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Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Should you upgrade?

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Should you ditch Windows 7 for Windows 10?

Windows 10 is here and largely it's a big improvement over Windows 8, but what if you’re still using Windows 7? Microsoft may be offering a free upgrade to Windows 10, but should you take it or should you stick with what you know?

In this comparison we're going to focus on the big differences between Windows 10 and Windows 7. It isn't an exhaustive account, but it covers the big things you should care about and the little things you'll notice first.

If you're still not sure, feel free to ask us more questions in the comments and we'll do our best to answer.

Watch – A quick guide to what's new in Windows 10

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Performance

One of the least talked about improvements of Windows 8, and subsequently Windows 10, is that it does include a raft of performance upgrades.

Chief among these is boot-up time, which is markedly quicker, while better hardware acceleration and a host of other tweaks mean general navigation feels nippier, too. Power management has also been improved, so mobile device battery life tends to be a little longer.

Gaming performance is much more evenly matched, but with Windows 10 comes exclusive access to DirectX 12, which unlocks more performance from your existing hardware (game dependent) and is the future for Windows gaming – read our DirectX 12 vs DirectX 11 comparison for more on that.

It may seem like trivial stuff, but if there’s one single thing that's generally at the heart of the upgrades we make to our computers, it’s performance. So the fact that Windows 10 offers that base-level improvement on top of all its other features is definitely something to be happy about.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Design

Windows 8 marked a stark departure from the styling of Windows 7, with flat windows and bold colours taking over from 3D-looking icons and round-edged and transparent windows.

Windows 10 continues this change, with the flat and bold styling now taking over desktop icons and other core system features, though there’s still some way to go, with plenty of features such as the Control Panel and Computer Management interfaces using old icons.

Related: Windows 10 vs Windows 8

Windows 7 DesignWindows 7's design is cohesive

Overall, we’re still unconvinced that the new styling is actually better than the old. It’s arguably more "modern", as flat seems to be the design theme of choice at the moment – websites are doing it and so is Apple – but we’re not sure it generally looks any more aesthetically pleasing.

That said, Microsoft has toned things down from the inital Windows 10 Technical Preview, where it used more bold and contrasting colours – like in Windows 8 – but the final release is more subdued and relies on dark grey and semitransparent menus that look cleaner and more professional. We really like the look of the final version.

Related: Windows 10 problems and how to fix them

Windows 10 DesignEarly versions of Windows 10 looked particularly stark and disjointed

Windows 10 DesignThe latest version of Windows 10 looks much more coherent

There are some practical benefits to the new design direction too, such as windows being smaller due to the lack of borders. Windows are also more customisable and some elements are clearer, thanks to the lack of translucent backgrounds.

All told, while we're not bowled over by the new look, it's a marked improvement over Windows 8 and definitely does have that more modern feel than Windows 7.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Search and Start Menu

Tap on the Windows 7 Start Menu and you can quickly access the reasonably powerful search function that will quite rapidly look up matching programs and documents as you type. It also provides quick access to core features and your chosen programs. It's simple but effective.

Related: Windows 10 tips and tricks

Windows 7 SearchWindows 7 search is effective but simple

However, Windows 10 ups the ante on all accounts.

Click on the now separate search box and it will also now include Windows Store apps and web search, with results shown in a much more organised fashion.

Also, even just clicking on the search box will have it show preview information such as the latest headlines, updates from your favourite sports teams and the weather, if you choose to turn these features on.

What’s more, it includes Cortana, the digital personal assistant. This adds two key features. Firstly, it monitors things like your email, calendar and search to provide useful information, such as when you need to leave for your next appointment.

Cortana Windows 10Windows 10 greatly enhances the features of search

You can also use it to add appointments or make notes. If you have a microphone on your machine, you can also speak your commands to Cortana and it does a fine job of interpreting natural language to get you the answer you need.

Sadly, the interface doesn’t return the answer to you right there in the search bar, but rather opens the web browser. It’s still pretty cool to not have to type anything, though.

All this is combined with a Start Menu that now includes the Live Tiles from the Start Screen of Windows 8. Certain key features such as File Explorer and Settings are more clearly shown too, while pointless clutter like the Default Programs button have been removed.

The only downsides are that the link to the Control Panel has now been removed, with Microsoft instead wanting you to push users to the PC Settings interface (even though it doesn't include all the same features). We're also not fans of the 'All Programs' interface. On Windows 7 it's compact and quick to scan whereas on Windows 10 it's overly bulky and spread out.

