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What’s the Best Way to Upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7?

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Leo, I have a Windows XP computer with a lot of downloaded programs. I want to install Windows 7 on the computer since Microsoft keeps changing its operating systems and forcing you to upgrade (unlike Apple). How do I do this simply? A friend of mine told me to just get a Windows 7 disk and load it but I question that since I’ve read so many sites, which explain all kinds of convoluted operations. I’m not a computer expert.

If I use your recommended backup program, Macrium Reflect, will it back up everything – files, data, and programs or do I have to go back and download the programs all over again? I’m about ready to buy an Apple Mac since no one seems to have that problem with them. So again, how do I go to Windows 7 from Windows XP?

Upgrading from Windows XP to 7 has two basic approaches: the way you want it to work, and the way that’s more reliable. I’ll get to that, but first I want to explain why I disagree with your comments about Apple.

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Apple is not immune

Not only has Apple not come close to supporting any version of their operating system for the 13 years that Microsoft has supported XP, but they’re also forcing an upgrade, much in the same manner as Windows XP, by dropping support of the Snow Leopard version of Mac OS.

People with machines that can run only Snow Leopard are basically left out in the cold; they either have to upgrade their  machines or just live with what they have. Just like XP users – except that Snow Leopard is something like only 5 years old. You don’t hear about as much because well, the market is smaller, and I think a big reason is that people just enjoy hating on Microsoft much more.

Time to Upgrade!Windows 7 Upgrade

Now, I do believe that Windows 7 will let you upgrade a Windows XP installation. By that I mean you would insert the Windows 7 install media, run the setup program and allow it to upgrade the existing installation. In theory, that would preserve all of your applications and all of your data, and whatever else. In theory.

It’s possible that I’m wrong and this not an option, but regardless, it’s not an option that I recommend. An operating system version update is a big enough deal that I recommend a completely different approach.

  1. Back up your machine using something like Macrium.
  2. Install Windows 7 – this time having it perform a clean install (not an update). That means reformatting the hard disk and erasing everything on it.
  3. Then reinstall your applications.
  4. Then restore your data.
  5. Get on with your new Windows 7 life.

The Macrium backup will back up everything but not in the way you describe. You’ll be able to restore your data files from the backup, but you will not be able to just pick and choose the applications you want to restore. That’s not what a backup is for. The application installation is too tightly ingrained with everything else that’s on that machine.

You could, of course, restore the entire system (that is in fact, what a backup is for) but that would give you Windows XP back. You actually need to install your applications from scratch from their original downloads or from the installation media.

6 comments on “What’s the Best Way to Upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7?”

  1. One important consideration to make when considering an upgrade from XP to Windows 7 is DRIVERS. Before you go buying a copy of Windows 7, check out your computer manufacturer’s website to see if Windows 7 drivers even exist for it. There’s a good chance they don’t. And without drivers, you won’t be able to do much – no wifi, LAN, etc. But then again, there might be drivers after all – just check first and save yourself a big headache.

  2. When looking for new drivers, I would also look for Windows Vista as well as Win 7 drivers in either x86 or x64, depending on your hardware.

    If a laptop, make sure you can actually get drivers. I know Acer discontinued the ability to access the drivers on my old laptop. I had downloaded them when the computer was new so I did have them.

    Downloading audio, video, networking, etc., drivers when new is highly recommended.

  3. 1. No you cannot upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 directly (unless they have made a change in the last few months), even if it was recommended. There is an upgrade path available, but it involves upgrading to Vista first and then to Windows 7. Been there, done that when it was absolutely necessary and this allows you to avoid reinstalling all your software, although some of your software may not work. I did it on several hundred computers in a private school. IF you REALLY want to try this path, be sure to run the upgrade advisors before each step and uninstall any problematic software and all antivirus and anti malware software. It is time consuming and you run the risk of inherited problems, but it is possible.

    2. About the drivers. I have installed windows on thousand of computers, clean installs and upgrades, and Windows 7 is by far the best installation process I have ever seen. Often times even when the manufacturer doesn’t advertise a driver, windows update will take care of it. I would say that in all the installs on used computers and upgrades I have done ( I recycle old XP computers, upgrade memory, and install Windows7 for people who just cannot afford to get a new computer), maybe about 2-3% have had a driver problem that was not automatically fixed during updates.

    Windows 8 on the other hand is a nightmare. I think I read somewhere that they claim that you can upgrade from XP to Windows 8 for free now, but I would be VERY reluctant to try that. I upgraded my 2 year old computer (home built with quality components) from Windows 7 to Windows 8 and it took me a week of down time to fix the mess. I ended up wiping everything and doing a clean install and even then I had to buy a new video card and a sound card because my 2 year old equipment wasn’t supported for windows 8.

    Chuck Strickland
    Strickland Computer Services

  4. I installed Windows 7 on my computer with XP. I boot up XP when I know I wont be
    needing the internet. If I know I will need the internet I boot up with Windows 7.
    I have a D drive that is common to both operating systems. I have been using this
    arrangement since the first of April and it works great. I use firefox when I access
    the internet.

  5. Leo: You may want to warn people to be careful about what “Windows 7” package they purchase. I learned the hard way and bought a “system builder” version, only to find it was of no use to me as I wasn’t registered with MS as a builder. I was lucky to find a Windows 7 install disc that had been “branded” by a major computer manufacturer. These “standalone” install discs may be a little hard to find. I believe Microsoft told retailers some time ago to remove Windows 7 from their shelves to put the emphasis on Windows 8.1.

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