Windows 7 is a lot of good things. It's certainly better, for example, than Vista. But, and this is important, Windows 7 is no more secure than any of its predecessors. Here are the basics of what you need to do to make sure that Windows 7 is as secure as it can be.
First, you almost certainly won't need to buy a firewall program. Windows' built-in firewall has worked well over the last several versions. The new Windows 7 Firewall is better than what we have in the past though.
You can now manage all of your firewall settings, not just the basic ones as you could with Vista via the control panel applet. Windows 7 also now comes with three firewall profiles: Public network, home network or work network. The home network setting is for the use of Windows 7's new take on home peer-to-peer networking: the HomeGroup.
The combination of Windows 7 firewall and HomeGroup makes for a safe and useful home network. It's only real problem is that HomeGroup networking only works with Windows 7 PCs. XP, Vista, Mac, Linux, etc. just won't work with it.
If you're a business network user, though, you'll appreciate that, unlike with Vista or XP, you can now run two firewall profiles at the same time. So, for example, you can let your kids get at the video on your laptop via HomeGroup media-sharing on your home network connection, while keeping the latest spreadsheet from the business server safe from prying eyes on your work network VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection.
That's the good news. The bad news is that, thanks to the less than wonderful Microsoft Security Essentials, you're still going to need an anti-virus program.
If you're moving from XP to Windows 7, you'll have to get and install a new one. In theory, you can move from Vista to Windows 7 without installing a new program. I wouldn't. Anti-virus software tends to be cranky about change at the best of times-as well as it should!-so plan on installing a new anti-viral program right after you finish upgrading.
Which program? Well, while there are many good free anti-viral programs, you can't just grab one and assume it will work on your updated, or your brand new Windows 7 PC for that matter.
For example, I'm sorry to say that my favorite Windows anti-virus program Avira has some trouble on 64-bit Windows 7. The latest version, 9.0 series will install, but, in my experience, its anti-virus library updates are slower than slow. Avira tells me that their anti-virus program will fully support 64-bit Windows 7 soon.
So, instead of just grabbing an old favorite for your Windows 7 box, check out Microsoft's listing of Windows 7 anti-virus partners for companies that have already done some work in making sure their programs will work with Windows 7.
You can also check specific programs for Windows 7 compatibility with the Windows 7 Compatibility Center. As you search through this very useful site, you're going to quickly see that only the most recent versions of programs are certified to work with Windows 7 and that many of them are blessed only to work with 32-bit Windows 7 systems. So, if you're running Windows 7 on a newer, 64-bit system, like those powered by Intel Core 2 or Pentium Dual Core processors, you're likely to need to look harder for compatibile anti-viral software.
And, regardless of what anti-virus program you finally end up using, remember to always keep your operating system and applications up-to-date with the newest patches and to avoid clicking on links in dodgy e-mails. From Windows 1.0 to Windows 7, Windows remains an insecure system, and you have to go to extra trouble to make sure you're safe when you're using it.