Windows

10 questions to consider when planning a Windows 7 upgrade

Whether you're anxious to upgrade to Windows 7 or you just want to know what to expect if and when you do, there are lots of factors to keep in mind. Deb Shinder addresses some of the biggest concerns, from hardware requirements to driver compatibility to upgrade paths.

Whether you're anxious to upgrade to Windows 7 or you just want to know what to expect if and when you do, there are lots of factors to keep in mind. Deb Shinder addresses some of the biggest concerns, from hardware requirements to driver compatibility to upgrade paths.


Windows 7 hasn't even been released yet, but the buzz around it indicates that many individuals are chompin' at the bit to upgrade as soon as it hits the market.

Despite this enthusiasm, however, much has been made of a recent survey by Dimensional Research. According to the survey, 84% of 1,100 IT professionals surveyed said they don't plan to upgrade to Windows 7 in the next year, 16% do intend to upgrade in the next 12 months, and 42% expect to upgrade within 12 to 24 months. In addition, 43% said the current economic downturn is one of the reasons they will delay upgrading to Windows 7. That would seem to indicate that improvement in the economy over the next year might change the upgrade numbers. It's also possible that this month's discontinuation of mainstream support for Windows XP, which most of the companies are currently using on the desktop, may influence some to upgrade more quickly than they might otherwise.

Sooner or later, it's likely that most home users and businesses will be upgrading from their current operating system to Windows 7. In this article, we'll address 10 issues to keep in mind when you begin planning an upgrade to Windows 7.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Do I need to buy new hardware?

Many people equate upgrading the operating system to the need to buy a new computer or, at the very least, add RAM and perhaps a bigger hard drive to their present systems. That's because traditionally, each new version of Windows has needed more disk space and memory than its predecessor.

Will you need to buy new hardware if you want to use Windows 7? That depends. Microsoft's recommended hardware specifications for Windows 7 Release Candidate include a 1 GHz processor, at least 1 GB of RAM, DirectX 9.0 support, 16 GB of free disk space, and 128 MB of graphics memory (for Aero). Those requirements are pretty much the same as the published system specs for Vista Home Premium/Business/Enterprise/Ultimate (the only difference is that the Vista specs list 15 GB of disk space). Many beta testers report that Windows 7 runs faster on their low-powered machines (512 MB of RAM) than does Vista.

Rule of thumb: If your computer is powerful enough to run Vista acceptably, it will probably run Windows 7 as well or better. If you're currently using XP on a computer with less than 512 MB of RAM or a processor that's slower than 800 MHz, you'll need to upgrade your hardware.

2: Can I upgrade directly from XP?

Many folks who are still running Windows XP want to know whether they can upgrade to Windows 7 without losing all their preferences and settings. The answer is, well, sort of. Microsoft is not providing a direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. An in-place upgrade is available only if you're running Vista SP1 or later. If you're running XP, even if your hardware is sufficient, you'll have to do a clean installation of Windows 7. However, you can use the Microsoft Deployment Tool 2010, which includes the User State Migration Tool, to transfer your user settings for the desktop and applications to the new Windows 7 installation. This article offers more details.

3: Can I do a Vista in-place upgrade?

If you're running Windows Vista, note that you must install SP1 or SP2 before you can do an in-place upgrade to Windows 7. If you attempt to upgrade a Vista computer that doesn't have a service pack installed, you will get a message informing you that "to upgrade to Windows 7, the computer needs to be running Vista with Service Pack 1."

4: Can I upgrade from Windows 7 beta to final release?

Many people are currently running either the public beta of Windows 7 (build 7000) that was released in January or one of the subsequent builds that has been leaked to various peer-to-peer sites since then. Many of them are wondering whether they'll be able to do an in-place upgrade to the RC and/or final release.

Microsoft has recommended that beta testers go back to Vista and upgrade from it to the final release, but that's something many will resist. Another option is to do a clean install, but again, many folks are using Windows 7 now on their mission-critical desktops and notebooks, and they don't want to have to start all over. In deference to them, Microsoft representatives have said that it will be possible to upgrade from the beta, but it won't be easy; it will involve a number of steps. The installer will tell you "no" when you attempt to do an upgrade from an earlier build of Windows 7. There's a procedure to bypass the version check so you can do the upgrade anyway.

Microsoft asks that you do this only if you "absolutely require" it. It's likely that you'll have a much more stable OS if you do a clean installation.

5: Will there be driver compatibility issues?

