Randolph Johnston
Randolph Johnston

What’s New in Windows 7 for CPAs?

Make your day easier and more productive with these 11 new features.

September 14, 2009
by Randolph Johnston, MCS/MCP

[Disclosure: Readers should assume that all software recommendations in this article are exclusively the author’s and in no way represents the views of the AICPA or the CPA Insider™.]

Microsoft has successfully created a broad number of products that support the CPA businesses. Two of the most important are the Windows Operating System and Microsoft Office. The latest iterations of these tools in Windows 7 and Office 2010 are important to the future of your firm in 2010 and beyond. The technologies work well enough that you should plan to leave older versions of Windows and Microsoft Office behind on your next purchase or upgrade. This article will give background information on requirements and features that Windows 7 includes that are important from an accountant’s perspective.

Key Strategies to Understand

We have been recommending running Windows Vista in 64-bit mode to allow access to more than three gigabyte (3 GB) of random access memory (RAM). Larger RAM spaces allow for virtualization and large Microsoft Office models. Windows 7 64-bit has performed flawlessly during both the beta period and after release of the product. The retail release is on October 22. The final release was made available to open license users in early August. I am using the released (Release to Manufacturing or RTM) product. It has been out for about six weeks. I used the release candidate back in May/June as well as the beta from January to May.

Windows 7

Windows has been upgraded by Microsoft to add notable features in Version 7. Among the most useful features in this release:

1. An improved task bar — This feature not only allows you to launch applications, but to preview running applications through the Aero interface.

2. Documents Library — This capability allows you to file a document once, and yet allows you to  retrieve it in multiple views. For example, permanent files related to clients or project data can be stored once and retrieved in all projects with a simple filter. Folders, file types and other attributes can be used as filters.

3. Action Center — All maintenance items are reported in the system tray in one interface, as a simple flag. If an action is required you can open the action center to resolve issues like updating your anti-virus, dealing with User Account Control settings, Windows Update and other applications that help your system run properly.

4. Notification area — instead of having from a few to dozens of icons in the system tray, applications are summarized in one icon. The items that can be displayed are customizable.

5. Window XP Virtual Mode — On Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows 7, an additional license of Windows XP is granted for you to run older, incompatible applications in a virtual machine. The installation process of Virtual Mode and Windows XP is about a 10-minute to 15-minute process. Windows XP applications that won’t run under Vista or Windows 7 happily function in Windows XP mode.

6. Installation and distribution — updating individual desktops and laptops is greatly enhanced with the automated installation tools provided by Microsoft. My own organization was able to deploy Windows, Office and all of our other applications in a single image. The whole process takes less than an hour per machine, and technicians can often handle three or more machines during manual installation that averages of 15 minutes to 20 minutes per machine.

7. Location-Aware Printing — Windows detects whether the user is at work or at home and automatically sends the documents to the right printer. This is supported by new network location identifiers and a special feature called HomeGroup.

8. Jump Lists — Jump Lists are recently opened documents or common tasks by application. A single list for each application is available from the Start Menu and from the Taskbar. You right-click on any Taskbar button to see the Jump List associated with that application. Documents can be removed or pinned to the list. This seems to work with any application that has files associated with the application. The screen clip shows this working with VMware, Password Depot, Remote Desktop Connections and Virtual Mode Windows XP. It works very well in Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010.

9. Better Performance — Windows 7 starts and stops faster by starting and stopping services in parallel rather than serially. Windows 7 also trims unnecessary services, has better memory management and requires less hardware resources. With about 5 GB footprint compared to Vista's 11 GB footprint, this entire document was written in Word 2010, and memory usage in Windows 7 never exceeded 3.9GB with all applications open.

10. Better Compatibility — If it runs on Vista, it will run on Windows 7. Microsoft has tested Windows 7 on 1200 core applications versus 900 with Vista. Microsoft says some applications that never ran on Vista will run on Windows 7. Since Windows 7 uses the same hardware driver model as Vista, there is no need for new hardware drivers.

11. Better Interface — Windows 7 overcomes Vista's style over substance by providing a cleaner, simpler graphical user interface (GUI). Windows 7 makes better use of Aero capabilities with less glitz and a more subdued presentation that requires less hardware resources.

Versions and System Requirements

Windows 7 comes in 6 versions: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. Windows XP virtual mode is only available on Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions, immediately making these three versions better choices for most accountants who need to run older versions of software. Bitlocker hard-drive encryption is the key differential feature between the Professional and Enterprise editions. Consider using dual or more processors, and 4 GB to 8 GB of RAM to properly support this operating system, the probable virtualization you will need and your applications. Wikipedia has a comprehensive comparison chart. Microsoft has a similar chart.

A Good Upgrade

Although we frequently recommend staying current on versions of software because of incompatibilities with hardware and software, Windows 7 will make your Windows experience better and allow for work to be completed more quickly. The learning curve is small if you are currently running Vista. The time to learn will be longer if you are on Windows XP or before. You should schedule training time just to focus on the interface and usability issues to minimize your learning curve on the new products.

Your cost of ownership should drop with easier deployment, easier learning and intuitive tools. The time of waiting to purchase new hardware while waiting for new Microsoft technology to arrive is past.

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Randolph P. Johnston, MCS/MCP, is executive vice president at K2 Enterprises. He is a nationally recognized educator, consultant and writer with over 30 years experience in strategic technology planning, systems and network integration, accounting software selection, business development and management, disaster recovery and contingency planning and process engineering. Please note the views expressed in this article is solely the author’s and in no way reflect the views of the AICPA or  CPA Insider™.