November 2, 2009

Which Edition of Windows 7 Should You Buy?

It should be a simple choice – you either take the plunge and upgrade your computer to Windows 7 or continue with your existing operating system. And yet, as is often the case, the choice is not as easy as it sounds because once you decide to upgrade to Windows 7, you will also have to choose the right edition of Windows 7 that will fit your needs.

windows 7

Windows 7 comes in six different flavors – Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. Now picking the right edition from these six variation may seem like a daunting task but in reality, you’ll have only three Windows 7 editions to choose from. Here’s why:

Which Windows 7 edition is not for me?

The Windows 7 Starter edition is meant for basic computing tasks (like checking email, web surfing, etc.) and is optimized for less powerful machines like your Atom powered netbook. You won’t find Windows 7 Starter at the retail stores as it will only ship (pre-installed) with new notebook computers worldwide.

Windows 7 Home Basic is not as limited as the starter edition but it will be only sold in developing countries like India, China, Philippines, etc with new computers. Then you have the Windows 7 Enterprise edition which is just like Windows 7 Ultimate but for businesses who go for volume licensing.

None of the above mentioned editions of Windows 7 will be available for general retail in boxed offerings. Your choice is therefore simplified to the remaining three editions – Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate.

Compare Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate editions

The various editions of Windows 7 are designed such that each version has all the features of the previous editions plus something extra that makes that edition unique. Also, you can use the Anytime Upgrade feature to purchase a serial key online and upgrade your existing Windows 7 license to a more advanced edition. For instance, if you decide to buy Windows 7 Home Premium today, you can use Anytime Upgrade and shift to Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate edition anytime.

To help you decide which edition of Windows 7 to buy, here’s a quick rundown of features that are available in each of the Win 7 editions.

Windows 7 Home Premium

Windows 7 Home Premium, like XP Home and Vista Home Premium, is for home consumers worldwide with a very pleasing Aero glass user interface. Home Premium edition includes Windows Media Center to help you play a wide variety of multimedia formats (including DVD) and there’s a built-in DVD maker to create DVD movies or for burning files and disk images to CD, DVD, and Blu-ray disks directly from Explorer.

Restore files in Windows 7

Windows 7 Home Premium also includes a backup utility that can create full system images (so you save a copy of everything that is currently on your computer). It also includes the “Previous Version” functionality that was earlier available with Vista Business edition only. This feature is very useful for retrieving files that you may have just deleted or changed accidentally.

Windows Virtual PC now supports all editions of Windows 7, whereas Virtual PC 2007 only supported XP Professional and Vista Business or Ultimate editions. With Virtual PC, you can run another operating system (like Windows XP, Vista or even Linux) on top of Windows 7 if you wish to do so. Finally, Windows 7 Home Premium supports up to 2 physical processors with unlimited cores, and up to 16 gigabytes of RAM.

Windows 7 Professional

Windows 7 Professional includes all the features of Windows 7 Home Premium, and then adds some advanced networking features. For instance, the Location Aware Printing feature lets you choose different default printers for different networks and is useful for people who use the same laptop in multiple locations – for example, at work and at home.

The "offline files" feature of Windows 7 Professional caches the network files to your local drive so you can continue working even if the network connection get dropped. The built-in Windows Backup tool can backup your data to the network and you may use the encrypted file system to better protect files on the computer. Windows 7 Professional features Domain Join that lets you connect to company networks more securely and access can be managed through group policy from the Windows server as well.

Like Vista and XP Professional, Windows 7 Professional also includes remote desktop feature that enables others to connect to your Windows 7 computer across the Internet from virtually any computer.

IE6 and IE8 running with XP Mode

That said, the most interesting feature in Windows 7 Professional is XP Mode. In simple English, if you buy Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate, you get a fully licensed version of Windows XP that will run inside Windows 7 through Virtual PC. The XP mode is primarily for business users who want to run legacy apps in Windows 7 that otherwise only work with Windows XP.

The amazing thing is that Windows Virtual PC + XP Mode enables you to run XP software programs inside your native Windows 7 desktop – that means you can run legacy XP programs just like any other Windows 7 compatible program.

