There is no one definitive Windows 7 guide—it's a sprawling OS with a decades-long legacy, so nobody can cover it all. But with our powers combined, you're in good hands.
First Things First
We covered everything we could in Gizmodo's official eight-chapter mega-guide, so hit that up first. It's a hearty first course, and it's got everything you need to know—what's new from Vista, why it's worth the upgrade, and how to get started with it. Or as we put it then:
Here's everything of value that we learned about Win 7, packed in a complete, easy-to-read guide.
But leave plenty of room—there's a wide world of other Windows 7 guides out there to plow through. Here are the best, linked and previewed for your perusal.
Finding Your Feet
• Eminent Windows nerdthusiast Paul Thurrott answers the broader Windows 7 questions like it ain't no thang, y'all:
Microsoft says that Windows 7 is the "seventh" major Windows version, which it isn't, but whatever. Adding to the mystery, the Windows 7 version number will actually be 6.1, the same as Windows Server 2008 R2.
This will come in handy, someday!
• MaximumPC's (now vintage) upgrade guide will tell you everything you need to know about upgrading, except for how to do it:
Since I Get a 32 Bit & 64 Bit CD, Can I Install It On Two Machines?
No. Since you are only given one CD key, you can only activate a single version at a time.
Someone parsed through thousands of worlds of EULA for that nugget, I'll have you know.
• How long has Windows 7 been in development? Who was in charge of the project? How do international prices compare for all editions? Icrontic's guide is of the more esoteric sort, but hey, context!:
Microsoft compiled a total of 313 builds of Windows 7, 14 of which were leaked after the January 9 Beta.
If you find this fascinating, then I find you fascinating. In a neutral way! Plus, they have pretty charts:
• IGN, taking a decidely outsidery perspective, keeps their wordcount to a minimum. If you want to be done reading about this Windows 7 bullshit in, like, 30 seconds, they're your guys:
Despite retaining the Windows Vista "Aero" aesthetic, interactive features like the taskbar have been revamped for added efficiency. Users can now seamlessly preview, access, and arrange programs and files all from within the taskbar. Microsoft has also tweaked their native networking programs with HomeGroup, an optimized way to share files, printers, and other peripherals on a local network.
It kind of makes you want to sit down at a school desk, just so you can shoot your hand up in the air and yell, "DONE!"
• Meet ZDNet's Ed Bott. He would very much like to convey to you the accepted procedures and practices for installing Windows 7 in broad, nontechnical terms!:
Run setup from a flash drive or a USB hard drive. Compared to slow DVDs, you can easily shave 5-10 minutes off install times. For upgrades, you can simply copy the files to the external media; if you plan to do a clean install, you'll need to make sure the media is bootable.
• There are quite a few ways to approach an upgrade, so Lifehacker's compiled a reference of upgrade choices, and how to approach each one.
• And for anyone who hasn't installed any version of Windows in the last 10 years—seriously, 7 is the easiest version yet—InformationWeek has assumed the burden of writing an exhuastive, visual, step-by-step guide to the process. For luddites, it's a lifesaver; for everyone else, maybe it's a comfort?:
If you already have a Windows Vista installation, you can upgrade it directly by inserting the Windows 7 DVD while Vista is running. Otherwise, skip to step 6 to begin the process from a clean boot.
Whatever, someone had to write this.
• If you're doing a straight installation of Windows 7, and not trying any fancy dual-boot maneuvering, you're a sub-wimp. At least, Lifehacker thinks so:
If you're dying to try out Windows 7 but aren't ready to give up your installation of XP or Vista, let's take a look at how to dual boot Windows 7 with XP or Vista.
• As far as the tech press in concerned, Windows 7 has been effectively out since early this year. And since then, Lifehacker's been hoarding little bits and pieces—microguides, if you will—that together, form something amazing.
• So you've just rolled out Windows 7 across 1000 Dells. What now? InfoWorld has some advice:
You may be thinking, "I'll need all (or many) new PCs to run Windows 7, so I'll automatically go with the 64-bit version of the OS." But before you do that, weigh the pros and cons. Although any new PC should be capable of supporting both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7, you may not yet want the 64-bit version in your production environment.
Good point there, about my production environment.
• The only reason a lot of us even have PCs is to game. If gaming's your, er, game, you're going to want to treat your install and settings a little differently. And who knew! Windows 7 respects gamers, and their tastes!:
The Games browser might include titles that you just don't play, such as Minesweeper. Put those away by going to the right-click menu and choosing Hide This Game or Remove From List.
• By default, Windows 7 is going to be more secure than Vista or XP, but it's still got a bevy of settings you can adjust. If locking down Windows PCs is your job (or hobby), there are a few new things you're going to want to know, and which PC World will be glad to tell you:
Microsoft has included the option to use BitLocker Drive Encryption without a compatible TPM, but accessing that option is not necessarily intuitive or easy.
• You've got a fresh Windows 7 install, but you're not satisfied yet. You want to see how fast it is now, then make it faster. AnandTech's got you covered.
• And finally, you've seen the specific guides, and you've played around with the OS for a few hours. Trust me, you've missed something. PCPro, on the other hand, hasn't. Luxuriate in the warm ocean of minor features they've outlined. Every. Last. One.
The Official Word
• The lion's share of Microsoft's 60MB official guide is stuff you already know, or probably don't care to. That said, it's exhaustive and charming, in a freshman marketing major kind of way:
Most people don't store all their files and content in one place. Instead, their information is scattered across multiple PCs, external hard disk drives, servers, and Web sites. With Federated Search in Windows 7, you can extend your search beyond your PC—and even beyond your Libraries—to find what you need. Just add a search connector to your favorite locations to Windows 7, and you can search them as well.
No bombshells in here, but lots of helpful stuff like that.
That's a hefty 15 guides to get you started, but new ones are cropping up all over the place. If you see one that's not included above, let your fellow readers know in the comments.