If you are upgrading a laptop make sure to visit the manufacturer's website and see if they have created a drivers package for the W7 upgrade.  Laptops are a bit different than most desktops in that they often have special software and drivers to support specific functions.  Please, look and read before you leap.


The Clean Install

A clean install is just what it says.  It wipes your hard drive clean of all documents, programs and the OS and start fresh, by installing only the new W7 OS.

This is a massive and final move.  Once you do it, there is no going backwards.  You must back up your documents if you want to keep them.

Again Microsoft has provided great documentation for doing a clean install from XP to W7;

They even have a tool to help you move your data files called Windows easy transfer.

You will need the original install disks for every program you plan on installing on your new W7 computer.  You cannot transfer programs from XP to W7.

All of this also applies to a mismatched Vista to W7 upgrade.


So, What Did I Do?

I have four computers that could handle W7 and I did two in place upgrades and two clean installs.  All four went pretty well.

The first machine I did was a Vista Home Premium 32 bit laptop in place upgrade to W7 Home premium 32 bit.  The laptop was two years old and I was able to find all the drivers needed before I did the upgrade. 

The upgrade went smoothly but at a few points I got very worried because it just seemed to stop and I was afraid it would not continue the upgrade.  A quick trip to Google from a different computer told me not to worry and just wait it out.  I did and the upgrade finished in about two hours.  The computer is working great, and I don’t see any problems thus far and I use it often.  Emboldened after a few weeks of working with it I moved onward.

Next I did a clean install on my secondary workstation from XP pro 32 to W7 Home Premium 64.  This one was a bit harder.

My plan was to remove the XP hard drive and install W7 on a brand new drive so I could have the option of dual boot.  For whatever reason I had major problems with the dual boot part and my W7 boot segment got corrupted.  I went back to just a W7 drive and a clean install and it all worked fine.  Quite frankly I don’t want to ever boot XP again.  W7 beats XP hands down!

Next I did another laptop upgrade, this time using a free W7 upgrade disk provided by the manufacturer. The laptop was the Toshiba A505 I detailed in an earlier review.  This was really smooth and flawless upgrade as all the driver files needed were included as well as some special routines to get the laptop ready.  The disk as supplied by Toshiba had it all.  This will be a pretty common procedure for laptops purchased just prior to the release of W7.

Finally, I did the last machine, my main workstation.  It too was a clean install since I went from Vista 64 Ultimate to W7 Home Premium.  I had zero problems other than the fact I had to reinstall all my programs.

As a windows user from the very beginning and having upgraded from all previous versions, I must say that this is Microsoft’s best effort yet.




Do I Like It?

Yes, I do.  I’m finding W7 to be fast and stable.  For me the new Taskbar is worth the price of admission alone.  While I’ve done no real benchmark testing, W7 seems to boot quicker than both XP and Vista and overall programs seem to start quicker. 

I found XP to be a very stable platform over the years but user interface was way long in the tooth.  I never did really warm to Vista and had many problems until SP1 was released.  But so far I really like W7 and time will tell as to stability.

There are a few things I don’t like.  First if you are a fan of using classic view, you will need to learn W7.  Classic view is a thing if the past.  I’m finally used to it but boy, it took awhile.  The other thing I really dislike is Internet Explorer 8.  It’s bad, just plain bad!




So What Should You Do?

Only you can decide. If you have a current Core 2 Duo machine, W7 should work quite well.  I also have it on a Duo Core and it runs fine.  Like Vista, a decent graphics card is required for full use of the visual delights of W7.  The upgrade advisor will tell you if your card has the stuff.

Your best bet would be an in place upgrade, which is mostly painless.  A clean install is always a good option as it cleans away all the junk that a computer accumulates over the years, but it is painful and you will need all the programs disks as well as the activation codes for each program.  I do hope you kept them all!

If nothing else W7 brings the user experience of windows into the 21 century.  Even old guys like me who find change difficult (after all if it’s not broke why fix it?) are finding the experience very pleasant indeed!


Two Last Notes

First a disclaimer.  This is a report on my personal experiences. I make no warrants or claims implied or otherwise about what your personal experience might  be with your upgrade or clean install. You undertake your personal upgrade or clean install at your own risk.

Lastly a tip.  If you have more than one computer to upgrade, take a look at the W7 home premium Three Pack.  This gives you three upgrade licenses from Microsoft for the price of one and a half!  A super deal!


