Monday, December 7, 2009

Seventh Time(?)’s the Charm

My Windows Upgrade

I upgraded to Windows 7 Professional Saturday on my primary PC – a DELL XPS box that’s a couple of years old and came with Windows XP Professional. This new O/S has been much in the news for the last month since it was released at the end of October, so I thought I’d share my experience and my thoughts now that I’ve been putting it through its paces for a couple of days.

First off, calling it Windows 7 seems a bit disingenuous. By almost any count, except Microsoft’s I suppose, there have been a lot more than seven versions of Windows. Let’s count:

  1. Windows 1.x – 3.1 and 3.11 – let’s be generous and call this one version, though it wasn’t (in fact, Windows 1 looked almost nothing like Windows 3.x.).
  2. Windows 95a and 95b
  3. Windows NT 3.1, 3.5 and 4.0 (again, counting these as one is quite a stretch on my part, since NT 3.x looked like you were using Windows 3.x, whereas NT 4.0 looked like Windows 95. They certainly weren’t interchangeable.)
  4. Windows 98 and 98 Second Edition (SE) – prior to XP, this was the greatest O/S I ever used. I could make Windows 98 SE dance a jig, sing a song, and juggle flaming axes. All at the same time, if needed.
  5. Windows Millennium (Me) – let us never speak of it again.
  6. Windows 2000
  7. Windows XP
  8. Windows Vista
  9. Windows “7”

So, even if we all pretend that Windows Millennium never existed (which I’d wholeheartedly endorse), the count’s still off by at least one version. If Microsoft had released it a year sooner, I guess they could have said that it had been seven years since the last release that didn’t turn out to be an embarrassment (Windows XP), but they didn’t so it wasn’t. A cursory didn’t turn up a good explanation for how Microsoft decided on this name, so let’s just chalk it up to Marketing and move on.

What’s really significant about Windows 7 is that is has been universally hailed as an improvement over Windows Vista AND Windows XP. This differentiates it from Vista, which many did not enthusiastically embrace as a step up from Windows XP.

My experience with Vista is pretty limited. My wife’s computer came loaded with Vista, but I never really used her computer. In fact, the only times I really sat down at it was when she’d bellow down that “This stupid computer’s not working right. I hate it!” I’d then have to figure out not only what was broken, but I’d have to do it while hobbled by an O/S I didn’t know. I never did manage to figure out why a standard Microsoft USB mouse occasionally locks up on her machine, and it still does to this day.

I should mention that I didn’t really have a burning need to upgrade to Windows 7 on this computer. My decision to do so was based on a combination of factors. First, I had a copy of the software and it wasn’t really earning its keep just sitting there gathering dust. That was a big incentive to upgrade. Second, I felt I needed to reinstall Windows on my computer and figured if I was going to bother, I might as well upgrade at the same time.

Why did I need to reinstall? Well, I can’t speak to Windows 7 yet, nor vista, but with every previous version of Windows from 95 through XP, it was generally a good idea to wipe the Operating System and reload it every couple of years to thoroughly clean out any electronic debris cluttering up the registry among other places. In my case, I was also suffering from a condition where Firefox would run well when first launched, but within an hour or so would be running very slowly unless I closed and re-launched it. Cleaning out and reinstalling Firefox didn’t help, but it was really affecting the quality of my computing life, so it needed to be fixed. Also, I had tried to install a Microsoft XPS reader (that I suspect I didn’t really need) and it hung without completing, leaving me in a limbo where no OTHER software using the Microsoft .msi installer could install anything. That was the proverbial final straw, and I decided that my computer needed a fresh start.

And so began my upgrade adventure.

I started with an electronic version of Windows 7 that I had purchased, downloaded and copied to a flash drive. I’d never bought an operating system like this before, so this whole escapade was a real departure right from the outset.

I carefully backed up my critical files to an external hard drive and made a checklist in Word to make sure that I neither forgot to save anything nor forgot to reload it later on. I also copied and pasted over all of my open windows from Firefox, which really made it easy to launch them again later on – a simple click on each of them brought the desired website right up for me.

Note that this was not an onerous task for me. I’m pretty good about how I store my files these days – everything pretty much goes into “My Documents,” with the occasional exception of stuff that’s right on my desktop, and the few files, like my IE Favorites and my Firefox Bookmarks, that are stored elsewhere by design. The Macintosh commercials play up all the people with their “boxes of stuff” who are making the move from PC to Mac since they need to move all their “stuff” anyway. I call this wishful thinking on Apple’s part, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. Anyway, it took me a few hours primarily because I was very careful and thorough and because I wasn’t in a huge hurry. I also took the time to prune and archive and generally review my documents – some of which go back more than 15 years and were originally created in DOS-based versions of Word, if you can believe that.

Once that time-consuming but useful process was complete, I disconnected that external hard disk to ensure that anything that might go berserk on my PC couldn’t destroy the backup. If I were really worried, I’d have made a DVD backup of my backup (and, honestly I probably should have done so – I’d certainly have recommended it to anyone who came to me for advice. But you know what they say about doctors being the worst patients – it applies to IT guys as well), but I didn’t. Actually, I have quite a lot of stuff on that hard drive right now – I really do need to back it up sometime.

Anyway, the next several steps were refreshingly simple. The short version – my Windows 7 upgrade went as smoothly as any O/S upgrade I’ve performed in my 30 years using computers. For the long version, come on back for tomorrow’s blog.

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