The operating system on your computer is the most critical piece of software on it. In fact, it’s the only non-hardware component without which your computer can’t function. It's the operating system that allows your computer's hardware and other software to play nice together; it's also what determines what you see when you turn it on. Around 70 percent of computer users use Windows. After Windows 7, the second-most-popular operating system is Windows XP, which was released 10 years ago! If you’re one of the more than 25 percent of users using olders Windows operating systems, the concept of upgrading your operating system can be daunting, but it's worth it. But here's something you probably haven't thought of: Rather than looking at Windows 8, you might want to look at moving up to Windows 7. Here's why. (Get some background on the new OS in 10 Things to Know About Windows 8.)

Lack of Support from Microsoft

Mainstream Support is a service that Microsoft offers to users of its operating system that maintains the system and keeps it ahead of security threats and other errors. Microsoft ended Mainstream Support for Windows XP in 2009, and Vista in 2012. Now, the company maintains Extended Support to make sure that no major security vulnerabilities pop up, but any glitches or bugs will stay the same from here on out. This is because the folks up at Microsoft are focusing on improving Windows 7, the current version, and developing the next one, Windows 8. The bottom line: older operating systems will become more vulnerable to viruses and glitches as time goes on.

Lack of Support from Software Developers

In addition to Microsoft dropping support for older operating systems, other software developers are too. Newer versions of programs generally abandon compatibility with older operating systems because it takes a lot more work to keep them compatible. This can happen with programs like word processing software, but it can also happen with more behind-the-scenes programs like drivers for peripherals. Drivers allow the operating system to interface with the computer's hardware, allowing them to work together and making the computer usable. Eventually, the people who write drivers for your hardware will stop updating them. That means that if you buy a new printer, there's a good chance that it won’t be supported by an older operating system.

Old Operating Systems and New Drivers Don't Mix

Many people who resist upgrading Windows put up with annoying errors and crashes that they claim are "just part of having an older computer." While this is true to a certain extent, many of these problems are simply caused by the aforementioned disparities between operating systems. If a driver is out of date or a glitch hasn’t been fixed, the system can often crash, especially if various versions of software are all competing in an old environment. A simple upgrade will probably fix the issues here.

In addition to these benefits, Windows 7 primarily uses a 64-bit architecture. A 64-bit operating system will last longer, and through more upgrades. It will also be able to support more RAM - up to 200 gigabytes in memory. While this may seem like a ridiculous amount now, remember that a gigabyte of RAM seemed like an impossible dream not too long ago.

Wait, Shouldn't I be Upgrading to Windows 8?

If you’ve been keeping up with tech news, you might be wondering why I would suggest that you upgrade to Windows 7 when Windows 8 is coming out so soon. The truth is that you don’t win a prize for being the first to upgrade to a new operating system. In fact, you’re a lot more likely to have problems with your computer if you do. Remember the Mainstream Support I mentioned earlier? What that basically does is constantly improve your computer; the more of these that get installed, the better your computer becomes. The users who upgrade early get to figure out all the bugs for Microsoft. In essence, the first Windows 8 users are guinea pigs. Plus, Windows 8 is going to be optimized for touch, which is something that Microsoft has never done before. This means it's likely to take a while before the system becomes truly intuitive and easy to use.

Windows 7, Now or Never

The final reason to upgrade to Windows 7 now is that the release of Windows 8 may make it harder to upgrade to it in the future. When Vista was released, XP was immediately discontinued. Consumers convinced Microsoft to allow a choice between XP and Vista. So far, Microsoft has said that it will provide Mainstream Support for Windows 7 until 2015, and Extended Support until 2020. However, Microsoft is expected to emphasize Windows 8 in an attempt to increase the browser's market share. In other wrods, users who don't upgrade to Windows 7 now may find it harder to do so after Windows 8's release.

For more from Andrea, check out her computer repair blog.