XP Mode for Windows 7 Home Premium

If you are a Windows 7 Home Premium users but also own a licensed copy of XP, you can use Virtual PC to make your own XP mode. However, if you do not already own a copy of XP for this purpose, you will likely come out cheaper by simply buying Windows 7 Professional if you wish to use this feature.

Windows 7 Ultimate

Windows 7 Ultimate includes all the features of Windows 7 Home Premium and Professional, plus some extra enterprise and security related features. Ultimate also lets you use multiple languages on the same PC.

The enterprise-centric features include Federated Search (for searching across network drives), Direct Access (you can access corporate e-mail servers, shared folders, or intranet Web sites securely without connecting to a VPN), BranchCache (it caches local copies of content from Web and file servers to improve performance) and a system that lets you run UNIX applications on Windows.

With Windows 7 Ultimate, you get the ability to boot from a virtual hard drive and the new BitLocker-to-go feature lets you encrypt files on your computer as well as removable disks like that USB flash drive.

Windows 7 Prices

While choosing an edition, price will be also a deciding factor for many users. Home Premium is the cheapest retail version of Windows 7, but it will also come as a Family Pack allowing you to use the same license on up to 3 computers in one home. If you have multiple desktop and notebook computers to upgrade, you will see significant savings from the Family Pack offer.

Windows Home Premium

  • Windows 7 Home Premium Full: $199.99
  • Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade: $119.99
  • Windows 7 Family Pack (Home Premium): $149.99
  • Windows 7 Starter to Windows 7 Home Premium: $79.99

Windows 7 Professional

  • Windows 7 Professional Full : $299.99
  • Windows 7 Professional Upgrade: $199.99
  • Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 7 Professional: $89.99

Windows 7 Ultimate

  • Windows 7 Ultimate Full: $319.99
  • Windows 7 Ultimate Upgrade: $219.99
  • Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 7 Ultimate: $139.99

Related: Host a party, get Windows 7 DVD for free

Wait! Is my computer eligible for the upgrade edition?

While most retail sites are mentioning that only XP and Vista users are eligible for the upgrade pricing on Windows 7, the official word from the Microsoft Store is:

You qualify for Windows 7 upgrade versions if you are running genuine Windows Vista, Windows XP, or Windows 2000 on your PC.

And though you cannot do a direct in-place upgrade from Windows XP or 2000 to Windows 7 (where all of your existing software programs, files, and other settings are preserved), you can at least save some bucks from the upgrade pricing.

Windows 7 – 32 bit or 64 bit

Most new computers sold today have 64 bit processors. These processors support much greater amounts of RAM than 32 bit processors, and can also process more information at one time than their predecessors. With a 32 bit system, you are capped at using 4 GB of ram but with a 64 bit system, you can use virtually limitless amounts of RAM. To take advantage of these features, however, your Windows 7 operating system has to be 64 bit as well.

With previous versions of Windows, you had to decide at the time of purchase if you wanted the 32 bit or 64 bit version of the OS. Windows 7 has thrown that to the wind, and now both 32 bit and 64 bit versions will be part of the same box. You still have to decide which one to install but you don’t have to answer this question at the time of buying Windows 7.

Buying Windows 7

The mirage of Windows 7 product editions is actually not as bad as it looked initially. Windows 7 has improved Home Premium’s feature lineup, and then added some truly unique features to Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate.

The Home Premium edition should meet the requirements of most users but if you are a mobile professional who works from both office and home, Windows 7 Professional may be a better choice.

Create a Virtual Machine of your Existing Computer in a Minute

Virtualization, in simple English, is a interesting technology that helps you run multiple operating systems on the same machine.

For instance, if you are running Windows Vista on a computer, you can create virtual machines for Windows XP or Ubuntu and run these operating systems on your existing Vista machine just like any other Windows application.

How to Create a Virtual Machine

Windows Virtual PC, Virtual Box and VMware Workstation are some popular applications that allow you to create new virtual machines on a Windows PC but the only problem with these programs is that they require you do everything from scratch.

That is, if you want to create a new virtual machine, you will have to install the whole operating system first using the original installer DVD and then configure it with your favorite programs. This can be both time consuming and difficult.

What if you could use your existing Windows computer, that already has all your favorite programs installed, and turn into a virtual machine?

