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Windows 7: How to upgrade from XP

Microsoft says upgrading from XP will be harder than from Vista

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You had good reason to stick with XP and skip the Vista experience entirely. But now that the folks at Microsoft have created a new operating system that's worth moving to, they haven't made the upgrade easy, because you have to perform a clean install of the OS.

Here are the issues you need to be aware of, and how to handle them.


For more on upgrading, check out: "How to Upgrade to Windows 7".

Hardware

Your hardware may not be up to the task of running Windows 7--and even if it is, your drivers won't work. Unfortunately, a simple upgrade install is out of the question, too; Microsoft requires that XP users do a clean install.

It's a good idea for anyone contemplating the upgrade to run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor first; for XP users, this step is absolutely vital.

Upgrading your motherboard's firmware also becomes more important; check your system manufacturer's website to see if an upgrade is available.

Windows 7: Upgrade Checklist

This checklist can help ensure a smooth transition to Windows 7.

Confirm that you have all of the following at hand before you start the upgrade.

  • A compatible PC: Chances are that if your machine is running Vista, it will be able to run Windows 7. But to make sure, or if your system is currently running XP, download and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.
  • Upgrade disc and Product ID: Sorry, but you'll have to buy the upgrade in order to get the upgrade.
  • Image-backup software: If the installation goes horribly wrong, an image backup can take you back where you came from. I recommend using the free version of Macrium Reflect.
  • An external hard drive: You will need something on which to put that image backup. Look for an external drive that has at least as much storage capacity as your computer's internal hard drive does.
  • Pencil and paper: You will have to jot a few things down as you go along.
  • Your programs in installable form: You can skip this one if you're doing an up­­grade install, but if you want to start Windows 7 off with a clean slate, you'll need to reinstall every program currently on your PC that you want to keep.
  • Time: If you're lucky, you could have Windows 7 up and running in a couple of hours. But it could take all day--and that will be a day you'll be near your computer while having little or no access to it. Make sure you can afford that block of time.
  • A good book: You'll be spending a lot of that time waiting.

Windows 7 can't use XP drivers

Check the Windows 7 Compatibility Centre, which was still in its "coming soon" phase at the time of this writing. In the meantime, the Vista version of the Compatibility Centre--look for a link on the page--can help, since Vista drivers work in XP, but the fit isn't perfect. Some Vista drivers download as .exe files that run exclusively in Vista.

Not all XP applications work in Vista, or in Windows 7, either. Again, the Compatibility Centres can tell you what works, what doesn't, and where you can download the necessary patches.

Windows XP Mode

Windows 7's XP Mode could be the solution to your application compatibility problems. This mode runs XP in a virtual machine inside 7, although the user interface is more integrated than in most virtual machines. For instance, XP and 7 applications appear together on the same desktop.

But XP Mode may not work on your PC. It requires a CPU with virtualisation capabilities. Browse to the Microsoft's page of instructions on how to find out whether your CPU has this feature and, if it does, how to turn it on. XP Mode doesn't ship with Windows 7, but it's available as a free download. It also comes with a full version of XP.

One XP-to-7 issue is just something to be aware of: These two versions of Windows store your data files in different locations. The XP folder C:\ Documents and Settings is now C:\Users. Application Data is now the abbreviated AppData. Local Settings\Application Data is now AppData\Local. And your Music, Pictures, and Videos folders now sit beside My Documents rather than inside it.

The Windows 7 installation program moves all of your old folders to a folder called C:\Windows.old. You may need to remember, as you try to get your new program installations together with your old data, that the Outlook.pst file that is now in C:\Windows.old\Documents and Settings\yourlogon\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook belongs in the new location C:\Users\yourlogon\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook.

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