A big complaint about Windows Vista was driver incompatibility. Too many people upgraded their OS from XP to Vista only to find that a favorite peripheral, such as a printer or scanner, would no longer work. Vista also introduced a new display driver model, WDDM, which required video card vendors to write completely different display and video miniport drivers. And security enhancements in Vista affected how the OS handles drivers. Even though Vista was in development for five years, many hardware vendors did not have Vista drivers ready for all of their products when the OS was released.

Now that Vista has been out for more than two years, most hardware vendors have updated their drivers to work with it. Because Windows 7 uses the same driver models as Vista, the vast majority of hardware devices that work with Vista will work with Windows 7. For Vista drivers that won't install on Windows 7, you can usually solve the problem by installing in Compatibility Mode. To do this, right-click the driver's setup file, select Properties, click the Compatibility tab, enable compatibility mode, and select the appropriate operating system from the drop-down box.

6: Will there be application compatibility issues?

As with drivers, most applications that run on Windows Vista will run on Windows 7. You may need to enable Compatibility Mode on some applications, as described above. Interestingly, some applications that ran on XP and would not run on Vista will run on Windows 7. Microsoft reported in March that it had identified at least 30 old applications that will run on Windows 7 although they failed to do so on Vista. These are being referred to as "rescued applications."

7: What if I have apps that won't run on Windows 7, even in Compatibility Mode?

There may be some XP applications that you can't get to run on Windows 7, even using Compatibility Mode. In the past, that might have been considered a reason not to upgrade. However, you may still be able to enjoy all the benefits of Windows 7 without giving up your favorite apps, thanks to a new compatibility feature called XP Mode. XPM is a host-based virtualization solution that will reportedly be made available at no cost to users of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions.

XPM includes a fully licensed copy of XP that runs in a virtual machine on your Windows 7 computer. This differs from just installing XP on Virtual PC or VMware. The virtualized applications appear like local applications on the Windows 7 desktop because they're published to the Win 7 host operating system. With XPM, you will be able to run any XP application on Windows 7. For more information about XPM, see Paul Thurrott's blog post on the issue.

8: Should I wait for Windows 7 release to buy a new computer?

Some individual computer users may be wondering if they should wait until Windows 7 is released to buy a new computer, to ensure that the system will work with the new OS. An advantage of waiting is that after Windows 7 is released, you'll be able to buy a computer that has it preinstalled, so you won't need to upgrade.

However, if you need a new system now, there is no need to suffer with an outdated, slow, or defective system. A Vista system purchased now will in all likelihood run Windows 7 with no problems. But even though you don't need to wait until the final release, you might want to wait until June 1 to make your purchase. Buying a Vista system after that date will make you eligible for a free Windows 7 upgrade license. (This applies to Vista Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate editions.)

9: Which edition of Windows 7 should I choose?

A big complaint about Vista is that there are too many editions to choose from. Windows XP offered only two retail editions: Professional and Home. (XP Media Center edition and Tablet PC edition were available only to OEMs.) But Vista offers a large and sometimes confusing array of options: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate. (Starter is available only in "emerging markets," and Enterprise is available only to volume licensing customers.)

Windows 7 will also have both Home Basic and Home Premium editions. The equivalent of Vista Business edition will revert to the Professional moniker. As far as we can tell, Enterprise and Ultimate editions will be the same, except that the former is sold only through volume licensing. There will also be a Starter edition, which will be installed on low-powered netbooks.

A major change is that each successive Windows 7 edition will include all features of the lower cost ones. Many Vista Business and Enterprise users were annoyed that they didn't get Windows Media Center, DVD Maker, and other consumer-oriented features that came in Vista Home Premium. Since Home Premium couldn't join a domain and lacked support for EFS and some other business-oriented features, if you wanted both, you had to buy Ultimate. Windows 7 Pro will include everything that's in Windows 7 Home Premium, and Enterprise will include everything that's in Business edition. Companies will be able to easily block the consumer features when they deploy Pro (or Enterprise) on their networks.

Most people will find that either Home Premium or Pro will fit their needs. If you need BitLocker or the ability to boot from a VHD, you'll want Enterprise or Ultimate.

10: What are the main reasons to upgrade to Windows 7?

Why upgrade to Windows 7 rather than stay with Windows XP or Vista?  If you're still running XP, an important consideration is the fact that Microsoft ended mainstream support for XP on April 14. Although critical security updates will still be provided at no cost until 2014, additional support is provided only to customers who pay for a support contract with Microsoft.

Windows 7 also provides the improved graphical user interface (Aero) you get with Vista. Search is improved, and consumers with children will appreciate the parental controls feature. The most important reason to upgrade from XP is security; both Vista and Windows 7 provide much better security.