Convert your Computer into a Virtual Machine

While it has always been possible to convert an existing hard drive into a virtual machine, the process was difficult and often required expensive programs.

Well, not anymore. There’s a new utility from Microsoft that makes it both simple and free to convert an existing installation of Windows into a virtual machine ready to run on any other computer.

Microsoft’s Sysinternals team has released a simple application called Disk2vhd, that lets you easily migrate an existing computer to a virtualized hard drive (VHD). It’s a tiny utility doesn’t even require instillation.

Create Virtual Hard Disks with Disk2VHD

When you run Disk2vhd, it will immediately show you all the drives and partitions on your computer that it can migrate to a VHD. Simply select a drive that you wish to create a VHD file from and click “Create.” Disk2vhd will convert the hard drive into a VHD file even if the computer /drive is currently in use.

create virtual machines

When the Virtual Machine VHD file is created, you can run it in any desktop virtualization program including the free Windows Virtual PC, Virtual Box, or VMware Player. You can also mount the virtual machine as a standard hard drive in Windows 7, and can even boot from it if your computer is running Windows 7 Ultimate.

You may use Disk2vhd to create virtual machines of your Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista and higher machines, including x64 systems.

Usage Scenario

Let’s say you have a computer that is already running all the software programs you frequently use, but you now want to move to a new computer or upgrade your operating system. You can then consider creating a virtual machine of your old machine using the Microsoft utility and this will help you use all your favorite programs (with the same settings) on the new machine.

You can also use virtualization to create a ghost image of your hard drive in a single file and this will be handy in the event of a disk failure.

Disk2vhd is an useful tool that will make it much easier for you to enjoy the benefits of virtualization without being too technical.

A Visual Guide to Computer Cables and Connectors

Computer cables can be confusing so here’s a quick visual guide that will help you quickly identify almost every cable that came bundled with your computer and other electronic gadgets. You may also refer to this guide for ideas on how to hook different devices using commonly available connectors and converters.

1. USB Cables and Connectors

What are USB cables used for – You can use USB cables to connect most new devices to your computer including flash memory sticks, portable media players, internet modems and digital cameras.
Computer accessories like mice, keyboards, webcams, portable hard-drives, microphones, printers, scanners and speakers can also be connected to the computer through USB ports. Additionally, USB cables are also used for charging a variety of gadgets including mobile phones or for transferring data from one computer to another.
How to recognize USB Cables – The standard USB connector, USB-A, is a rectangular connector. The USB-A end is present on every USB cable as it is the end that connects to your computer.
The other end of the USB cable may have different connectors including USB-B (a square connector commonly used with printers, external hard drives, and larger devices) or smaller connectors such as the Mini-USB and Micro-USB that are commonly used with portable devices such as media players and phones.

Additionally, many other connectors have USB-A connectors at the end that connects to the computer, and a device-specific connector at the other end (e.g. the iPod or a Zune). Then you have USB Male to Female connectors for extending the length of a USB cable.
Many other non-USB cables can also connect to your computer via a USB converter; these cables have the standard USB-A connector on one end while the other end could have connections for other ports such as Ethernet or audio.

2. Audio Cables and Connectors

2.1 – 3.5mm headphone jack

The most common audio cable is the standard headphone jack, otherwise known as a TSR connector. It is available in several sizes, but the most common ones used with computers are the 3.5 mm or 1/8" mini audio jack.
Most speakers and microphones can connect to the computer with these audio cables. The microphone port on your computer is usually pink while the speaker port, where you insert the stereo audio cable, is colored green. Some computers have additional TSR audio ports colored black, grey, and gold; these are for rear, front, and center/subwoofer output, respectively.
A larger variety of the TSR connector, 1/4″ TRS, is commonly used in professional audio recording equipment and it can be connected to a computer using an 1/4" to 1/8" converter (

2.2 – Digital Optical Audio

For high-end audio, like when you want to connect the output of a DVD player or a set-top box to a Dolby home theater, you need the TOSLINK (or S/PDIF) connector.

These are fiber optic cables and can therefore transmit pure digital audio through light. Some laptops and audio equipment have a mini-TOSLINK jack but you can use a converter to connect it to a standard TOSLINK (Toshiba Link) port.