Steve's Windows 7 Musings 


I'm mostly in agreement with everything Craig wrote above.  Like him I had to give ample consideration to what I could offer concerning Windows 7 that you haven't already read from someone else.  A comprehensive Windows 7 review is beyond the scope of this weekly and is not what I think readers of this weekly want.  What they want to know is if Windows 7 is worth upgrading to, what version to upgrade to, and what Windows 7 offers a digital photography workstation.  I'll try not to repeat what Craig has already covered, though some overlap can't be avoided.

Yes, without a doubt Windows 7 is worth upgrading to for almost everyone.  The footprint is small enough so you can install it on your netbook and get performance marginally better than XP, and powerful enough to manage the most modern and complex hardware.


x32 or x64

Windows 7 comes in several versions, and each version comes in x32 bit and x64 bit.  Craig already covered what can be upgraded to what in the text above.  I chose Windows 7 Ultimate x64 for all my applications.  Ultimate provides features I personally find worth the cost.  The 'Bitlocker' hard disk encryption is worth its weight in gold when traveling as much as I do, the XP Emulator ensures I can run any device or software a client might bring into my office, and Ultimate permits 'on the fly' switching of the main language so if a Thai or Korean or Japanese client is having trouble grasping a function of technique I can switch to their native language on the fly, and then back again as required.  Ultimate provides other features as well, but you'll need to sit down and evaluate your own needs and choose a version.

Today there is little reason to not run the x64 version of Windows 7.  x32 manages up to 3gigs of RAM, x64 will manage as much as your machine can hold.  With current RAM prices it makes sense to install 6-12gb of RAM and x64 will manage it well.  You might have an older machine with 3gb or less now, but the x64 version can transfer to and fully support a newer machine providing you build your own machines, or live in a country where computers often don't come with operating systems. This makes sense since Windows 7 just came out and will likely be around much longer than your current computer.  x64 drivers are largely supported, and as Craig recommends I'd run the Upgrade Advisor so you can evaluate what's available for your current hardware and then if necessary make the decision if the benefits of x64 outweigh the cost of replacing an older piece of hardware.  All newer hardware will be supported.


In-Place or Clean Install?

In the past with ALL previous versions of Windows, professionals in the know would always perform a clean install from scratch.  It was often possible depending on your configuration to do an "in-place" install, but we knew we were asking for trouble down the line if we did so.  So.. we'd suck it up and do a clean install from scratch despite the extra work involved.  In my mind, and from reading the blogosphere, in the minds of most professionals, Windows has finally evolved where an "in-place" install has more advantages to the professional than a clean install.

As a test I performed a Windows Vista x64 Ultimate to Windows 7 x64 Ultimate upgrade on my main workstation.  In-place.  I have tons of imaging and other software on my main workstation and I was certain the upgrade wouldn't translate without issues.  I popped some popcorn and popped in the Windows 7 x64 Ultimate DVD and sat back to watch the show.  Less than 2 hours later my main workstation had been fully upgraded, without a single issue, and every piece of software worked perfectly!  Software the manufacturers advised was not Windows 7 compatible was transferred over and worked perfectly.  How?  Since Vista there have been "compatibility modes" and "run as administrator" modes.  The install process enabled what was necessary and everything worked great.  I've been using my main workstation (sometimes 10+ hours daily) for several months and I've not had a single issue.  I would never have believed it.

Since, I've installed Windows 7 x64 Ultimate on two laptops, one is over 3 years old, the other over 2 years old, and I didn't have a single issue.  I have an old Pentium P4 unit sitting here gathering dust and Windows 7 Ultimate actually improved its performance.  Unlike Craig I was never a fan of XP.  I found its memory manager lacking along with other issues, and I could hardly wait to upgrade to Vista.  I was a Vista user since day one and while there were issues with Vista I was able to solve them and I immediately found Vista far preferable to XP.  No way I was going back.  If I was satisfied with Vista, I'm in love with Windows 7.  It's that good.


Windows 7 Interface

As Craig already mentioned the "Classic" mode is no longer an option.  You must learn the Windows 7 UI (user interface), and it does take some adjusting, but once you use it a few weeks you'll start to love it.  It feels right, and works even better.  It offers enhancements not possible in the old Classic mode.  My theme is pretty basic, I like a black desktop with my program icons that I use the most, and the programs I use all the time are now "pinned" to my taskbar.  These pinned program icons now work like enhanced Quick launch icons.  You can pin them to the task bar, put them in any order, launch them with a single click, and then you can right click for access to enhanced features.


