Operating systems

10 things that can go wrong when you upgrade your operating system


Upgrading to a new operating system -- whether it's one personal computer at home or an office full of workstations -- can be a stressful experience. You do it to take advantage of new features or to be able to run new applications, but you approach it with trepidation because you know there are always things that can go wrong. In this article, we'll look at some of those potential problems and explain how you can prevent them or work around them if they do occur.

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

#1: Insufficient hardware

In general, new operating systems require heftier hardware than their predecessors. A system that runs the old OS just fine may run the new one very slowly or not at all, so be sure to check out the hardware requirements before you do the upgrade. You might need a faster processor and you almost always need more memory. Other components might need to be upgraded, too. For example, Windows Vista requires the proper video card to support the Aero interface.

If you get the new operating system installed and find that performance is inadequate, you might be able to make the necessary hardware upgrades. However, if your computer needs several components upgraded to run the new OS, it might be less expensive to buy a new computer. And of course, if the system is a laptop, it may be difficult or impossible to upgrade the hardware to a level that will run the new OS.

#2: Setup errors and freezes

Probably the worst case scenario is when the Setup process fails in the middle of an upgrade. This can leave you stuck in computer purgatory, with neither the old operating system nor the new one usable.

A possible cause is insufficient disk space. According to Microsoft's specifications, Vista Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate require at least a 40GB disk with 15 GB of free space. You might be able to install with less space, but you may encounter problems.

This can also be caused by a hardware issue. For example, Vista seems to be more sensitive to a bad RAM module than XP. Replacing or removing the bad RAM allows Setup to proceed normally. In other cases, the problem may lie with the hard drive or with the optical drive running the installation media. Some users have solved this problem by installing drivers for the hard drive before selecting the drive on which to install the OS.

#3: Driver problems

Driver problems are one of the most common causes of all sorts of trouble connected with an OS upgrade. Just because you get through the installation process and the OS runs, that doesn't mean things haven't gone wrong. You may find that your soundcard no longer works or that you can't print in the new OS. That's usually a driver issue.

The first thing to do is check the Web site of the hardware component vendor for updated drivers. Unfortunately, vendors sometimes don't update their drivers to work with the new operating system, especially on older devices. Sometimes, this is a technical issue, but the cynics among us will note that they have a vested interest in forcing you to buy a new card or printer.

#4: Activation error

What could be worse than installing your new operating system and then, when you go to activate it, being told that you don't have a genuine copy of Windows? Microsoft's recent operating systems, including Windows XP and Vista, use Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) technology, which requires activation after installation (and after you upgrade certain hardware components). If you don't activate Vista within 30 days, it will go into a limited functionality mode, where you can no longer use the Aero interface and will lose other premium features.

However, Vista Service Pack 1 (due to be released in early 2008) is supposed to change this behavior so that systems identified as non-genuine will pop up a nag screen but won't have their functionality disabled. Even a nag screen is an irritant, though, if you mistakenly get caught up in the cogs of the antipiracy mechanism.

If the validation tool won't run on your computer (and thus prevents you from downloading updates), the first thing to do is run the WGA diagnostics.

#5: Application incompatibilities

Another common thing that goes wrong when upgrading an OS is that you're no longer able to run some applications. This can be mildly annoying if your favorite game won't work, but it can be a minor catastrophe if a mission-critical business application fails to run.

In some cases, you can get an uncooperative application to work by running it in compatibility mode. In Vista, navigate to the program's executable and right-click it, select Properties, and then click the Compatibility tab. Select the Run This Program In Compatibility Mode For check box. Then, in the drop-down box, select the operating system under which you were previously running it (for example, Windows XP (Service Pack 2).

If this doesn't work, another solution is to run the older OS, such as XP, in a virtual machine using VM software, such as Virtual PC or VMWare. Install your incompatible applications on the virtual machine and you can use them in a window on your Vista desktop. Be aware that you need to have a license for the older OS to run it in a VM.

Of course, another option is to upgrade your applications to versions that are compatible with Vista.

#6: Wrong OS edition

What else can go wrong when you upgrade your OS? With Vista, especially, you might finish the upgrade process and discover that you've upgraded to the wrong edition. That's because Vista comes in four editions that are available at retail, each with its own set of features.

What if you install Home Premium edition and then find that your computer can't join your Windows domain? Or you install Business edition, only to find that Windows DVD Maker is missing? Did you know that Home Basic doesn't support the Aero interface that gives Vista its special "eye candy" look?

Be sure to determine exactly what features you want and need before selecting an edition for installation. You can find a quick features comparison of the Vista editions on the Microsoft site. If you do install the wrong edition, all is not lost. Through the Anytime Upgrade program, you can get a more feature-filled edition of Vista online. Find out more about that here.