If you're using Vista, some of the new features and functionality you'll get with Windows 7 include a more streamlined GUI with a more functional taskbar that features Jump Lists; new and more sophisticated versions of Paint, Wordpad, and Calculator; easier windows management with snap-to docking; elimination of the sidebar (while maintaining support for gadgets); and new built-in troubleshooting tools. While Windows 7 still focuses on security, User Account Control (UAC) is far less in your face and more user-configurable than in Vista. Windows 7 also has built-in support for touch (if you have a touchscreen monitor). Keyboard fans will find a number of new keyboard shortcuts to help you avoid use of the mouse in many situations.

For administrators, Windows 7 offers new tools such as PowerShell v2, improved Group Policy, and VHD image management and deployment.


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About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

26 comments
reisen55
reisen55

1. Lawsuits. After I upgrade my clients to Windows 7 and my clients can no longer run their businesses, they will sue me and take everything I own because I trusted Steve Ballmer. 2. Sleepless nights - worries, stress about the above. 3. Hospitalization - after my heart attack from lawsuits, see point 1 above. 4. Burial.

john3347
john3347

You failed to mention that so many of the features that we have come to love, use, and expect from XP AND even Vista (yuck) have been thrown out. No classic start menu, no arranging your own icons, MANY personalization options have been discontinued with Windows 7. Enough discontinued features and increased "fluff and puff" over Vista and very little improvements in substance will force me to remain with XP until something that is actually BETTER comes along or until XP looses 3rd. party support to the extent that Windows 2000 has. Windows 7 does run faster than Vista but only enough that those obsessed with tenths of a second will know the difference. Some experience (or at least perceive) a slight improvement in speed over XP and some experience or perceive slower activity. XP Mode only works on approximately 1/2 of current Intel processors, too.

damon.mac88
damon.mac88

Most of the home users or tech freaks like me feel that xp interface is kind of outdated. With flashy GUI of Win 7 and a improved resource utilization by 7 makes it a first choice of Tech Freaks. Clearly its not the case with Vista which isnt good at utilizing resources, not to mention other irritating features.

reisen55
reisen55

Experimenting with release candidate 1 is interesting and fun - however never forget that we do not have a FINAL PRODUCTION PRODUCT yet. This discussion is really pure speculation. And I would not migrate anything for my clients until six months down the road anyway.

