Your Windows 7 upgrade checklist: what you can do BEFORE starting the upgrade

So, Windows 7 launches, officially, this week.  On Thursday, October 22, 2009, Windows 7 will be available for purchase in upgrade, full version or pre-installed on new computers.  On new computers, of course, all you’ll have to do is install your software and off you go.  But, what if you want to upgrade?  I’ve read an endless barrage of reasons why upgrading is not something you want to do.  That’s only true if your hardware is really old and you are running Windows XP or older.  Since there is no direct upgrade from XP, I’m going to talk a great deal about it, but my checklist of things to do will still apply.

The best way to go is to upgrade from Vista to 7, and within the same grade as well.  That is, if you have Vista Home Premium, then you’d want to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium.  Much has been made of the multiple versions, but, when you look at it realistically, there are only TWO versions: Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional.  For 99% of the public, Home Premium is the version to buy.  Professional is aimed at power users and business.  Other grades are available, but are, generally, not available at your local Best Buy.  Windows 7 Enterprise is ONLY available to enterprise customers.  Windows 7 Basic is not available in the US and I’m not sure about countries like Canada, Mexico or our friends in Europe. It is generally available in ‘developing nations’.  Windows 7 Starter Edition will only be available on certain computing platforms and not at retail.  It is a limited version of the operating system and lacks customization, Aero and many of the nicer features of its more expensive brethren.  Finally, Windows 7 Ultimate will be available at some retail outlets, but it is pricey and not really worth the money.  Still, if you just want the whole works-business features and consumer features-be prepared to shell out nearly four hundred dollars (US).  Unlike Vista Ultimate, 7 Ultimate does not get any ‘ultimate features’.

UPGRADE FROM VISTA (can apply to XP as well)

  • Before you start, go out to Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy or any retail establishment and buy yourself:
  1. A USB external hard drive of at least the same size you have in your computer or larger
  2. A USB 4, 8 or 16gb thumb drive
  3. Sticky Notes if you don’t have any

Of course, if you already have these things, you are already ahead of the game.

  • Next, plug that external drive in and make sure it has enough free space to backup your ENTIRE drive.
  • Go here and download one of the disc clone applications. I’m going to use Runtime’s Shadow Copy since it will copy files that are locked and it is free.  We are going to back up the whole drive so we have something to fall back on IF we run into problems.  So, using the software you downloaded or already had, go on and back up that drive.  We’ll wait for you.  I promise.

[Insert music from Jeopardy here.]

All done?  Good.  See, don’t you feel better already?

  • Now, for added measure, we’ll use the thumb drive to backup your personal documents and settings the USER directory.  Also, you can use the thumb drive to save things like the wireless network settings.  Vista allows you to do this.  You’ll also want to backup your iTunes XML library files and other such things.
  • After your backups are completed, lets do some housecleaning.  If you use services like the Zune Marketplace and/or iTunes, don’t forget to de-authorize the computer.  If you don’t, you may not be able to play back your DRM’d content or even sync with the services.  In fact, make a list of services that you use and de-authorize the computer, if necessary.  Remember, you are going to be installing a brand new operating system and, to those services and software, it will be a new computer.  Also, now is the time to gather any passwords you might need, such as DSL/Cable modem passwords, Windows passwords, etc.  Make sure you copy or print them out and keep them handy.
  • Next, pay a visit the support pages of the manufacturer of your computer and peripherals.  Look for Windows 7 specific drivers.  If you have a 64 bit machine and are going to be installing the 64 bit version of Windows 7, make sure you download the 64 bit drivers.  Most major companies already have these drivers posted, so go on a grab them now.  Keep them on the thumb drive.  Get another if you run out of room.  Having these drivers ready to go will save you a lot of time once you have the new OS installed.
  • It might be worth it to go to the Windows 7 page on the Microsoft web site to see if there are any last minute items you should know about.  I doubt there will be since this operating system has been pretty well tested and documented, but, you never know.  Shoot, you might even find a few freebies like new themes and such.
  • Oh, that reminds me:  backup your browser Favorites to your thumb drive as well.  One of the first things you’ll want to do is use the browser, so having a copy of your favorites will save you time.
  • Go here and download the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.  Install and run it. The advisor will let you know if your computer can run Windows 7 (64 bit) and will also test your peripherals and software.
  • Next, you can check here for your compatibility concerns.
  • DURING THE UPGRADE PROCESS, UNPLUG ANY USB DRIVES.  Remember to plug them in once the upgrade is complete.  If not, and you have several large USB external drives, it could make the upgrade take considerably longer.

Well, now I think we are ready to begin the actual install.  And here is where I am going to leave you.  To begin the process, make sure you have all you need, you have your data backed up and those thumb drives are ready.  Place Windows 7 DVD in your computer and reboot.  Select the option to boot from the DVD drive and let Windows 7 start the process. 

You could do an in-place upgrade, which will preserve your data, but I highly suggest you do the format and install method.  This will result in your hard disk being re-formatted and all data being erased, but you made your backups already and there is nothing better than a ‘fresh’ OS install on a nice, clean drive. 

If you purchased the Upgrade version, you can do an install, but don’t enter the key.  Install as a 30 day trial.  Once installed, reboot the computer with the DVD and UPGRADE that 30 day version.  This gets you a nice upgrade without having to re-install your old operating system.  Please Note:  this worked on previous versions, but, as I don’t have the ‘official’ operating system yet, I cannot guarantee that this still works.  I’ve heard mixed things about this.  At any rate, a clean install only takes about thirty minutes where as an in place upgrade can take HOURS.  I did that with the RC1 and it took nearly four hours, if I recall correctly.

If you follow the steps I’ve listed here, you should have your bases covered. If I’ve left anything out, please drop me an email or place a comment below and I’ll revise the list and give you credit.

Windows 7 is a worthwhile upgrade, no matter which version of Windows you currently run.  Long time readers will know that I am a huge fan of Vista, but I believe that 7 is far and away better than Vista and worlds better than XP.  It will be worth the time and effort you take before you even put the DVD in the drive.

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