Are Windows 7 Compatibility Issues Still A Concern?

Despite good initial reviews, many SMBs are waiting for Windows 7 Service Pack 1 to resolve any potential compatibility issues with legacy hardware and software.

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Every time a new operating system hits the market, compatibility becomes a hot topic. That's especially true with Windows 7 -- how well does it work with the thousands of Windows-based third-party programs and applications already on the market, as well as with the wide variety of PC hardware installed in businesses and homes around the world?

Bloggers, as well as public tech-forums, quickly created their own lists of compatibility issues with Microsoft's latest and greatest operating system, even before it was publicly released last October. But while Microsoft's $10-billion Windows Vista failed to please the critics, Windows 7 has received mostly positive reviews.

Do Compatibility Issues Still Lurk?
Even with those glowing reviews focusing on many of Windows 7's improvements over Vista, many SMBs are still sticking with the even older Windows XP. Some Windows 7 supporters have mentioned that while the new OS may not work with all programs and hardware, it is still a definite step in the right direction.

While many speculative reports about compatibility have appeared during the first five months of the operating system's public release, the reality is that many initial compatibility issues have been addressed, either by the third-party vendors themselves or Microsoft.

Perhaps one of the most significant examples is with Apple's iTunes, which many Windows users had reported as being buggy or inoperable in beta versions of Windows 7 and continuing with the final version until late 2009. Recently, though, Apple has been advertising that the lastest versions of iTunes is completely compatible with Windows 7.

As with other programs, however, some slight tweaking of installation options may still be required, and some online advice seekers continue to insist that the newest iTunes version still doesn't work properly on Windows 7.

Version Confusion?
One possible cause for the problems could be variations among different versions of Windows 7. The 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the OS have different system requirements, for example, including memory and graphics card configurations.

In terms of Windows 7's backwards compatibility, though, perhaps the oddest instances concern Microsoft's own products. A quick Google search still turns up anumber of software applications deemed incompatible with Windows 7 -- even though they worked on both Vista and XP. Ironically, one culprit is Microsoft Game Studios' Age of Empires III, which has numerous forums dedicated to the issue.

Compatibility problems with iTunes and Age of Empires may not be deal-breakers for small and midsize businesses, of course, but they do raise concerns that SMBs may find issues with other programs or hardware.

In addition, Windows 7 comes with the newest version of Internet Explorer 8, but many Web pages -- primarily those written for IE 6 -- cannot be displayed properly. Blogs as far back as February of 2009 have listed as many as 2,400 incompatible Web sites. (Google's Chrome browser had similar problems rendering numerous popular Web sites during its initial release.)

While most of these issues have now been addressed, there are still many smaller issues that prevent PC users from using even relatively new hardware products such as Web cams, printers, and even sound cards.

As a result of these compatibility issues, many SMBs are still testing Windows 7, or waiting for the first service pack, before committing to an upgrade. They're hoping to outlast any remaining application compatibility, driver, hardware, and Web browsing issues.

In addition to Microsoft's official fixes, more and more users (including a small online marketing effort from Microsoft) have started posting solutions to simple compatibility issues -- making it easy to find basic firmware drivers and solutions for iTunes issues.

Compatibility Improvements!
Microsoft has made significant efforts to head off trouble with its newest product, offering free diagnostics programs on its Web site to check for computer compatibility, as well as discounted deals on upgrades for users of Windows Vista -- and even XP -- with savings of up to 50%.

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And in most cases, Windows 7 actually does a better job of working with hardware than did earlier Windows versions. For example, the new operating system includes enhanced VoIP phone support in the form of compatibility options for multiple "communications devices."

The communications device support refers to the ability to connect to specified VoIP phone hardware on top of the standard speaker components. This erases the need to change speaker and headset options when connecting to an Internet call -- instead, Windows 7 automatically routes calls to the headset and sound options to your speakers.

Windows 7 appears to be selling well, but the real test for Microsoft wll come as the vast majority of SMB and enterprises give fair tests to the long lists of third-party applications and hardware they use. Until then, , the status of Window 7 as "best operating system" is still up in the air.

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