colin.hempsey
colin.hempsey

A (long winded) bit of history first! In '07 when I first started using Vista (Home Premium), which came pre-installed on my 1.66 GHz 2048Mb Dual Core laptop, I remember thinking after it had loaded that it looked fantastic and for those first few minutes I was sold. As I started to remove the bloatware that comes preinstalled UAC rudely interrupted me almost immediately and got so annoying I turned it off. I installed McAfee to look after system protection and I felt quite comfortable in disabling the little red warning in the system tray. I was lucky that my peripherals worked almost straight away (a little bit of hunting for drivers that Vista did itself), though I know that many users had problems. Office Pro went on with no difficulties and the games that I bought for the machine worked well too, my old games ran under XP compatibility mode and soon became redundant anyway. Of course, I read that the games would perform better on XP (proved with benchmark scores), I thought about downgrading, but I didn't really want to install XP on my new machine, what was the point? Everything worked out the box for me, Vista looked fresh and beautifully designed, all in all I liked Vista and every time I log in at work I think XP looked dated. Two and a bit years, a new laptop and fresh copy of Vista HP down the line, I don't have any regrets about not downgrading. I had some difficulties with an external HDD that I bought for backups (I learned the difference between "Works with Vista" and "Certified for Vista" that day!). Now after asking myself why should I downgrade to XP (when all is working fine) two years ago, I'm now asking why should I upgrade when Vista still looks good and works even better (SP1 and I disabled some of the background services). I see the RRP for Windows 7 Home premium is USD259 (on 7th Feb 09). If I do a straight switch to GBP using Google at today's prices, that's GBP173! So what do I get for 173 quid? A new taskbar, a removed sidebar, slightly different GUI, a "less in your face" UAC (when mine is turned off and I can't be the only one), a better paint, a better WordPad and a better calculator. So, a better paint? Does anyone use MS Paint? There are two very good and free paint programs out there (one of them is even written by Microsoft employees). I suspect most users are aware of GIMP or Paint.net (if you're not, try them out). WordPad. When do I use WordPad? I don't use WordPad, I use MS Office. Before I used MS Office I used open office. Both are excellent word processing programs, one of which is free and both can use the industry standard *.doc format. A better calculator just might be useful to me on the odd occasion, I won't miss the sidebar as I can keep the gadgets and the GUI will be a bit prettier. The problem is that these are not reasons to spend 173 quid. In these recessionary times they're probably not reasons to spend 17 pounds 30 pence. I did download Windows 7 and try it out, first in a virtual machine and then as a fresh install. It does look even nicer than Vista, I read above that a forum user says it is more stable and games run faster in 7 than in vista (if this is true can you post some benchmarks) but it's not enough to make me spend the money. I will get Windows 7 eventually but as OEM on a new PC. edited to correct punctuation and add a date.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Consistent since NT 4: Platform:MS Minimum/Real life minimum/ideal NT4:16/64/128 Win2k:32/256/512 WinXP:64/512/1024 Vista:512/2048/4096 If the law, Toad's Law, remains consistent: Win7:1024/4096/8192 So don't bother with 32-bit mode, because it's stuck at 3.2GB due to hardware limitations and I doubt MS would have bothered with enabling /PAE like how they have done with the Server side (Server 2003 has PAE enabled, so why not XP or Vista? If not Win7 too?) I'm predicting failure. Even their own ads bashing the Mac are unfounded; the ignorant girl wanting a computer to edit movies talks of RAM (yet not hard drive speed and other factors)... a low-end Mac has 2GB of RAM but uses 512MB for itself. Plenty remains to do that work. Compare to Vista, which uses a lot of RAM and leaving little for apps out of the box. On a 4GB machine, Vista uses 1.8GB (OS X uses 512MB on a 4Gb machine). Microsoft cannot say "unused RAM is wasted RAM" because, on that 4GB machine, it's not scrambling to fill up all that memory. Obfuscation. Spin. I've been there and done that for 20-odd years. I don't need a big powerhouse of a PC just to buy an OS that will just crawl on it. With a flaky registry that will get corrupted anyway because MS has yet to address THAT problem of fragmentation, et cetera... My 24" iMac w/4GB RAM, GTX120 video, and a 2.93GHz dual core CPU should NOT feel faster than my Q9650 quad core machine with 8/GB RAM and a GTX260 video card. Yet it does. Something's wrong here. And it's not the Mac. Not to mention build quality; the PC laptops I've seen have 2 hour lifespans on battery and are huge. Your given MacBook pro lasts twice as long and yet is half the thickness. (I grew to love mine quickly.) I don't want to sound trollish, but especially with the last 5 years, Vista and Microsoft in general has really put out garbage. I can't defend it any longer. Not when I have customers, find a bug, and get told by MS that the fix for their product would come out in a new version (and this was for an app that had just come out too!!) and not in a service pack. I'm sorry.

reisen55
reisen55

I conducted a fine Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 load on an 80gb drive, and was experiencing light issues but nothing bad. Malwarebytes AntiMalware and Diskeeper 10 do not function. However.... I have a second SATA drive as two partitions for storage and media. Entirely separate device. I removed the 80gb this afternoon, set it aside and installed a 160gb SATA to restore a ghost image of Windows XP Pro. I created this image just prior to the Windows 7 install. I should be secure, right??? Nope. Note - Windows 7 touched the secondary hard drive, detonated my storage partition and rendered Windows XP boot totally frozen at personal settings and the screen constantly blinking. Partition Magic reported the storage partition as entirely corrupt. Due to good practice, and a handy Dell XImage (which I commend) and a redundant system on my network with complete backups, I was able to rebuild and quickly restore everything. But beware of secondary hard drives.

dsherman
dsherman

The problem "Windows Mail" users can't import their mail into Windows Live mail. So beware.

rabear
rabear

There was a blog here or in thurrott's post, I am not sure, where even if your computer is new but the processor does not have VT capability, then XP Mode won't run.

thomasantill831x
thomasantill831x

well im using windows 7 now i think it runs alot better than vista ultimate more stabble than vista games run a lot better on it performance is a hell of alot better than vista i can see enything wrong with it so far . thomas antil

JuliaIT
JuliaIT

I think you will have even less companies willing to upgrade if you can't upgrade directly from Windows XP. Vista was a huge flop. We never installed it here and never will. Having to install a clean copy of Windows 7 to multiple PC's at multiple sites sounds like more work then it is worth. Then comes the problem with having to reload all applications your users use. I don't know... I would just think that after the huge mess Vista made, Microsoft would have made it easier to upgrade from XP to 7.

