Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Now that Windows 7 has been out for some time we'll revisit the exceptionally common question: should I upgrade?

Is it worth up grading from Vista to windows 7? If so what cost and can I do it without causing problems? how do I do it?

My recommendation for how to do it is simple - reformat and reinstall - and I'll explain why I always recommend that.

Whether you should upgrade isn't quite so simple, and falls into the "it depends" bucket.

Overall I'm pretty happy with Windows 7, and based on the rate of questions and problems I'm hearing about, it's doing fairly well for other people as well.

I'm a strong believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

What that means in this context is simply this: if your computer is working, working well, and you're doing what you need to get done with it, why take any additional risks at all? I don't care if you're running Windows 98, XP or Vista - if it's working for you (and of course that includes being safe and secure), then I would not upgrade.

Similarly, if your hardware isn't up to the minimum required by Windows 7 (perhaps even better than the minimum) then of course it's not really an option and I don't recommend trying to upgrade. If, for some reason, you find you do need to reinstall your OS, then reinstalling the one you already have is typically the best choice.

"I'm a strong believer in 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'."

If you dislike Vista because of user interface changes, Windows 7 is not likely to help; it's much more like Vista than XP. If that's a serious issue for you, then you might consider actually downgrading to XP, for as long as that's available. (Though, of course, my real recommendation is to learn to accept the new interface, since presumably at some point Windows XP will no longer be an option for any number of reasons.)

If you have "older peripherals" - things like printers that have been around for a few years, you'll want to ensure that they're actually supported by Windows 7 before deciding if it's right for you.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you're getting a new machine and want Windows, then by all means get Windows 7 preinstalled. That's a particularly easy recommendation since pre-installed OS's bypass a number of the issues people might run into with an upgrade. (Though don't forget to insist on installation media.)

So, what if you have a machine that's beefy enough for Windows 7 (if you're running Windows Vista, that's likely a given), your peripherals are supported, and don't mind or perhaps even prefer the Windows 7 UI?

If you're willing to shell out the cost of the upgrade (which will vary based on the edition you want and your location - check local retailers or online), I would consider the upgrade if:

  • you're about to reformat/reinstall your machine for some other reason - like resolving a software issue, or just periodic "cleaning stuff up". A reformat/reinstall is, as we'll see shortly, my preferred upgrade approach. Since it's a bit of work, it's worth considering if that's what you're about to do anyway.

  • Windows 7 has something you want that Vista does not. Maybe its Home Groups, maybe it's Media center, maybe it's something else that was introduced or improved in Windows 7.

  • you just want to. Perhaps you some other specific reason, perhaps you just want the latest and greatest. The important point here is that as long as your machine meets the requirements I'm not going to wave you off and say you shouldn't.

As I've alluded to above, I feel strongly that the safest approach is a reformat/reinstall - or rather:

  • Backup your computer

  • Reformat your hard disk (as part of the Windows 7 setup process)

  • Install Windows 7 from scratch

  • Reinstall your other applications.

  • Restore your data

As you can see that's a bit of work. But in my experience, it's the safest approach, and has the highest probability of resulting in a working machine with all the unnecessary stuff that accumulated prior removed.

There are two additional alternatives:

  • Tools like LapLink's PC Mover, (with which I've had no direct experience). For a fee they will "move" your installed programs and data from your prior version of Windows to your new Windows 7 installation. I believe that by doing so, you elect not to take on the "cleaning out stuff you don't need" portion that I find so valuable in a reformat/reinstall.

  • Run an upgrade installation, if it's even available. If you are running Windows XP, this isn't an option, but if you're running appropriate versions of Windows Vista you can have the Windows 7 installed upgrade in place, preserving all the installed applications, data and settings. In my experience, if there's going to be a problem with an upgrade, this is where it occurs.

The bottom line is that Windows 7 is a fine operating system, and I'm quite happy with it. I have no hesitations recommending it, with the caveats above.

Article C4189 - February 26, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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13 Comments
Tony
February 26, 2010 3:53 PM

I did the upgrade with the upgrade disk with no problems what so ever and all has been good since i did. And that was when windows 7 upgrade first came out.

vincent
February 27, 2010 1:04 AM

I moved from XP straight to Windows 7 ultimate. I had the RC installed and my win7 ultimate upgrade (i got it cheap cos I'm in school, again) installed without a flaw. I did choose to reformat my harddrive and that worked well.
I never really worked with Vista, but I can tell you I'm very happy I moved to 7.
It's much more "fun" to use than XP, even though XP was my faithful companion for many years.
It seems they took a good look at OS X when they designed the UI though ;-)
Oh well, it has happened before and it will happen again, so say we all, right ?

Simon
February 28, 2010 4:10 AM

> I don't care if you're running Windows 98, XP or Vista - if it's working for you (and of course that includes being safe and secure), then I would not upgrade.

Misleading: It is not possible to be running Windows 98 (and be connected to the internet) and still be safe and secure. 98 has been end-of-life'd, and no longer gets security updates. And no, neither firewalls nor AV software are designed to inure you against unpatched holes in the OS.

