'You know, we didn't realize that 64-bit Windows 7 handled things differently,' the tech support guy told me after I'd spent part of a day trying to figure out why my BlackBerry wouldn't sync. 'We didn't know that with the 64-bit version, even empty registry entries have to be there.'
This was just one in a growing list of mysterious support calls about software that is compatible with 64-bit operating systems, but which fails for reasons that initially escape the help desk. In this case, an optimization program that I was planning to use in support of a review was quietly sabotaging my efforts. I'm not mentioning the program for two reasons. It should be fixed by the time you read this, and it's only one in a large number of applications delivered by companies that really don't know Windows 7 as well as they should.
More important, what I've found only makes the necessity of thorough testing something that should not be ignored. While Windows 7 is, in fact, a very nice version of Windows, and it's everything Vista should have been but wasn't, it's still a new and very complex operating system. While it works better and faster, and while it requires fewer resources than Vista, it's important to remember that it's NOT Vista or XP. Forgetting that fact can lead to woe, as these vendors are finding out. In fact, application compatibility is still the number-one concern that IT organizations have about Windows 7.
What I've found is that you can't assume that your software or your hardware will work the same way in Windows 7 as it did with XP or Vista. In some cases, you'll need to write your code differently, you'll have to get different drivers, or you'll have to get updated applications. And some items won't work at all. I have a professional photo printer, for example, for which there are no Windows 7 drivers, and never will be.
What's more difficult to deal with is that the 64-bit version of Windows 7 isn't the same as the 32-bit version. Unlike XP or Vista, where the 64-bit versions simply handled more memory but did little else, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 is different in a number of subtle ways. Applications that are ported to the 64-bit environment without the developers knowing what's actually going on inside Windows may find themselves in trouble, as the company I was talking to earlier found out.
In the past, this didn't matter much because there was little reason to use a 64-bit OS, but Windows 7 has been given the ability to really make a difference. Not only can you use more memory, but things can run a lot faster, and properly written software can take better advantage of your computer's CPU power. It's worth doing for some things where processing capability matters.
But the problem is that many developers haven't developed an understanding of the differences. Little things go wrong. Some things don't work. Some features of Windows might react unexpectedly. None of this is Microsoft's doing-the differences are documented for those who care to look. But it appears that many developers don't bother to look-they just assume that all versions of Windows 7 are alike.
Unfortunately, they're not. And the differences can make a huge impact depending on the applications you run. For that reason, as your company adopts Windows 7, make sure you test your applications thoroughly before you depend on them for critical business functions.