Please note this piece is geared toward the accidental techie who is comfortable installing software and who has only a handful of computers (fewer than 10) to upgrade. Those looking for tips on virtualized environments, unattended installs, or network-wide mass deployment can find support on Microsoft TechNet's Windows 7 Technical Library Roadmap or through search engine queries, Technorati, or Delicious.
Before You Begin
The basic healthy and secure computing steps provided here will help ensure a smooth upgrade.
- Take a data inventory. During an upgrade, data can move or get lost. It's important to know where your data is stored, especially for programs that don't save their data to user profile folders (such as to the My Documents folder). For example, database or financial software packages may store files in their program directories instead. Knowing where your data is saved will make it much easier to perform backups and to confirm nothing went wrong during the upgrade.
- Make a physical copy of all critical system-related information. Before upgrading, verify that important information like your Internet Protocol (IP) address (if it's not set up automatically), hardware component make and model, and software license keys are printed out and available to you.
- Remove spyware and run your antivirus program. You don't want to carry malicious software along with you when you upgrade.
- Clean up data. Clean up your drive to ensure you have an optimized system and maximum free space to work with during the upgrade. For example, many programs use temporary files, which remain on the computer even after you stop using the program. These temporary files can be deleted to free up space. You can use a free utility like CCleaner to do this cleanup.
- Check your hard disk. Before installing a new operating system, you should also check your hard disk for errors. It's especially important to check your hard disk if it is more than five years old and has seen moderate-to-heavy use involving frequent reading and writing of data. To run the default drive check utility, right-click on the drive in My Computer and select Properties. In the Properties dialog box, under Tools, click the Check Now button to run the chkdsk tool. Advanced utilities, like HDD Health, can also provide more detailed diagnostics.
- Defrag. The Windows 7 installation process defragments your hard drive, but doing so beforehand may save some time. To defrag, right-click the drive in My Computer, select Properties, and in the Tools tab, click the Defragment Now button.
- Back up your data. Assuming you don't repartition or reformat your hard disk when upgrading, some of your data and settings will be copied to a new C:\Windows.old folder during the upgrade process. However, this does not save all your data. If you are doing a custom install, you can use the Windows Easy Transfer Wizard to back up settings and files to an external drive and to restore them after you upgrade. Even if you are doing an in-place install, it's still important to perform a backup prior to upgrading, in case something goes wrong during the upgrade.
Getting Windows 7
There are various ways to obtain Windows 7 software:
- Request a new donation (eligible nonprofits and libraries only). Organizations eligible under the Microsoft Donation program can request Windows 7 Enterprise Upgrade at TechSoup for a $12 administrative fee. The full version of Windows 7 Professional is also available at TechSoup via Microsoft's Get Genuine program. The full version is available for a $6 administrative fee, and it is only available to eligible organizations that cannot use the Upgrade version. More information can be found on TechSoup's Windows 7 products.
- Upgrade using Software Assurance. If you have requested a Microsoft PC Operating Systems donation with Software Assurance within the past two years, you are eligible for a free upgrade to the latest operating system at the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center, where you can download the products and request product activation keys. You will need to download a large file (around 3 GB), and write the file to a DVD. Be sure to select the "verify recording" setting in your DVD recording software to ensure proper recording. You can also request physical media sent to you for an additional cost. For more information, visit TechSoup's Software Assurance Benefits page. In addition, you may need to request an activation key from the site. You should write this key down, as it will be needed after your installation. For more detailed information on activation keys, check out our Microsoft Volume License Information page.
- Purchase at retail outlets. In the United States, Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade and Premium retail for $119.99 and $199.99, respectively. Windows 7 Professional Upgrade and Windows 7 Professional sell for $199.99 and $299.99, respectively.
Installing Windows 7
Now that you are prepared for a smooth upgrade, it's time to proceed with the installation. As mentioned in part one of this series, you will perform an in-place install if you are upgrading from Vista of the same instruction set (that is to say, 32-bit to 32-bit, 64-bit to 64-bit), and a custom install for all other upgrade paths:
- In-place install. With your computer turned on, insert the DVD in your DVD drive, which should auto-play the installation program. If it doesn't, open your DVD/CD drive in My Computer, look for the setup.exe program, and double-click it.
- Custom install. Boot up your computer with the DVD in the drive. You should be prompted with a "Press any key to boot from the DVD" message. If not, you may need to verify that your computer looks for the DVD during its bootup process in the computer's BIOS startup screen. See About.com for more information on this boot order setting change.
In either case, if you have multiple hard disks or partitions, be sure you select the correct drive and partition when installing.
When you are finished installing, you will be prompted to enter your activation key. Once you are done activating, you are almost ready to use Windows 7. After a custom install, you will still need to reinstall your data and your programs. You should reinstall your programs first. Then you can use the Easy Transfer Wizard to restore your data files and user settings. If you performed an in-place upgrade, just confirm your data is still intact; this is where that data inventory you did earlier comes in handy.
Congratulations — you are now ready to explore your new operating system!
Image: 7 Steps, Shutterstock