Hardware Software

The Uneven Path to Windows 7

Most dental offices avoided Vista and are using Windows XP as their operating system (OS). If you are planning to upgrade to Windows 7 it represents the first OS upgrade in six or seven years. All indications are that the path to Windows 7 is littered with peril, especially for a dental office.

XP to 7 is not just a simple upgrade but represents a complete change in the OS. Many existing systems both hardware and software that run great with XP will not function with 7. In dentistry we have many highly specialized products used exclusively in our industry. Rarely are these products included in OS system upgrade analysis. Often these products wait until a new OS has been out for some time before writing an upgrade for the new OS.

What that means is that some dental product you may have been happily using for years on XP will not work with 7; it may be many months before it will work with 7 or it may never work with 7.

On the other hand if you buy a new PC computer it is guaranteed to come with 7.

It is not just the software applications, hardware will also be effected. If your computer was built before 2007 it is likely to have compatibility issues with 7. Peripherals like printers may not have up to date windows 7 drivers, and frankly some will never be available. The advice from Microsoft and others if this happens…buy new stuff.

Special dental systems like sensors, diagnostics and product bridges are especially prone to this issue.

As a general rule it is wise to wait until the first major bug fix has been released before upgrading. Microsoft calls the bug fixes service packs. So far there has not been a Windows 7 service pack. After the service pack wait to see if all your mission critical applications and peripherals will work with 7. The most reliable way to do this is to test them. This is beyond most dentists and you will need the aid of an IT specialist to help.

As stated in the opening, most dentists are using XP quite succesfuly and they have been for many years. On the other hand XP was plagued with these same compatibility issues when it was first released. It took well over a year after release until a dental office could reliably use XP.

All indications are that Windows 7 will be a significant improvement and we will be using it in dentistry as time goes on. However, right this minute, using Windows 7 presents numerous risks. If you do decide to upgrade be prepared to also upgrade or replace numerous other components of your system, both hardware and software.

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