Lifestyle and Emerging Technology In Plain English

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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