3. Video Cables

3.1 – VGA

One of the most common video connectors for computer monitors and high-definition TVs is the VGA cable. A standard VGA connector has 15-pins and other than connecting a computer to a monitor, you may also use a VGA cable to connect your laptop to a TV screen or a projector.

Converter cables are lso available to let VGA monitors connect to newer computers that only output HDMI or DVI signals. A smaller variant of VGA, Mini-VGA, is available on some laptops but with the help of a converter, you can connect any standard VGA monitor to a Mini-VGA port of your laptop.

3.2 – DVI Monitor Port

If you have purchased a computer in the recent past, chances are that it uses DVI instead of VGA. The new breed of "thin" laptops use the smaller variants of DVI like the Mini-DVI and Micro-DVI (first seen in MacBook Air).
A DVI cable has 29 pins, though some connectors may have less pins depending on their configuration. DVI’s video signal is compatible with HDMI, so a simple converter can allow a DVI monitor to receive input from an HDMI cable.
Additionally, DVI to VGA converters are also available for connect your new graphics card to old monitor that supports only VGA mode.
3.3 – S-Video
S-Video cables, otherwise known as Separate Video or Super Video cables, carry analog video signals and are commonly used for connecting DVD players, camcorders, older video consoles to the television.
Standard S-Video connectors are round in shape and may have anywhere between 4-9 pins.

4. Audio and Video Cables

4.1 – RCA Connector Cables

RCA connector cables are a bundle of 2-3 cables including Composite Video (colored yellow) and Stereo Audio cables (red for right channel and white or black for the left audio channel).

Sometimes additional cables may be included, offering additional audio channels and/or component video instead of composite. Component video offers better picture than composite because the video signal is split in different signals while in the case of composite, everything is transferred through a single yellow plug.
Uses of RCA Connectors – The RCA cables are usually used for connecting your DVD player, stereo speakers, digital camera and other audio/video equipment to your TV. You can plug-in an RCA cable to the computer via a video capture card and this will let you transfer video from an old analog camcorder into your computer’s hard drive.

4.2 – HDMI Cables

hdmi cableHDMI is the new standard that provide both audio and video transmission through a single cable. HDMI support a maximum resolution of 4096×2160p (HD is only 1920×1200) with up to 8 channels of digital audio and are used for connecting Blu-Ray players to an HDTV.
Standard HDMI cables can be up to 5 meters long, but higher quality ones can be up to 15 meters long, and the length can be further increased with amplifiers. HDMI is backwards compatible with DVI so you can use a converter to watch video on a DVI device through the HDMI cable though you will have to use another cable for the audio.

4.3 – DisplayPort

A combined digital video and audio cable that is more commonly used in computers is DisplayPort and the smaller derivative Mini DisplayPort. Both support resolutions up to 2560 × 1600 × 60 Hz, and additionally support up to 8 channels of digital audio.
Mini DisplayPort connector is currently used in MacBooks but we could them in other computers as well in the near future.
Standard DisplayPort cables can be up to 3 meters long, but at a lower resolution cables can be up to 15 meters long. DisplayPort connectors are available to connect VGA, DVI video, or HDMI video and audio with a DisplayPort cable or connection. Additionally, converters are available to convert Mini DisplayPort into standard DisplayPort.

5. Data Cables

5.1 – Firewire IEEE 1394

Firewire, otherwise known as IEEE 1394, i.LINK, or Lynx, is a faster alternate to USB and is commonly used for connecting digital camcorders and external hard drives to a computer. It is also possible to ad-hoc network computers without a router over FireWire.
Firewire typically has 6 pins in its connector, though a 4 pin variety is common as well.

5.2 – eSATA Cables

While SATA cables are used internally for connecting the hard drive to the computer’s motherboard, eSATA cables are designed for portable hard drives, and can transfer data faster than USB or FireWire.
However, the eSATA cable cannot transmit power, so unlike USB, you cannot power an external hard drive with eSATA. The eSATA cable is somewhat different from the internal SATA cable; it has more shielding, and sports a larger connector.

6. Networking Related Cables

6.1 – Phone RJ11 Cable

The telephone cable, otherwise known as RJ11, is still used around the world for connecting to the Internet through DSL/ADSL modems. A standard phone cable has 4 wires and the connector has four pins.
The connector has a clip at the top to help maintain a tight connection.

