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Microsoft made a huge and beneficial difference to computing by producing a standard system that was practically universal. You go into virtually any office, school, library, or home and know instantly how to use the computer. When I first started using computers 25 years ago, every program was completely different and each had to be learned afresh as you moved from one office to another. However, Microsoft is steadily wrecking this standardisation with every new release.

Windows XP was by far the most stable and most useful version of Windows. Microsoft will support XP until 2014 by providing security updates.

Vista. was a flop.  I saw  only one obvious improvement compared with Windows XP, i.e. the Start button was replaced by a circular anonymous button. After 12 years Microsoft finally realised that closing down by clicking a button labelled Start is just plain daft. Vista was certainly more complicated than XP and many old favourite tools are needlessly renamed or hidden in obscure locations. Some re-learning was required.

Buying things for a Vista computer: Certified for Vista
Make sure that the box for the item you are buying is marked with this logo.

The box may contain a different but similar message but the contents will be Vista compatible.

Vista had many extra toys and gimmicks but offered few technical advantages. One advantage was that it could write DVDs. But all computers fitted with a DVD writer are already equipped with proprietary software for writing DVDs.

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Windows 7 is an improvement on Vista. New computers will be fitted with Windows 7. No upgrade Windows 7 is available for XP computers, you will need to format the hard drive, then install Windows 7.  You can upgrade a Vista computer to Windows 7. My recommendation is that if you like XP, stay with it until 2014, then buy a new computer fitted with Windows 7 (or it might be Windows 8 by then).

Order a computer with 64 bit capability and 4 GB of RAM.

Windows 7 Home Premium is the best version for home use and make sure it is the 64 bit version..

Outlook Express will not be included with Windows 7, you will need to download Windows Live Mail which is the latest version of Outlook Express. Internet Explorer will be version 9 or later, it looks a little different but you should soon discover where Microsoft has hidden familiar tools.

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