#7: Data loss

Your data is the most precious thing on your computer. The operating system and applications can be reinstalled, but data is often unique and you might not ever be able to re-create it. Upgrading your operating system (as opposed to wiping the drive and doing a fresh installation) should leave your data intact, but what if something goes wrong?

It's best, as a matter of course, to store user data on a different partition from the one on which the operating system is installed. Storing it on a different physical hard disk is even better, and for the best protection of your data, store it on a server or other computer on the network. Wherever you store it, make sure it's backed up regularly -- especially just before you perform an upgrade of the OS.

Loss of valuable data is one of the most frustrating, but also the most easily preventable, things that can go wrong when you upgrade the operating system.

#8: Performance problems

Your upgrade installation proceeded without problems, but when you reboot and start using the system, you discover that the new OS runs much more slowly than the old one did. What's up with that? Usually the problem comes down to one of the items discussed above: insufficient hardware, the wrong drivers, application incompatibility, etc.

One of the most frequent complaints about Vista is that it lags in performance when compared to Windows XP. Short of upgrading the hardware, there are ways to increase performance, such as using ReadyBoost, disabling certain services, using CPU priority settings, or even turning off Aero. See "Follow these tips to boost Vista performance" for additional details.

#9: Permissions/access problems

You've upgraded to a new operating system and now you're being denied access to some of your files. Here's a common scenario: You try to open a folder called Documents, but you get an "access denied" message. It may be that what you're clicking on isn't the Documents folder at all, but a "junction" or type of shortcut. Read more about that here.

This can also happen with real files and folders if your user account information has changed in the new version of Windows. Or you might be trying to access system files. You may be able to fix the problem by taking ownership of the object. You'll need to be logged on as an administrator to do that. For more on how this works, see "Easier Way to Take Ownership and Grant Access Files or Directories in Vista."

Another possibility is that the file or folder was encrypted with EFS in Windows XP Pro. If you've now installed Windows Vista Home Basic or Home Premium edition, EFS isn't fully supported. However, if you have the EFS certificate that was used to encrypt the file, you can decrypt it at the command prompt. For more information on how to do that, see "Troubleshoot "access denied" when opening files or folders."

#10: Interface problems/learning curve

Although learning a new interface is always part of the process of upgrading the operating system, you can certainly feel as though something has gone terribly wrong if you discover that you no longer know how to do simple tasks or you simply don't like the new ways of doing things. You can ease your transition to a new operating system such as Vista by configuring settings to make the interface look and behave more like the older and more familiar versions of Windows. You can change the desktop back to the classic theme, get back the old hourglass wait cursor, set the OS to use the classic Start menu, return Control Panel to the old, classic look, and so forth. For tips on how to make Vista look more like XP, see this video on CNET TV.


Debra Littlejohn Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. These include Scene of the Cybercrime: Computer Forensics Handbook, published by Syngress, and Computer Networking Essentials, published by Cisco Press. She is co-author, with her husband, Dr. Thomas Shinder, of Troubleshooting Windows 2000 TCP/IP, the best-selling Configuring ISA Server 2000, and ISA Server and Beyond.

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...

21 comments
ayanapti007
ayanapti007

hi..will I after upgrading my windows 8 to windows 8 pro, lose my office 2013 licence ??...I had installed office on different partion of hardisk than C:\..

carlsf
carlsf

There is a even worse jump when you move to WIN7. Ther is NO "CLASSIC" so I think MS have really shot themselves in the FOOT. There is NO way we (115 uesrs) will be moving to WIN7

Peter Sanders
Peter Sanders

First if all resurrecting a post from [b]TWO YEARS AGO[/b] Second and MOST IMPORTANT thing that can go wrong is actually performing an UPGRADE. There is [b]no way[/b] that an upgrade is the best way to go or EVEN reliable! Upgrades no matter HOW they are implemented, are prone to problems. These problems can be real OR perceived. Real is when "something" within the upgrade does NOT go "right". You don't know it, the user doesn't know it and worst of all the "operating system doesn't know it". So, some time "down the track" there is a "problem"? Hmmm? is it the program? Is it the OS? is it the "UPGRADE"!!!!!!!! Who knows? There is no such thing as an OS upgrade (at least NOT with windows) You either live with what you've got OR do a [b] FULL REFORMAT and REINSTALL[/b] the re is no safer way. Disbelieve this at your peril?? I am NOT joking! Kind regards Peter (been there done that, I don't recommend it!)

gadrappo
gadrappo

Warning to Windows 7 Beta downloaders! HP doesn't support ANY Beta version, so if you upgrade to, say, Windows 7 Ultimate, your HP All-in-one will be outdated and the installation CD will flash an Error message!