Windows 7 Ultimate



Improved Aero

The Aero theme is carried over and greatly improved.  If your computer has a supported graphics card Aero will be enabled and work smoothly.  It's good to note that any video card that supports Aero, will also support Photoshop CS4's Open GL enhanced functions as well, and vise versa.  If you don't like a black desktop there are now more cool wallpapers than ever, and instead of a single Aero theme at least 8 are now offered and you can mix and match these 8 to create many more.  The Aero possibilities are endless and easy to access.  I've heard it before, "Aero doesn't offer anything and it eats system resources."  This might have been somewhat true with Vista, but with Windows 7 you'll soon find yourself enjoying and even being more productive with it's 'peek through' borders and view plates.  And a reasonably modern machine won't notice any performance hits because Aero is enabled.


Windows 7 Ultimate themes



Color Management

Color management is important in an image workstation.  Actually it's vital.  There is no longer any of the startup or other issues many had with Vista.  Color management just works.  Profile your monitors with your calibration software ensuring the profiles are saved in the appropriate Windows folder.  Disable any 'startup' loaders your software installs, and instead just add the new profiles into the Windows 7 Color Management setup area.  Upon boot your new profiles will load and be applied to the appropriate monitors.  I have three monitors and three profiles.  Windows 7 works properly with all of them.


Windows 7 Ultimate color management


Windows Settings

Windows 7 also provides better access to the device manager, system protection, performance features, and advanced user settings.  Right clicking on "My Computer" brings up the Windows 7 properties and clicking on that takes you into a easy to navigate menu.  This is nearly identical to Vista, but the device manager especially works much better and allows you to manage your devices or manage your physical disks with ease.


Windows 7 Ultimate Desktop


Improved Memory Manager

When you're working in one imaging program, importing into another, viewing in a third, managing your memory properly is vital.  I run several imaging programs in addition to my email client, browser, bittorrent client, video players and more.  Managing my systems RAM properly is vital.  When you open one program memory must be assigned, and when closing another the memory released.  It sounds simple, but memory leaks and other issues have plagued previous versions of Windows like a demon ghost on steroids.  Vista was a big improvement, but Windows 7 is even better.  I open and close and use programs perhaps thousands of times a month.. without ever needing to reboot!  Proper memory management also results in increased performance.  If you work several programs across multiple monitors this is even more important.


Lightroom V2.5 spanning two monitors


Multiple Monitors and Productivity

If you use more than two monitors it's vital.  Having enough memory, and having it managed properly, as you move or play imagery and video across multiple monitors enhances productivity in a big way. 


Three monitor span



Features We Really Want

Maximizing system performance is key.  It's why we buy faster video cards and faster processors.  We want absolute reliability and as much speed as we can get and still be reliable.  We want to connect any device we need and not have issues.  We want to use whatever number of monitors we need.  We want system security at the same time.  We want our data safeguarded, possibly encrypted, total connectivity whether this be a hotel internet connection or feeding off a clients mainframe.  We want color management, long battery life, low power consumption, and file compatibility.  We want it all, no matter what level of user we might be.  And we want it with minimum hassle.

Windows 7 provides all this better than any previous version.  Installing Windows 7 was like putting the final piece of the system in place.  Is it right for you?  As Craig already said, if you have a modern PC built and sold within the last 3-4 years it will probably benefit from Windows 7.  Older machines might also work, but without the processing power to take advantage of the increased functionality I see no reason to install Windows 7 unless increased system security is high on your list of priorities.


The Cost

Of course cost is always a consideration.  If your system is currently working fine, then upgrading might not be worth the increased benefits.  Especially when you consider a retail version can be pricey.  And when you finally upgrade your machine it will come with Windows 7 at no charge. 

There is another option other than the retail versions of Windows 7.  Most computer supply stories carry the "OEM packaged" versions.  These are for those who build their own systems.  These are the least expensive versions by a significant margin.  The main caveat is that there is no support for the OEM versions.  You're on your own.  For me this is fine.  I've never called Microsoft anyway.  You can Google any error message and most failures and get an answer much quicker than navigating typical phone maze.  I always purchase the OEM versions.



I hope you've found this rather long section useful.  We tend to mostly talk about and address the features and functions we personally use the most, and address those issues we've faced the most.  However, if you're processing images on your machine you're probably very close to where we come from and will find this information use.

Windows 7.  We're finally there!