How to Upgrade from Vista to Windows 7

 Break the Last Taboo – Go for an Upgrade from Vista to Windows 7


Break the Last Techie Taboo – Go for an Upgrade from Vista

Over the last 20 years the procedure for installing Windows has improved in virtually every respect.  We have now reached the point where I recommend breaking the last techie’s taboo, put aside the clean install and go for an upgrade from Vista to Windows 7.  If this sounds like heresy, my riposte is to say ‘examine the evidence’.

The worry of any in-place upgrade is that old baggage will slow down the new system.  My conclusion from 5 upgrades from Vista is a resounding, ‘No it won’t’.  Part of my faith in this upgrade technique is that the difference between Vista and Windows 7 is version 6.0 compared with 6.1.  I would be so bold as to suggest that in other circumstances Windows 7 could be considered a service pack of Vista.

If I am wrong then it will cost you 30 minutes of tweaking the Windows 7 settings, before you conclude that a clean install was required after all.  But if I am right an upgrade will save you a day of your life, which is what it can cost to complete a migration to Windows 7.  This is because unless you are Mr Organized, and know where to find not only all of the DVDs for your current application, but also all their service packs, product keys and maybe passwords, then it will take a much longer than you think to perform a clean install.

Yet, I concede that in the case of XP (version 5.1) a clean install is the way to go.  There is no direct in-place upgrade from XP to Windows 7, therefore a double shuffle from XP to Vista, and then to Windows would be pushing this upgrade concept too far.

Lessons from Previous Windows Installs

Remember that with Windows installs the past does not equal the present.  My greatest desire is encourage you to keep an open mind, think for yourself and seek out real evidence.  Forget prejudice; avoid those with an axe to grind or a buck to make.

Here are some of the developments that successive generations of Windows operating systems have introduced to their setup procedure.  One of Microsoft’s most annoying developments was to break the backwards compatibility pledge of the Windows 3.11 / Windows 95 era; yet this uncoupling may be the very factor that makes a Windows 7 in-place upgrade work without causing the new machine to slow down.

Back in 1988 I installed Windows 2.0 using floppy disks (I forget if it was 4,6, or 8).  What a joke.  For Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 I used an ISO image.  Even as late as the year 2002, installing XP or Windows Server 2000 required considerable user input, whereas now with Windows 7 and W2K8 R2 you just kick-off setup, check 3 menus then go away.  Come back 90 minutes and enjoy your upgraded computer.  One confusing change of procedure is that you don’t need to enter the product key until the end of the installation.  All of this means that times are a changing, thus I urge you to consider an in-place upgrade, rather than a clean install.

Your New Best Friend – The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor

Whether you go for an upgrade or clean install, your best friend is the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.  My only concern with this free utility is that it’s getting frighteningly clever.  Rather like those bridge programs that seem to read my mind and beat me mercilessly, so the Upgrade Advisor understands our machine better than we do.  Please do read its concise findings carefully.  Learn from my mistake, I ignored the Upgrade Advisor when it said, ‘You will need to re-install this program’.  I didn’t; and the program refused to work until I dutifully performed the uninstall, reinstall routine.

For this upgrade you need Vista.  If you have XP then opt for a custom / new install of Windows 7.  If you have a 64-bit processor be sure you know which is the 32-bit DVD in your box.

You also need the same edition of Windows 7 that you had in Vista.  It maybe possible to upgrade to higher version of Windows, for example, Ultimate Windows 7 over Home Vista, but this did not work for me.  Incidentally, setup only asks you for a product key for AFTER the install.  Get the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft’s site.

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Unorthodox Things that I Did During the Upgrade

For the rest of the article I want to reassure you that it’s almost impossible for an in-place upgrade to screw up your system, in the worst case that I have heard about, all that happened was that the installer baled-out and made a controlled roll-back to Vista.

There is no need to boot from the DVD, therefore I booted Vista normally, and even left program links in my Startup folder.  I interrupted the early stage of installation to print out a product key I obtained from MSDN.  In retrospect this was especially stupid as we don’t need the product key until AFTER the upgrade has completed.  One conclusion of my upgrade was avoid over-think, if in doubt do nothing, just trust the install process will sort it out.

The best thing I did during the upgrade was to leave the installer alone, and go out and watch a rugby game, when I came back 2 hrs later the upgrade was complete – magic.  98% of my settings worked first time, and Windows 7 even found the link in my Startup folder to open Outlook and downloaded my new emails.

Aftercare Once Windows 7 Arrives

A hidden benefit of the in-place upgrade is that you are fresh and keen.  Whereas re-installing all those applications needed by a migration can leave you frazzled.  My point is that tweaking the new operating system will be a labor of love and not a chore. 

Guy’s Law says that after any upgrade there will always be 7 things that need fixing.  My list was:

  1. Mastering the new Taskbar.
  2. Finding a driver for a webcam.
  3. Tweaking the Windows sounds.
  4. Seeking the Add Windows features.
  5. Installing IE8.
  6. Adjusting settings such as the new Library.
  7. Finally changing my product key in the Control Panel. 

Your list will be different from mine, but I bet there will be seven tasks that you need to do before Windows 7 is upgraded to your liking.  Good news; each configuration will take only 5 minutes.

Windows Update Rides to My Rescue

After one of my Windows 7 upgrades I had a show-stopper, a faulty network card driver, ‘What a disgrace’ I thought, ‘it worked fine in Vista’.  Then I looked at that little white flag in the notification area, probably because it had a red cross, anyway, a few clicks took me through the Action Center into the Maintenance section.  There I saw a link to download a new NIC driver.  Windows 7 went from zero to hero in my reckoning.  Perhaps this is where my own words return to haunt me, ‘With Windows installs the past does not equal the present’.

In-place Upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2

The procedure to upgrade from plain Windows Server 2008 to R2 is almost identical to the method for upgrading Vista to Windows 7, it just took twice as long; 4 hours.  Incidentally, Winver reports W2K8 R2 as being version 6.1.

However, once again you could leave the install, and get on with other jobs, no human interaction is required despite several reboots.  I suggest that it would take at least a day for clean install of a Windows server, especially if you have to re-configure all those roles and services from scratch.

For me the end result was much as Window7, the R2 server runs at least as fast as the original Windows Server 2008, I have had no server related problems since making the upgrade.

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Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade, Migrate, Install