A) That's why I included the "safe and secure" comment, and B) there certainly are scenarios where running Windows 98 can be safe and secure. Non-internet scenarios, for example.
Leo
28-Feb-2010

steve Lester
March 2, 2010 10:56 AM

I recently upgraded a new Vista computer with the free W7 upgrade from HP for recent computers. First I did a clean install, and the machine would not connect to the net (either through hard wired or wireless). I then restored Vista and did an upgrade to W7. The machine still would not resolve my network ip address, which worked perfectly in Vista. After 30+ emails with HP, I have learned to manually do an ipconfig release-renew in command prompt every time I boot the computer, which temporarily fixes the problem. I have not decided whether to re-install Vista or live with the inconvenience. HP could not find an incompatibility in hardwear or drivers, and finally just said "sorry, you're on your own, good luck".
PS: thanks for the great work, I really enjoy and have learned from it.

whs
March 2, 2010 11:52 AM

To a certain degree, Windows7 is an appliance like XP - made for people who do not want to learn a lot. Vista is different - it challenges your intellect. And that is the fun part of it. There are, however, a few features in Win7 that make it nice, namely Libraries, the Taskbar, Homegroup and Trim support. But a few useful Vista features were dropped.

Bob K.
March 2, 2010 2:05 PM

I lost my XP system and got stuck with Windows 7. on the new PC.
I HATE IT! 90% of my older utilities won't work. Some of my hardware require drivers that are NOT being made available! The security protection is making this a VERY UNPERSONAL Computer.

But you *can* reduce the paranoia-security, and you can eventually find new utilites - and you can expend lots of money replacing hardware or apps that no longer work.. To get what? Nothing I've found yet that wasn't in XP to begin with.

Like Leo says: If it aint broke don't screw with it! And Windows 7 will do it to you..

Fastfreddie1959
March 2, 2010 5:52 PM

I bought a efurb emachine-and added a 500Gb-HD,
4gb of memory, and still my browsers freeze up
with win 7.
I tryed every hack i could find to no avail.
Today i reformatted and it's still slow.
It has an AMD athlon 2650e processor.
Nvidia onboard Gforce 6150SE nForce 430.
Any idea's on how to fix this issue would be
greatly appreciated.

Terry Hollett
March 3, 2010 4:57 AM

Unfortunately, not everyone can run out and buy a new computer every time Microsoft decides to jam a new operating system down our throats. I'm one of them.

I do have a WinXP system (p3 - 600mhz). I'm the 'geek next door' that fixes and repairs everybody else's systems and they are bringing me these state of the art system's with all the updater's running, systems that would pass all of the "expert's standards" for safe computing practices.

They have all the Windows Update's, Antivirus Updated, Windows Defender updated. Scanners running left and right and yet they are still getting infected.

My Analysis: to many "computer dummies" who rely 100% on programs that are not 100% reliable. People who don't take the time out to learn anything about their system other than turning it on and off. getting into their programs and getting out.

I just recently did a stupid thing and clicked on a wrong link on a web site. And watched as a virus tried to embed itself on my system.

"Winpatrol" kept warning me that a new item was trying to start up, I kept denying it but it kept popping up. So I went online found out what I needed to get rid of it and problem solved....but not a peep from my anti-virus program.

http://hitanykey.webs.com/

Coly Moore
April 27, 2010 9:07 AM

My old PC dies and I bought a new one that had Windows 7 and I love it. I guess this is a minority view here? But I find it superb. I haven't found any of my old programs that won't run if set to use compatibility mode. In general Windows 7 is much more helpful in case of problems - which have been very few. I love the GUI with the transparent window frames. That feature greatly increases the visibility when you have a log of windows up. And many other cool things like 'Pin to task bar'.

I don't believe you are in the minority. I believe that the majority of people running 7 are happy, and thus have no need to come here to complain. It's kind of like TV news that way - you only hear the bad news, but the good news is too common place to be news.
Leo
28-Apr-2010

CHET
April 27, 2010 12:28 PM

When I bought my new laptop with vista home premium HP mailed me a windows 7 disk. I've been afraid to install it. My motto is 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. Everything currently is working well so I shouldn't have a problem upgrading to 7,,,,,right????

John Neeting
May 4, 2010 5:17 PM

My wife bought a new laptop for the business, win vista home premium pre-installed. It's been hell to try and match it to the lan as all others run XP. It drops URL's, reconfigures itself and what's most annoying, it does so called intelligent upgrades, repairs, reconfigurations without TELLING you what it's doing - all you see is massive processor activity. Menus within menus is a pain in the posterior - it takes twice as long just to navigate to a file in a directory. I have no intention of going anywhere near it. XP is a dream to use, configure and best of all, REPAIR if something goes wrong.

John Butler
June 1, 2010 12:10 PM

I am a computer support guru and have tried Windows 7 clean installed and the upgrade from Windows XP using Laplink. which works pretty well.
I have also tried Windows 7 in XP mode which is like running XP.
At the end of the trials I did not like Windows 7 and I agree with Leo that if you have a good machine running with XP stay Like that. Don't get involved in the steep learning curve to use Windows & until you buy a new machine and have endure the pain of learning a new system any way.

Skitzer1
February 18, 2012 4:12 PM

Seriously how can any one not like W7. so your contemplating an upgrade are you? you really must in my opinion the 7 in comparison to XP is immense,but only in a good way.Ok 7 is a massive program yet the developers have made the system so intuitive that you will fly through it and learn it features.Some features you will never use or perhaps not find like stress tests and such like,don't let that comment put you off though.I'm certainly no expert but i find the system REALLY good , after learning the basics of I.T on a X.P 32 bit all i can say is the upgrade to 64bit 7 was the best move i could of made and i would recommend it to any one.Yes there are certain open source O/S that you can acquire however downloading an uncorrupted version for me was akin to finding water in the Sahara.So for me W7 all the way,also if you are confident enough you could get the Beta of windows 8.

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