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I upgraded my wife's computer and want to share the exact process I used, and the results.
My wife's computer has been in need of a "reformat and reinstall" for some time. It just had some flaky behavior that couldn't really be attributed to anything specific, other than software rot.
After having and using Windows 7 on two new machines in the last couple of months, I'd come to the conclusion that it was a fine, fine replacement for Windows XP in our situation. The only open question was "would it work on her older machine?".
There were a couple of minor hiccups, but the short answer is: yes.
Let me describe the machine, my process, and what we have running today.
Before I begin, I do want to say that this is the exact same process I would use regardless of the state of the machine. I mentioned that this machine was in need of a reformat and reinstall, but even if it weren't these are the steps I would take. I'd also take these same steps regardless of whether the machine had been running Windows XP or Windows Vista or some other operating system.
An operating system installation is, in my opinion, best done by reformatting and reinstalling, from scratch.
So that's what I did.
The machine is a 4 year old Dell Latitude D610 laptop running Windows XP with Service Pack 3. It runs at 1.7 Ghz, and has 2 gigabytes of memory; the maximum it'll support. It has a 56 gigabyte hard drive.
All in all this is certainly not a "current" machine by today's standards, but one that should run Windows 7 just fine.
Step 1: Back Up
Anyone that follows what I write at all could have guessed that the first step I took was to back up the entire machine. I actually did it two ways, one for safety and one for convenience:
I took a full system image using Acronis TrueImage. That's the safety net for the worst case scenario - if something were to go disastrously wrong, I could simply restore the machine to the state captured in that image. I'm also keeping that image as a long term archive, in case I ever need to retrieve anything I might have missed in the future.
I also copied (as in a literal file copy) the entire hard disk to some spare space on my machine. This misses certain system files that are in use at the time of the copy, but that's OK since that's not the point. It copies everything so that in a later step I can easily copy back those files that will be needed; an obvious example being all of my wife's email.
The irony is that the backing up - particularly since I stupidly did the second step over WiFi instead of to an external hard drive - took the longest by far compared to any step that follows.
Step 2: Install Windows 7
Quite literally, the next step was simply to insert the installation media for Windows 7 and reboot.
Now, you'll note that I seem to be doing the install without the pre-requisite reformat. That's because it's actually part of the installation process.
After the setup disk boots, and I waded through the introductory screens and license terms, I was given a choice between "Upgrade" or "Custom". The key here is to choose Custom:
Here's where the format comes in. On the resulting screen, I clicked on Drive options (advanced):
Click on the partition you want to install on - make sure to click on the correct partition if you have more than one drive - and then click on the Format link. You'll get the nasty warning that "If you format this partition any data stored on it will be lost."
You've backed up? You have all your data that you want to save, saved somewhere?
I did, so I clicked OK.
Then I clicked Next and setup began copying files.
A while later after finishing the rest of the setup steps, I had a working Windows 7 machine. In this case I accepted the default security settings, and let it download recent updates.
Step 3: Install Applications
The next step boiled down to a very routine installation of the applications my wife uses most:
Firefox: While IE is available on the machine, my wife occasionally used Firefox, so I installed it and made it the primary browser.
Office 2003: for some reason I get asked often if Office 2003 will work on Windows 7. Absolutely it will, and my wife has the setup to prove it. She's an Outlook user. I'll talk about restoring her data below.
Trillian: the multi-service instant messaging program. In this case rather than installing the same version she'd had before I downloaded the latest.
That represented about 90% of what we needed, right from the beginning. Over the next week I'd uncover an application or two that I'd missed (a PDF reader, for example, or a Flash player), but this got the most needed applications onto the machine immediately.
Step 4: Restore Data
So far everything I've done has been to simply install software from the original installation media. I'd saved the media, and the product keys where appropriate, and downloaded new versions as needed.
There remained the problem of restoring important data like email, documents and configuration settings like default home pages and IM accounts.
The later two were easily handled by simply re-entering the account information into Trillian and setting the home page in Firefox.
As I mention in step 1, in addition to an image backup, I'd also copied off all of the files on the machine to a temporary holding location.
So I copied the important ones back.
It sounds simple because it is. Things like the documents in "My Documents", for example, just got copied from the saved location back to the equivalent location in the newly installed machine. I also took this opportunity to copy in a number of tools I use on all my machines.
Finally there was Outlook.
I started Outlook once, and did not allow it to configure any email accounts, and exited it. This caused Outlook to set up a profile and a default PST data storage file. I then effectively replaced the newly created empty PST with the (rather large) one from the saved location. Doing so restored all my wife's email, contacts and whatever else is kept in the PST back into the new Outlook installation.
The one thing not kept in the PST is the account configuration, so I then created an account and entered that information manually, pressed Send/Receive and the email that had accumulated while I was working on the machine was delivered.
Step 5: Deal with issues.
The machine had no sound, and the wireless network refused to work.
I was concerned when I went to the Dell website for the latest drivers for both only to find that there were no Windows 7 drivers for this machine. The machine's old enough that its support has long since come to an end.
A little research showed that the Windows Vista drivers were available for the audio card, so I downloaded and installed those. They worked.
The wireless card required that I head out to the card's manufacturer's web site (Intel). Sure enough, there were Windows Vista drivers available, and again after downloading and installing, the wireless network was once again available.
To date those are the only two issues we've seen - everything else worked flawless on install. Even these two I consider minor, since working drivers were relatively easy to locate for this older machine. (The network drivers, once installed, also appeared to update in a subsequent Window Update.)
At this point my wife had a working machine, successfully upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7.
Step 6: Deal with anything I missed.
As thorough as I like to think I am, I knew I would miss things. That's one reason I backed up as I did. As I mentioned above it was a couple of days later that my wife attempted to view a PDF document and found she had no reader. The first time she attempted to view a web video there was no flash player. A document here, an application there - over the next few days we added - and continue to add - those items that she find she needs.
The Bottom Line
Actually it worked well, and went smoother than I had anticipated for a machine of this age.
My wife's been using the machine without incident, and doesn't seem too phased by the differences in UI when you make the leap from XP to 7. She even elected to take the laptop along when we left on a short trip the day after it had been reinstalled.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons that it worked as well as it did is that it was not an "upgrade", but a reformat and reinstall. Yes, a couple of minor issues - sound and wireless - surfaced, but they were easily dealt with.
By far the most important part of any upgrade is Step 1: Back Up. Whether you choose the "upgrade" route, or the "reformat and reinstall" route, having a complete backup of your machine to restore to in case the worst happens is a critical safety net that too many people over look.
Fortunately, I didn't need it, but I'm sure glad I had it in case I did.
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