6.2 – Ethernet Cable

Ethernet is the standard for wired networking around the world. The Ethernet cable, otherwise known as RJ45, is based on Cat5 twisted pair cable and is made from 8 individual wires.
The Ethernet connector, likewise, has 8 pins and looks similar to a phone plug, but is actually thicker and wider. It too has a clip to help maintain a tight connection like a phone connector.

How to Remotely Control a Computer in Windows 7

If for some reason you wish to allow somebody remote access to your computer – or maybe you wish to still be able to control your computer remotely while you’re at work, I am here to teach you how to do it. So in this tutorial we will learn how to remotely control a computer in Windows 7.

1. First, we have to enable the Remote Connection. Click the Start button -> Control Panel -> System and Security. Under the System category, click Allow remote access:
2. In the new window, check the “Allow Remote Assistance connections to this computer” (or press R). Also check the box near “Allow connections from computers running any version“. Click Apply:
3. Now click the Advanced button and make sure that the “Allow this computer to be controlled remotely” is checked. Next, under the “Invitations” category, you can alter the time invitations remain open and also select to only allow remote connections from computers using Windows Vista or later.
Here I would suggest to set the invitation time to 15 minutes if you’re giving remote access to anybody else but you and a few hours for an own invitation. It might also be a good idea to check the option to only allow Vista running systems to connect – in theory, there should be no problems with XP versions remotely controlling the computer, but you can never know…

4. Optional step if there is a router present: you will have to configure the router to allow connections on a port of your choice (for example, 49155). Refer to your router’s manual to learn how to do that. Also, if you have a firewall present, it might be needed for you to allow connections to the same port (as in our example – 49155).

5. Now your computer is available to be remotely controlled. Just have in mind that only one connection is possible at one time. In order to connect to a Remote Desktop in Windows 7, you will have to click the Start button -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Remote Desktop Connection:

6. When the program launches, simply type in the IP address of the computer you want to control remotely and click on Connect:

How to Change the Default Program a File Opens with in Windows 7

Sometimes a program you install makes it the default program that launches specific file types, other times you simply wish to open a specific file type with a different program (for example, a .JPG file that can be opened with Paint, Windows Photo Viewer or IrfanView). In this tutorial, we will learn how to change the default program a file opens with in Windows 7.

1. First, browse to the file type you want to change the default opener for – in this tutorial I will use a .JPG file, but you can follow these steps for any type of file.

2. Next, right click on that file and click on “Open with“. If there are already more programs that can handle that file extension, as in my case, a new window will appear and you’ll have to click on “Choose default program“:


3. In the new window, first click on the small arrow pointing downwards near the “Other programs” section and see if the program you want to open the file type with is listed there. If it is not, click on the Browse button and select the program from its install location. Make sure to have the “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file” option checked, and click OK:


4. Congratulations! The file has now been opened with the program you have chosen and all files with the same extension will now be opened with the same program.

How to Change User Account Control (UAC) Levels in Windows 7

Windows Vista owners had a pretty rough time with the UAC (User Account Control) but Microsoft learned from their mistakes, listened to the feedback from users and decided to drastically change things around. As a result, Windows 7 has a better, faster and less annoying UAC. However, this doesn’t mean that it can’t get customized even further, and that’s exactly what we’ll learn in this tutorial: how to change UAC levels in Windows 7.

But first, let’s see what is this UAC, after all!

The User Account Control is a Windows 7 feature (also found in Vista) that deals with security issues and has the only goal to protect the user from threats. And since most of the threats will start with making changes to your system, the UAC tries to prevent them by asking for permission for any application that tries to make any changes to the system. And even though this is an amazing feature, it can get a bit annoying…

So… how to change UAC (User Account Control) levels in Windows 7?

Unlike Windows Vista that had just two options for the UAC control (on or off), Windows 7 offers four security levels annoyed users can choose from in order to reduce the annoyance level. In order to start making changes, we have to head over to the UAC settings.