Overall, though, it's mostly an improvement.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – File Management

It may seem totally mundane, but the tools used for finding and managing your files are some of the most oft used and fundamental to a good operating system.

Windows 7 has a decent selection and certainly we’re all long used to them. However, they certainly aren’t the most advanced, and in some ways they’re a backwards step from what came before – who remembers the removal of the Up button from the File Explorer?

Related: 7 Best Windows 10 Laptops and Tablets

Windows 7 File ManagementWindows 7 File Explorer and copy dialogue are relics

This one little feature summed up all that was wrong about the nonsensical path being trodden by Microsoft at the time. But it wasn’t the only problem with Windows 7 File Explorer. By any standard it was poorly designed, with wasted space and key functions hidden from view.

Well, with Windows 10 the Up button is back! And with it are a host of other improvements to File Explorer – many of which, again, first arrived in Windows 8. The top menu is now arranged in a ribbon, so all the common tools are right where they’re easy to click and, perhaps more importantly, easy for novices to find.

There’s also a new Share ribbon which makes it much easier to move files between different apps such as Outlook, Dropbox or Skype. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.

On top of these improvements to File Explorer there’s also an improved file copying interface. Now copying/moving tasks are grouped into one window for easier management. Transfer speed is also shown in real time and operations can also be paused, where they could only previously be cancelled.

Related: Windows 10 vs Windows 8

Windows 10 File ManagementWindows 10 File Explorer and copy dialogue is much more useful

Another neat new addition is Storage Spaces. This is a way to group multiple hard drives together to form a single logical drive. While hardly revolutionary sounding, what makes it particularly useful is that it supports multiple levels of drive redundancy, to ensure your data is backed up, and unlike a RAID system it's completely hot-swappable and drives can be different sizes.

All told, there's a lot that Windows 10 adds to day-to-day file management and very little that's been taken away.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Gaming and DirectX 12

We touched earlier on how gaming performance hasn’t changed much on Windows 10, but it’s worth elaborating.

In fact, there's a slight drop in performance on average, with Windows 10 tending to be about 0.5% slower than Windows 7, particularly with older games – Crysis 3, for instance – although there are some instances where the roles are reversed. Of course 0.5% is a ridiculously small amount either way, so much so that it’s not worth worrying about.

Elsewhere, Windows 7 has proven to be a robust and reliable gaming platform, though not one entirely stacked with innovation – it’s a solid base on which a host of gaming tools are built.

Windows 10, though, adds a load of new features. Most will, in all likelihood, be of limited interest to most PC gamers – the ability to access your Xbox Live account, stream games from your Xbox to your PC and have multiplayer games work with both PC and Xbox players – though they are, of course, mostly welcome.

Related: Best Gaming Laptops

Windows 10 GamingWindows 10 brings access to lots of Xbox features

Probably the neatest feature is built-in game capture. This will constantly record your gaming sessions, allowing you to grab a snapshot of the last 30 seconds of gameplay to share with your friends. It may not be new technology, but having it baked into the OS is very useful. Also it works with every game ever – at least so Microsoft says – so if you fancy capturing a video of your Monkey Island adventures, it will happily do so.

Also, Windows 10 has exclusive access to DirectX 12, which promises to unlock performance on existing hardware thanks to it allowing programmers to better access the features of specific hardware. The performance gains are likely to be fairly small, and very much dependent on exact circumstances, but it’ll likely be enough to tip the balance of performance back in Windows 10’s favour.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Notifications

Windows has long had a notifications area of sorts, in the shape of the System Tray. Here you’ll find popup messages from the likes of Outlook, Dropbox and Spotify – anything that actively runs in the background.

However, it’s never really been a proper unified place where messages from other apps can reside, and where you can see a history of updates.

Related: Best Windows Phone Round-up

Windows 10 NotificationsWindows 10 has a useful single place for all notifications

Enter the new notifications area of Windows 10. This simple addition brings together system messages and app notifications into one place, with alerts ordered chronologically. It’s a small addition, but one that’s immensely useful.

The notifications area also contains some useful system functions, such as being able to switch to tablet mode or access the settings screen.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Workspace Management

Getting and keeping your workspace tidy is of key importance to certain users. While those with a laptop may be content with just making everything fullscreen, if you’re a desktop user you may have multiple large monitors and need good tools for managing all the windows and desktops that make up the total working area.

Windows 7 has multi-monitor support, though it’s somewhat limited with just access to either a mirroring mode or one that stretches the whole desktop across all the monitors, but with only one taskbar on one monitor. It also has an early version of Snap – the tool that automatically resizes windows when you drag them to the left or right. But that’s it – it’s a fairly limited set of tools.