Jaqui
Jaqui

I finally actually read the entry. lets see... 1) hardware upgrade required, not for linux :p 2) setup errors and freezes, not for linux :p 3) driver problems, not for linux any more :p 4) activation error, what's that? I've never had to activate linux. :p 5) application incompatibilities, not with linux :p 6) wrong os edition, huh? never see that with linux. :p 7) data loss, never with linux, since data is not on the same partition as the os. :p 8) performance problems, well ok, you might get that with linux, until you turn off the bloat. :p 9) permissions / access problems, never on an upgrade, or clean install with linux :p 10) interface problems / learning curve, I've not seen that unless I switch Desktop Environments in linux, kde is kde and is always the same logical layout, gnome is gnome and is also the same layout. enlightenment is best, no garbage except context mouse menus to deal with, and they are always exactly the same. new versions of linux have ENHANCEMENTS to existing software, not a competely different look and feel requiring massive amounts of time learning them.

jgmsys@yahoo.com
jgmsys@yahoo.com

....you never upgrade an OS if at all possible. A new OS should be installed from the ground up, not upgraded over an existing installation. All sorts of nightmares can result. Is it possible that you get lucky and it works? Sure. But in most cases, it's ill-advised. Backup your data and start from scratch. I know, it stinks having to reinstall all the software, but you're better off this way. Any A+ worth his/her salt knows this.

paulmarc.bougharios
paulmarc.bougharios

I really liked all of the points, as they're explicit, exact, and sometimes unfortunately true! However, they mainly apply to Microsoft Products, more specifically the Windows OS...Let me go over them, with my own experience of an OS: Fedora Linux... Point 1: Hardware >>> Each newer Windows version requires significantly more hardware requirements that the previous one... Vista is slower than XP? Well, XP is slower than 98, for that matters... However, 98 can't cope with XP's features, and XP lacks Vista's functionalities... >>> Each time a new Fedora is release, I try it on my 9-year-old Pentium III, running on 384MB of RAM... And guess what? Till now, I'm still able to run the OS flawlessly, and if not faster, at least at the same pace than before... I know that I haven't been able to run 100% of the graphical eye-candy on it, but running four 3D desktops, with translucent windows, multiple 3D task switching, blendings, animations, etc... on a Pentium III makes me think that Linux DOES NOT require significant hardware upgrades, with each release... Point 2: Setup errors and freezes >>> This is though the shortest but the most accurate setup-informative paragraph I ever read. It's true that sometimes a new OS is more sensitive to RAM, and disk space is a must... >>> On Fedora, I can't prove that it's the same thing, since new versions of programs on Linux aren't necessarily bigger in size: sometimes, they're even smaller... However, sensitivity to hardware while installing the OS is higher. And on Linux, initial hardware compatibility can be a headache, something not found on Windows... Usually... Point 3: Driver Problems >>> As usual, with each version of Windows, new versions of drivers are required, except when the old drivers, for some reason, still work on the new OS. >>> On Linux, it's a 1 in a million chance for a hardware to be working in a version, and stops working in the new one... It's just super rare to be found... My experience? Beside my wireless card, I never needed any driver installation, since the Linux kernel took care of it. I now have my laptop roaming with me, going anywhere, plugging it to any printer/scanner/camera/etc... And it just works... I even was able to connect my cellphone, save my SMS's, and call/answer from the laptop, using a built-in application... Point 4: Activation error >>> Let's just say I don't like much WGA... But I should say I *_hate_* piracy, as well... >>> Of course, no need to say anything here: Fedora is licensed for free, and quite most of the programs it runs, too... No limitations here... Point 5: Application incompatibilities >>> It's sometimes annoying to have the "Compatibility" tab, but not having it to actually work... >>> Dead versions of linux programs might not work on the new OS. However, it's another rare thing to find, since quite most of the programs are updated to run on the new OS, since it doesn't matter which OS version you're running, as much as which kernel you're running... Point 6: Wrong OS edition >>> Microsoft provides quite an explicit page, on its website, for users to know exactly which version to install... >>> Fedora Linux is highly flexible, extensible, and versatile. Though it comes in different spins (Think of it as different versions directed towards specific needs), it doesn't matter which spin, or version, you install, since you can get the programs of the other version, and install them: there are absolutely NO limitations, when it comes to having the same Fedora installation a server, a client, a business computer or a home-use desktop PC... Point 7: Data loss No need to separate the OS's here, since it's the same, most important point of them all: data. One should periodically backup his/her data. Period. Upgrading, downgrading, whatever-grading...I'm aware of newer OS versions being keen on not deleting user data, and stuff like that, but why take the risk? No developer, be it a Microsoft programmer or a Linux one, will be able to know exactly how big is your data, what is the kind of your data, or how you store your data... Point 8: Performance Problems >>> In Windows, we already discussed it: each new version is substantially slower than the old one, on the same hardware. >>> With Fedora, each new version targets higher performance on "regular" hardware to an extent that a newer version is faster on old PC's than an old one. And old PC's go as low as PIII's... I never tested it on lower end PC's though they say it runs on 3/486... Point 9: Permissions/Access problems >>> It was quite annoying having the "junctions" problem, with Vista. But one should note that even if one doesn't copy the old "My Documents" folders, there are non-working icons that appear automatically with Vista. It's maybe because some installed programs worked with those usual folders, and they create them, if they don't exist. But bottom line: this is an annoying part that should be dealt with (maybe environment variables?). >>> On Fedora, all folders structures are consistent, since the OS is highly and superbly well designed to hold multiple users, several virtual machines, and many servers on the same computer... Organization just can't get better: everything's got its nice place... Point 10: Interface problem/learning curve >>> This is something Windows is quite famous, or should I say infamous, with... Each major version contains substantial changes, because new architectural decisions needed to be made to make the OS better... And it's getting there, but at the cost of a steep learning curve... >>> With Fedora, though the interface is totally refurbished, new design and so, everything is consistent, and in the case of a "major" change, it's always intuitive, since the components and architecture of the OS is stable: it's organized, consistent, and neat. The OS doesn't change (unless it's for the better), just the look and feel... Hope you find the post useful :-)!

