Under All the Right Conditions, Latest Windows Upgrade Could Be a Breeze

Windows 7 pre-releases show improvements over Vista, but the latest Windows incarnation appears to have its fair share of irritations.
Windows 7 pre-releases show improvements over Vista, but the latest Windows incarnation appears to have its fair share of irritations. (Associated Press)

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By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, August 16, 2009

Two months from now, Windows users will have a chance to fix what's broken or break what's working. But they may not know which path they chose until after they've installed Windows 7.

The latest Microsoft operating system, (http://microsoft.com/windows7), due Oct. 22, will replace Windows Vista, and that alone should be good. My tests of a beta release this winter and the almost-final "release candidate" version confirm that 7 uses less memory than Vista, makes it easier to manage open programs and windows, and throws up fewer "User Account Control" nags.

At the same time, Windows 7 won't put Mac OS X or Linux out of business. Program installation and uninstallation remain as tedious as ever, old programs may not work in 7, and this new system strips out such Windows components as Microsoft's e-mail software, address book and calendar.

Choosing whether to upgrade from Vista or XP, however, involves much more than 7's features and flaws.

The simplest scenario applies if you bought a copy of Vista or a new, brand-name computer from June 26 onward. Under Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Option, you'll only pay, at most, shipping and handling for an upgrade edition. And any new PC should easily exceed 7's system requirements: a 1 gigahertz or faster processor, 1 gigabyte of memory (double that if you run a 64-bit release of Windows), 16 GB of disk space (again, double for 64-bit Windows) and a "DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver" (needed for the optional Aero version of 7's interface, with its transparent visual effects).

But you should run Microsoft's free Upgrade Advisor program to check for any complications.

On the three Vista laptops I reviewed earlier this month, Upgrade Advisor warned that an HP Pavilion's fingerprint reader would need new driver software, while a Dell program-launcher utility and copies of Norton Internet Security on the HP and a Toshiba Satellite would have "minor issues." Upgrade Advisor also noted that 7 would remove Vista's Windows Mail and Parental Controls and suggested downloading Microsoft's free replacements (http://download.live.com).

Duly warned, I began installing Windows 7's release candidate on the Toshiba. And about an hour and 45 minutes later, the laptop showed zero signs of distress to its hardware or software.

On older Vista machines, an upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium will cost $119.99. But the upgrade process should remain the same, with one major exception: if you bought a computer with the overpriced Ultimate edition of Vista and don't want to spend $219.99 on 7's Ultimate flavor when its Home Premium version could suffice.

In this case, you'll have to do what Microsoft calls a "Custom Install." "Destructive Install" is more like it: The Windows 7 installer clears out your files, settings and applications before putting a clean copy of 7 on the machine.

You can use Microsoft's Easy Transfer program to back up and restore your data, but there's no guarantee that it will put all of your files back in the right place -- and it won't preserve your applications.

Things can be even worse with an upgrade from Windows XP to 7. Microsoft even suggests hiring "your local computer service provider" for this move.


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