Windows 10 Virtual DesktopWindows 10 adds virtual desktops and better multi-monitor support

With Windows 10 both these features have been enhanced. Different monitors can now have different backgrounds, with different slideshows, too. Pictures can also now be set to span across all your monitors.

On a more practical note, the taskbar can now appear on multiple monitors or both your primary monitor and whichever monitor you’re currently active in. Snap has also been improved to support snapping to four corners, not just side to side.

Perhaps the biggest addition, though, is virtual desktop support. Although Windows 7 has had support for virtual desktops via third-party software, now it's built right in. The implementation isn’t super slick, but it's a big bonus, particularly for laptop users.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Tablet Mode and touchscreen optimisation

It may not seem a particularly key feature for Windows 7 users – being as most won't be using it on touchscreen devices – but it's still worth noting that Windows 10 is a vast improvement over Windows 7 when it comes to touchscreen devices.

As well as many features having more touch-friendly icons and gestures there's also the easy tablet mode which at the touch of a button will switch a device between a more conventional multi-windowed interface with a normal Start Menu to a fullscreen mode using the Start Screen.

Windows 10 Tablet Mode

You may not ever use the features on the desktop but it is good to know that the OS is designed to work smoothly across a range of devices, making it much easier to switch between your desktop, hybrid laptop and tablet.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Annoying extras and forced updates

Microsoft – and Apple with OSX – has long tried to push new integrated features onto users with each new operating system, when some people simply don't want any extras but rather want a OS that'll just do the basics reliably. In this regard Windows 10 is no different.

Perhaps the most prominent is that Windows 10 really pushes you towards creating a Microsoft account. This is then used to log into the machine where it links up with your email, calendar, OneDrive shared storage and more, syncing them across all your devices.

It's the sort of thing that is definitely useful for certain users, but it's a bit annoying if you just want the simple life. Thankfully you can choose to just create a local login and ignore all the extra Microsoft account stuff. Except that if you choose to do so you can't use any of the preinstalled new apps such as Calendar and Mail, nor are any of the new gaming features available (other than DirectX 12). That's downright cheeky if you ask us.

Cortana arguably falls into this category too, but this you can at least just choose to turn off completely, leaving a more basic localised file search.

What you can't turn off, though, is automatic updates. This has long been something that Microsoft has tried to push users to do but with Windows 10 they've completely taken the issue out of user's hands. Now, the OS will download and install any important updates whether you like it or not, with only the option to choose when it does so.

It's kind of ridiculous that one of the most often criticised aspects of Windows - the fact that it's insecure and requires constant rebooting to install updates - has gotten so bad that Microsoft has felt the need to just force the issue onto users, rather than fix it. Thankfully for those that really find it irksome there is a workaround that involves disabling the Windows Update service - you'll have to then manually restart it when you do want to update.

Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – The Verdict

There's nothing wrong with sticking with Windows 7, but upgrading to Windows 10 definitely has plenty of benefits, and not too many downsides. Of course the fact that it's a free upgrade right now makes it even more tempting.

Windows 10 has a lot of genuinely useful new features, as well as key improvements to old features, compared to Windows 7. None is enough on its own to make an upgrade necessary, but when combined they do make a compelling case.

You’ve got better search, window management, file management, gaming tools and more. Windows 10 is faster in general use, too, and the new Start Menu is in some ways better than the one in Windows 7.

The only real sticking point is that Microsoft wants you to sign in with a Microsoft account and if you choose not to you lose some features. Features that shouldn't need to be linked to any online account. You certainly can get away with a normal 'offline' version but Microsoft really doesn't want you to, and that's something we're not keen on.

Which OS do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below

Everlast

February 12, 2015, 1:13 pm

The short answer is No.

meerkat82

February 12, 2015, 1:29 pm

Thanks, you've convinced me to stick to Windows 7

Heritage80

February 12, 2015, 2:12 pm

Windows 10 is more advanced, and modern and will work with my xbox and lumia, so I'm in, just waiting. Win 7 was great, but it's out of date now. Win 8 was fine, but the ui, a mess. Win 10 is a winner.

Everlast

February 12, 2015, 2:36 pm

I was kidding, but really, if you can get your Windows 7 license (that is not time restricted) upgraded at no cost to Windows 10 license that is ALSO not restricted in time, surely yes. But unfortunately what MS has said so far about the 1 year windows for upgrade still is a bit unclear to me.

toboev

February 12, 2015, 2:57 pm

"Overall, we’re still unconvinced that the new styling is actually better than the old."
Wow, at last a tech site has dared to say it!