jruth
jruth

Good points all. In my experience, the most cost and time effective upgrades are memory and hard drives. Memory only takes a few minutes to install. I've used Acronis Migrate Easy to transfer an existing OS to a larger and faster hard drive. Performance improves and the only inconvenience to the user is the down time of the system. I've never met a Windows upgrade I liked. If a new version is *required*, and if the hardware is only a year or so old, I'd get a new HD, the Full/OEM version of Windows, and max out the RAM. Configure the old HD as a non-bootable secondary drive and all the data is there. Besides, apps always play nicer with a clean install. If the hardware is getting long in the tooth, buy a new box with the OS installed and transfer the old HD to the new box. Interface adapters or external USB boxes will take care of any SATA/IDE issues. This approach focuses on keeping the user working at their computer, not watching someone else work on it.

kmoore
kmoore

As a database programmer, the last two times that I have been offered a new PC at work, I have declined. Each upgrade in the past has taken weeks to iron out the exact problems that you have listed. I do not need the "improvements" and I do not want the delays. Not only that, but for several years I have created webs using Dreamweaver and other development tools at home using Windows 2000. All of my home PCs run fine on Windows 2000. And, on one of my machines, I even have a version of Windows 98 with a duel boot because there is a program that I use which only runs on 98. When new hardware or new software comes out, I wait 12 to 18 months to upgrade. That was I know exactly what it can do and I have a pretty good idea of the problems that I will encounter. This may seem extreme to some of you. If it helps, I am thinking about upgrading to XP. Ken

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've got several production boxes I've upgraded to XP. While most of these started as W2K boxes, a couple were 'double upgraded' W98 systems; I had to raise them to W2K first, then XP. These were legacy systems where we didn't have the media to restore critical applications, or custom apps from a now-closed vendor, or installing an app on a 'from scratch' system would have required expensive vendor assistance, or legacy hardware we couldn't replace but was compatible with XP. I would prefer to do a 'from scratch' installation whenever possible, but upgrades are acceptable when necessary and can be perfectly reliable. Check for compatibility with the new OS and make a back-up image first.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That's why they're called 'beta'. What matters is if HP supports the released to manufacturing and consumers final version. It also matters which all-in-one you have and how old it is. Have you checked HP's web site to see if they have a W7 driver for your model?

ezeze5000
ezeze5000

I prefer Ubuntu Linux, unless its on older hardware. I run Puppy Linux on older hardware. Ubuntu 7.10 is what I am running right now to post this little note. I haven't had a virus in the 4 years I have been using Linux. FreeNAS is a nice way to store data remotely. Anyway thats my 2 cents worth.

Jaqui
Jaqui

naturally, this has always been the case in what is presented on here. unless it specifically says linux in the title, it is all about MS' garbage.

Jaqui
Jaqui

impossible, it is a downgrade to go to an ms os.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Numbers 1, 4, and 6 no longer apply.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Now there's a visual. I can just see those OS's standing there at 10 paces with pistols drawn, fighting over possession of the MBR. Is it safe to assume you meant "dual" boot?

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

An MS OS is number 11. Althought Vista could be considered 11 through 20.

ManiacMan
ManiacMan

I actually thought he meant that the two operating systems remove their footware and throw boots at one another in attempt to claim ownership of the boot sector.

hailet
hailet

And you are an IT consultant ? Please post your business card so people can avoid your company.

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