Fire eating monkey
Fire eating monkey

I think most (if not all) home users will find the cost prohibative for this "new" operating system (I still see it as Vista with a number of tweeks and mods). I for one will wait, as you said, until I need a replacement computer and then get an OEM version pre-installed. From an office/work point of view, the cost will need a lot of justifying during these "cash is king" times especially for those who have moved to Vista.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

Well, I have and your RAM estimates, at least for Win7, are way off. I installed it on a AMD 3200+ with 2 GB of RAM (a system a couple of years old already) and it flys. I think it runs faster than XP on the same box. That's a fresh install with Trend Micro, Office 2003 and of course Win7. No tweaks other than a quick defrag once everything was installed.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Pre-SP1 Vista wreaked havoc for me... Given Win7 is a beta (as if that matters, Vists RTM and Vista SP1 are still beta-grade as far as I'm concerned - pre-SP1 being alpha quality at best), never have production data on the same computer...

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

That you download outside of the OS if your hardware can support it. It is down to each user to check or buy if this is the case. As such it is not IN Windows 7. Much like x64 applications will not run on x32 systems. Are we up in arms about that? NO.

brian.richter
brian.richter

You could always make an image of one computer with Windows 7 and all of the applications loaded on it. That's what I've done for years with multiple operating systems, and continue to reimage PC's after a year of use to keep them clean. Downfall is having to update the image every time you plan on re-deploying, but it's a lot easier and less time consuming than having to upgrade the OS and applications for each computer!

reisen55
reisen55

Funny, all I have is Release Candidate 1. I like it but I would not judge the FINAL PRODUCT by it at all. Unless you trust Microsoft.........

reisen55
reisen55

This was a secondary hard drive altogether, so there is no reason for Win7 to go down there but it did. Restoration was easy though because as a professional I plan for this kind of event and had everything back up and working within 3 hours or so. Just lessons learned like remove cables from secondary SATA drive BEFORE trying that again and cursing Ballmer.

reisen55
reisen55

Gee, kinda mitigates against migrating to Windows 7. Keep Windows XP Professional..............

alexri
alexri

I agree with Brian, if you really are worried about the size of your organisation's IT infrastructure when migrating to a different OS, then make sure you have some procedures to do a distributed (network) installation. This is actually something that I've done on a regular basis to refresh PCs after a holiday period (this was at a medium sized college). If you don't plan ahead for your IT infrastructure you may never upgrade. And eventuall you'll just get stuck. Every single time you put off an update you'll be having more issues on the next update. Also my company has been involved in many large vista migrations and many companies do actually see added value, and so do their users (which is the most important part). Staying on XP wasn't a bad idea at all and if you did stay there, I'm not blaming you. However from what I have seen of Windows 7 it'd be downright stupid not to migrate. There are exceptions obviously, but I can imagine only very few. Oh also there has been talk that some major companies actually have contracts saying that if they adopt Vista; when the next OS comes out they get a free update. So I think plenty of company computers will be moving over just on this.

Vincent
Vincent

I have downloaded the RTM(release to market) via technet and installed it. It works just as fine as the RC version A few minor changes. BTW: I'm using an HP Pavillion Notebook w/ 3 Gb RAM, an Intel core2 Duo processor T5550 at 1, 8 Ghz (so i cannot use XP Mode) and a GeForce 8400M videoadapter. W7 runs just fine on my machine.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

But what's your point? I tested the RC version. And it is still as fast or faster than XP on that box. His "theory" of multiplying RAM by 4 just isn't so.

reisen55
reisen55

I have tried, on occasion, dual boot configurations and they are not worth the trouble despite ease of use. FAR better is to have a network (I have about 30 systems in house that I can touch but only 3 on all of the time) with RDP to various systems. And a collection of drives on a shelf too. Regular GHOST image of a secure build and saved in a redundant fashion. Dual boot is quick but I have been burned too many times with OS issues to trust it. And NEVER for my clients.

ITSuper
ITSuper

Would the drives and installations be directly effected by the order they were installed? And shouldn't the installation be verified separately before putting them in the same system together? In the past I have done this and made the system work, making sure that the legacy OS is installed first.

alexri
alexri

I've done something similar, but I've not experienced issues with my hard drives. I have a a grand-total of four drives, and installed windows 7 on one and had XP on another. This worked out just fine for me and Windows 7 hadn't messed with any of the disks (they were all fully accesible under both OS's).

alexri
alexri

So adding the ability to install something under XP mode. While also giving you DirectX 10+, better driver compatibility and a more solid overall structure in your OS is actually Microsoft's way of saying: "Just keep using XP it was way better"... I don't think so?

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