Whatever you may think about the aesthetics, the old 3D effects and rounded corners gave good separation between different elements. With the new flat square design that is overtaking all platforms, I often find it hard to discern any boundaries between overlaid windows, often they just look like they are all part of the same element. And the small grey text on big white spaces is no help either.

I'm not sure what is gained by sacrificing legibility and intelligility in the name of minimalism.

Matthew Bunton

February 12, 2015, 4:38 pm

I think that software and peripheral compatability with Windows 10 will also be important to a lot of users.

Fantasm

February 12, 2015, 5:34 pm

So far, I see no compelling reason to drop windows 7
I prefer the look of windows 7 and I dislike the Modern UI and it's silly apps...

MattMe

February 12, 2015, 5:44 pm

Although I agree that the translucent effects are generally more aesthetically pleasing, as well as adding increasing separation (paradoxically), the benefits of using a flatter interface are performance and battery improvements through less intensive GPU use. So they said when introducing it with Windows 8, anyway.

MattMe

February 12, 2015, 5:46 pm

I believe what they have said is that upgrades from earlier version of Windows will entitle you to the full version of Windows 10 for it's lifetime. I don't see how that's unclear.
What have you read that put you off the upgrade?

toboev

February 12, 2015, 6:02 pm

In principle, sure. And I do recall that when Aero effects were first introduced they were a challenge for some underpowered legacy machines. However those days are surely behind us? Or should we still be coding 2-digit years, etc, to make allowance for less endowed devices??

Noah Yan

February 12, 2015, 7:07 pm

now that im used to windows 8.1 and have used windows 10, windows 7 feels like trash, is so much faster, cleaner, better performance, etc.

danielfrisbee

February 12, 2015, 8:17 pm

the first thing I did when I installed windows 7 was to turn all the ridiculous transparency effects off. Now in windows 8 things seem not dissimilar to windows 95 in principle, but it runs so fast, fixes itself, no driver issues ever, touch interface to me seems great. The start screen is crap but windows 10 seems to have come up with the best compromise. I don't understand all the Microsoft bashing, they seem far more sensible and trustworthy than google and apple, and seem to be pushing more boundaries too.

MattMe

February 12, 2015, 9:20 pm

It's not my opinion, it's a reason Microsoft stated for dropping the transparency in 8.
Maybe on your modern laptop or desktop the gpu wouldn't be such an issue but think about getting windows onto more smaller devices it's still relevant.

toboev

February 12, 2015, 9:59 pm

I'm not bashing MS, I hate the whole flat and featureless UI movement, whether it calls itself 'modern' or 'material'' or 'metro'. They all look basically the same and make the same mistake putting function after form.

toboev

February 12, 2015, 10:22 pm

I didn't mean to suggest it was just your opinion. However, my own venerable desktop, still sporting its "Windows Vista" sticker, has never had any problem running Win 7 with Aero. This thing is well over 5 years old - can any of today's machines really have any problem?

In any case, transparency is only an optional part of it. So long as there is some kind of 3D/shadow effect to help the eye, I'm happy.. But putting everything visually on the same layer, no thanks.

Everlast

February 12, 2015, 10:24 pm

The Microsoft statement was worded in such a way that wasn't completely clear and contained several explicit and implicit conditions.
Some 8-9 years ago, just before Vista was released, I bought a laptop with Windows XP and got a similar upgrade, but it was absolutely clear and concrete. I had to pay packaging and postage when Vista was released, around £15, and got the installation disks.
This time its Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 that are eligible, but not all flavours, Enterprise was definitely ruled out and I think at least one more.
Then you have to upgrade in the first year after Windows 10 release and you can keep it "for the supported lifetime of the device".
What does "supported lifetime of the device" mean? Is it determined by Microsoft, the device manufacturer, say Acer, Asus, etc., or even the user?
The previous upgrade was distributed via laptop manufacturers so users would get corresponding drivers with the new OS, but it not clear how users will be getting their new drivers here. Most manufacturers would not 'volunteer' to accept such obligation, does this mean that the supported lifetime of my device has ended.
Another question is if I have a Retail (portable) version if, say Windoes 7 Pro, is it now getting 'bound' to a device until the devices support lifetime ends?
And one more thing is that windows-as-a-service option was mentioned as well and this made a lot of people ask themselves are we getting Windows 10 free for a year and have to start paying service fee thereafter, and are Microsoft starting to release new OS versions annually similar to Apple.

toboev

February 12, 2015, 10:33 pm

Lots of good points there. Hopefully we will get some answers - what is a decent tech site good for?

toboev

February 12, 2015, 10:40 pm

"...entitle you to the full version of Windows 10 for it's lifetime."
So who decides the lifetime of WIndows 10, and what happens thereafter? Does the licence 'expire' and cripple your machine? There is plenty that is not clear.