Click on the Start button -> Control Panel -> System and Security. Under the Action Center category, click on Change User Account Control Settings:UAC-level-changing01

The levels of the UAC can be controlled via a slider that can be set to: Always notify, Notify only when programs try to make changes (the default value), Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer (do not dim my desktop) and Never notify (aka turn off):


Now, in order to change the level of the User Account Control, you have to move the slider up or down to the desired level. When you are satisfied with your choice, press OK.

What UAC level should you choose?

If the UAC prompts tend to annoy you, it is the Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer setting you should go for (one level down from the default setting). In this case, the UAC prompt won’t dim the desktop and you will be allowed to continue doing whatever you were doing before the prompt appeared.

However, in such a case, it might be possible to accept or deny some programs by mistake, since it won’t be completely clear that a UAC prompt will appear. The risk of that happening is low, though, and if you’re willing to take it, this level might be the best choice for you if the prompts tend to annoy you.

On the other hand, if you have nothing against the prompting windows and the desktop dimming and you also want to keep your computer as secure as possible, you will wish to go for the Always notify setting since it is, after all, the safest!

Should you turn off the UAC in Windows 7?

No, unless you are an experimented user. With the User Account Control turned off, you will most certainly get some type of malicious software on your computer, sooner or later, even if you have an antivirus program installed. And having to reinstall the OS all over again, and maybe even lose important data is probably much more annoying than having to allow or deny access for programs regularly

How to Disable Internet Explorer 8 Accelerator Add-ons

The Accelerators are a pretty neat idea introduced in Internet Explorer 8, but unfortunately they can become quite annoying, especially when using the e-mail client. Fortunately, in this tutorial I will show you how to disable (and re-enable, if you wish) the Internet Explorer 8 Accelerator Add-ons.

1. Launch Internet Explorer 8 and click the Tools tab and select “Manage Add-ons“:

2. In the new window, under “Add-on types” click on Accelerators. All of them (blog, e-mail etc) will be listed to the right:

In order to disable any accelerator in Internet Explorer 8, simply click on it and then click on the Disable button as shown in the screenshot above.

If you wish to re-enable an Accelerator, simply follow the same steps as above but instead click on the “Enable” button which becomes available for all disabled IE8 Accelerators.

NOTE: Some users, even after disabling the accelerators (especially the e-mail one), still get annoying blue boxes in the middle of their e-mails. If this is happening to you, you can completely remove the accelerator by clicking the Remove button. And voila! No more annoyance!

How to Change the Screen Resolution in Windows 7

If you’re not satisfied with the current screen resolution or if you simply wish to have the icons on screen look bigger or smaller, I am going to teach you how to change the screen resolution in Windows 7 – a very easy task – as well as some more advanced tweaks if you wish to play with the screen resolution even more.

Why would you like to change your screen resolution?

a) because the images on screen look fuzzy/distorted/unnatural
b) because you’d like to have bigger or smaller icons/space on your desktop.

However, no matter which are the reasons, we can do it quite easy:

Simply right click anywhere on the desktop (on a free area) and click on Screen resolution:


Next, click on the tab near the Resolution category and drag up and down the slider until you reach the desired resolution. Windows 7 tends to recommend the resolution for the best quality (1280*1024 in my case) but you can safely go with a smaller resolution too. Once you select the resolution, click Apply, on the new window click on “Keep changes“, then OK to set your new resolution (please note that if you have a widescreen, the available resolutions might be different from those in the screen capture below):

There are more advanced options to further customize the looks of your desktop, and we’ll learn how to make those changes too!

1. To make icons and text bigger on screen, in the Screen Resolution menu click on Make text and other items larger or smaller:

Next, select the appropriate size for the text and icons: medium (125% of the regular size) or larger (150% of the regular size). Click the Apply button and click on Log off later. The changes will be visible after your next restart.

2. Sometimes you might wish or have to change your screen resolution to one that is not naturally supported by your monitor – personally, I had to do that with my Ideapad netbook to tweak it and make it able to run some games. So, if you wish to change your screen resolution to modes that are not shown if you follow the steps above, here is what to do:

a) On the Screen resolution screen, click on Advanced settings
b) In the new window, under the Adapter tab, click the List all Modes button:
c) From the list that appears, select the resolution you wish to use, the refresh rate and color depth mode (32 bit should always be selected for best image), click OK and Yes and you’re done!