Q: I’m currently running Windows 98SE and would desperately like to upgrade to XP. I’ve asked two different computer stores and have received two different answers, so I thought I’d ask you. Can I install XP over 98 and keep all the data intact, or will I lose everything with the install? — Tyler
A: Without knowing what is causing your "desperation" to upgrade to Windows XP, there are many things to consider before you take the plunge.
The first is whether the hardware that you have is going to be properly supported by Windows XP. The older your computer is, the more likely that you will experience issues with the hardware.
These issues range from poor performance to flat-out incompatibilities of everything you have installed, from your video card to your printer to every program.
I would strongly recommend that you do some homework on all of the vital hardware devices and software programs that you need to have working in Windows XP. Start by downloading Microsoft’s "Upgrade Advisor" at www.microsoft.com/ windowsxp/compatibility (look toward the middle of the page for the link).
Next, make sure that all of your vital hardware devices (printers, scanners, etc.) has specific Windows XP support by going to each manufacturer’s Web page and finding the support section for your device.
Next, you should visit the Web site of all of your vital software programs to make sure you won’t have to upgrade them as well. In some cases, older software may not work properly (or at all) unless you upgrade it or make specific modifications to the program.
Based on what you learn, the decision to upgrade may end right here. If you are upgrading because you are experiencing major problems in Windows 98, a clean reinstallation of 98 may provide you with a better, less expensive, less risky solution to your problem.
If you determine that Windows XP is a good fit for your current hardware and software, then you have another big decision to make.
What may seem like the easiest and most efficient route is to do what is called an "in-place upgrade," which will convert your Windows 98 configuration with all of your current programs and data into a Windows XP system.
The dark side of this process, if things don’t quite work out, can be very ugly. In many cases, your configuration is loaded with problems. Some you know of, others you don’t.
By installing over the top of these problems, often you bring them forward into the new Windows XP installation. All the Spyware, corruption, viruses, long startup times, low resource issues or whatever is plaguing your system now will likely come forward.
Because each situation is different, there is no real way to know what is going to happen until you do it on your machine. It does not matter how many other people have successfully made the transition, because they don’t have your set of circumstances.
Any technical person who has gone through the nightmare more than once will recommend that you install a "clean" version of Windows and then reinstall all of your programs and your data backups.
This is a lot of work, but in many cases you end up going through this procedure anyway after attempting to take the shortcut. If you have plenty of time and don’t mind dealing with the frustration of working through the issues and are OK with having to start from scratch if it doesn’t work out, then you can try it. But make sure to get a complete (verified!) backup of your critical data first.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and Data Doctors Franchise Systems and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show at noon Saturdays on KTAR (620 AM). Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.