At the back of my mind is always this "software as a service" model beloved of the accountants. That gives them a huge amount of power. Suddenly all they need to do is say, "sorry, that 'service' has been pulled now, we are no longer accepting subscriptions". Even if you had a free-for-life 'subscription', they just end the life.

Yanta

February 12, 2015, 11:41 pm

Indeed it’s only really the styling that we’re less keen on, which in the grand scheme of things is a minor point.

I disagree. When you are looking at large multiple monitors on several PCs for up to 14 hours a day the styling is of major significance, and is a primary reason we will not be adopting Windows 10.

Some of what people are saying are improvements in Windows 10 were around long ago, and were subsequently gutted from windows as it evolved. Responsiveness is achieved by removing code and therefore functionality.

Windows 10's functionality (bloatware like cloud, Cortana etc notwithstanding), is less than the combined functionality of XP and 7.

Windows 10 is full of wasted screen real estate, with huge windows, large percentages of "nothingness" in every app. Most of the modern apps will be uninstalled or disabled.

Given this...

From the many hours we have spent testing Windows 10, almost all of the new functionality would be disabled by us if we adopted the OS. But, as I said, the aesthetics is enough to keep us away.

TLDR: There is NO compelling reason to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

Yanta

February 12, 2015, 11:48 pm

I share your concern. What worries me is that this free upgrade is a trap. MS is not a trustworthy reputable company. I fear they will offer this upgrade for free for 12 months, kill your existing license so that you can't downgrade back to 7, and then slap a monthly subscription on you that you can't get out of.

And since Windows 7 licenses won't be available anymore you'll be completely trapped.

It's unlikely that I will upgrade, I'm more inclined to see what they come up regarding pricing. I guess they will have a run-out sale for free upgrades just before they introduce pricing. (or, OMG, maybe they will not announce pricing until the last day of the year for free upgrades :-(

locust415

February 13, 2015, 6:45 am

Will I upgrade? No, unless I have to. I cannot upgrade because the software I use does not support anything beyond Windows 7. Windows 7 is pretty fast if you build your own computer like I did with SSD drive, core i5 CPU and 16 GM of RAM. The problem is they keep trying to make the OS mix mobile and desktop. Microsoft want all of us to move to tablets and dump our desktops. I do science on my computer and the power a tablet can deliver is not even close enough and touch screen is way to inconvenient, I need a keyboard for fast efficient typing.

Sebastian Favale

February 13, 2015, 4:02 pm

The only thing that maybe will push me to update in the future is DirectX 12. I hate the flat design, not only because it's flat, also because it's ugly! And I don't think there's improvements in user experience, they just wanted to change the style and we all know (developers) that flat design it's easier to design and code.

MattMe

February 13, 2015, 4:18 pm

I think it means the lifetime of Windows 10. Every OS has a lifetime. You can't realyl phrase it any other way.
Sure, they might kill off Windows 10 within 6 months and say now you all need to pay a thousand dollars to upgrade to Windows 12 or your computer will turn off and never work again, but it's unlikely.
Most likely is they want to shift as many people s they can onto Windows 10 and keep people in the Windows ecosystem. Keeping the customer happy. They're not going to win any customers by ditching them a year after they upgrade.
Think about it, the risks of them pulling some stupid stunt like that are extremely small.
Windows as a service may happen (probably will happen), but not by revoking full Windows 10 licenses. There'll be incentives to upgrade from Windows 10 (or whatever version is current).

MattMe

February 13, 2015, 4:20 pm

Like I said below, the chances of this happening are extremely remote. They want to retain and gain customers, not scare them off.
The free upgrade will be for the life of Windows 10, and that is not a paid for service. It's a full version of Windows, they have confirmed that.
They can't sell you a product and then a year later say you need to pay a yearly sum to keep it.

MattMe

February 13, 2015, 4:23 pm

I know where you're coming from, and agree, most modern desktops and laptops (by modern, I'm including Vista systems) can run transparency effects without issue. I'm talking about handheld computers.
Your Atom-powered PC stick is going to appreciate not having transparency is the OS GUI. and your Atom-powered tablet battery is going to go much further without having to constantly redraw backgrounds every time you dare move a window.

Definitely agree that some 3D elements would be appreciated visually.

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