Essential things to do before upgrading to Windows 7

Windows 7 is on its way so I thought I’d document some steps to take to prepare for a Windows 7 upgrade.

Depending on the state of your current computer and the version of Windows you’re currently running, your Windows 7 upgrade could consist of:

  • in-place upgrade over top of your existing OS (Only supported for Vista, but you can do it with XP through Hardlink Migration)
  • clean upgrade replacing your existing OS (format and overwrite)
  • alongside upgrade booting and running off another partition (two Windows versions on the same computer – I use this until I notice that the majority of my work is done on the new OS, then I nuke the older OS)

Microsoft provides this handy chart on their upgrade page; it’ll help you decide which path is right for you.

And, the upgrade could take a while. But, regardless of the upgrade path you choose to walk, here’s a few things you can do that will make your upgrade smoother, and safer should something go wrong.

To be safe, (and if you’ve got the drive space) you may want to make a full system backup.

If that’s not practical, determine what your most important data is — things like documents, photos, home videos etc. Things that are not replaceable.

Most likely, you’ll find them in ‘C:\Documents and Settings\YOUR USER NAME HERE\My Documents’, but you may find some in ‘C:\Documents and Settings\All Users as well’.

Once you’ve identified all your important and irreplaceable work, copy them to a separate directory on your computer. Don’t worry about copying your application programs (I find that when I upgrade my OS, it’s far better to reinstall them from scratch), but do check the application directories for any custom settings, purchased plugins, modifications etc. You’ll likely want to back them up as well.

Depending on how you roll, you can burn your important files to a CD, copy them to a USB thumb drive, or install an online backup client (like Mozy) and let it backup over the internet. If you’re especially concerned, combine these.

Now that our essential data is safe, we’re going to clean stuff up.

First, launch your control panel and uninstall every application, game or utility you no longer use. If you’re unsure, then just leave it, but I find that I’m always installing things and haven’t used them for months. Best to get rid of it now.

Next, run Disk Cleanup. Depending on your OS, you could find it in a few places, but I find the easiest way to launch it is by:

  • exploring to your C: drive
  • right clicking on the drive
  • selecting Properties from the drop down
  • then clicking on Disk Cleanup in the properties window.

Once Disc cleanup runs, you’ll be presented with a series of checkboxes of ‘stuff’ that windows wants to remove. Review it carefully, unchecking everything you want to keep. Then let it continue.

Finally, empty your trash.

Now, lets make your hard drive the best it can be for a new OS installation by defragmenting it. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of defragmentation

defragmentation is a process that reduces the amount of fragmentation in file systems. It does this by physically organizing the contents of the disk to store the pieces of each file close together and contiguously. It also attempts to create larger regions of free space using compaction to impede the return of fragmentation. Some defragmenters also try to keep smaller files within a single directory together, as they are often accessed in sequence.

On my system, here’s how I defrag a drive:

  • explore to C: drive
  • right click on the drive
  • selecting Properties from the drop down
  • select the Tools tab at the top of the window
  • then click on the Defrag Now button.

A defragged drive is a happy drive.

Ok, once you’ve done all this, you’re computer is in much better shape to proceed with your particular flavour of Windows 7 installation.

Good luck! Mine went fine, and I’m now busily reinstalling my applications, as I need them.

Update: Oct 20, 2009 Life Hacker has this much more detailed overview of the update process and preparing for it

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