Data Doctors: Windows 7 is shaping up to be one of the better releases from the folks at Microsoft, based on our testing of the soon-to-be-released (Oct. 22, 2009, as of this writing) operating system.
Q. I'm getting more interested in the upcoming Windows 7, as most reports online seem to say that it's much better than Vista. My question is, can I upgrade directly from Windows XP to Windows 7 without having to first install Vista? - Jerome
A. Windows 7 is shaping up to be one of the better releases from the folks at Microsoft, based on our testing of the soon-to-be-released (Oct. 22, 2009, as of this writing) operating system.
The buzz is that it's nothing more than a reworked version of Windows Vista, which is what makes it worth considering; it's not a first-generation overhaul. Windows Vista has been demonstrated to be a much more secure operating system, so an updated version that retains this higher level of security against all of the malicious code floating around the Internet has real value.
Everything that made migrating from Windows XP to Vista a big pain has been overcome, and the rest of the world has had time to update their support for Vista as well.
To that end, those running Windows Vista can easily migrate to Windows 7 by performing an "in-place" upgrade, which retains all of the programs, data, settings, favorites, etc., reducing the time for getting upgraded.
Windows XP users have some tougher choices to make, however. Microsoft is not supporting any form of in-place upgrade for Windows XP users to go directly to Windows 7 - and I can't blame them for minimizing their support exposure under the circumstances.
This means Windows XP users will have two choices on how to get upgraded to Windows 7: wipe everything out and start from a fresh installation, or upgrade to Windows Vista and then do another upgrade to Windows 7.
Neither of these options is easy or quick. Starting from scratch means that you must make sure you have a verified backup of your data before getting started; then wipe out everything on your hard drive; install the OS; reinstall all your programs (after making sure they are compatible with Windows 7/Vista); update drivers, service packs and patches; reset your printer and networking settings; and restore your backed-up data.
Performing an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista, then to Windows 7 will eliminate the grief of starting over, but it exposes you to migrating problems, viruses and spyware.
In my opinion, there is really only one choice for Windows XP users; start from scratch. The amount of work will be about the same, but the end result is more controllable and gives you a cleaner start.
The amount of grime and trauma that builds up in a computer over years of use, especially if it hasn't been serviced on a regular basis, is significant and best left behind during upgrades. Just think of it as the same exercise you go through when you buy a new computer.
If your computer is old enough (2006 or older) or lacks any real processing power, you may not want to even think about migrating to Windows 7. A free upgrade adviser that will examine your hardware is available from Microsoft at http://bit.ly/DF3dL.
If you have to start over again anyway, buying a new computer with Windows 7 pre-installed or getting a new Vista system with an upgrade coupon for Windows 7 when it comes out might be a smarter way to go.
For anyone in the market for a new computer before the release of Windows 7 in October, be sure to check your options for buying an upgrade coupon or negotiating a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it comes out.
Everything that we have seen in our various tests of Windows 7 suggests that it is worth considering for just about any user, especially because mainstream support for Windows XP ended in April 2009.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to email@example.com