Upgrading to Windows 7

It has been ten days since Microsoft introduced Windows 7 to the world. Within the first 24 hours I had purchased the Family Pack that allowed me to upgrade three computers to Windows 7 Home Premium. I eagerly waited for delivery of the Family Pack to bring my home computers up to this new operating system.

Trying to determine the appropriate upgrade path to get to Windows 7 is not the easiest thing in the world. Microsoft has multiple versions of the operating system and a multi-column matrix that is supposed to help you figure out which version you need. Much of this is determined by what operating system you are currently running.

win7familypackWhen Microsoft introduced Vista, there was a lot of discussion about how difficult the company made it by having so many different versions of their operating system to choose from. When Windows 7 was introduced, they took that to heart and reduced the number of versions; or so they say.

Windows 7 comes in four different flavors: Starter, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. Of course each of these versions also comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Then of course you have decide if you need a full version or an upgrade so there is a staggering 12 different permutations to choose from. Not exactly a recipe for a good customer experience.

I had initially decided I would install Windows 7 Professional as it seemed to have the features I was interested in including having VPN access and bit-locker for when I need to work remotely. Unfortunately Microsoft does not offer a multi-pack of that version pushing me instead to Home Premium.

The Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack provides you with three licenses to install the software on three computers that already have some version of Microsoft Windows loaded upon them. If you have new computers or if your computers are running a different operating system then the Family Pack licenses are not supposed to work.

I say not supposed to since these are upgrade licenses meaning it is assumed a previous version of Windows is present. There are tutorials on the Internet that will show you how to get around this stipulation but to be in compliance with the license you should have a previous version of Windows.

That being said, it should be noted that unless you are doing an upgrade from Vista, you really aren’t upgrading as much as you are erasing the hard drive and starting over with Windows 7. The Upgrade option in the software only recognizes existing hard drive partitions containing Vista.

If you are running Windows XP or below, you are forced to do a “Custom Install” which basically overwrites your Windows installation installing Windows 7 in its place. This means you will lose all your data from your hard drive so it is imperative that you back-up before beginning this “upgrade”.

Before I actually installed the software I ran the Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to see what software or hardware would not run or needed to be upgraded. On every one of the computers I tried the upgrade advisor stated that my video card was incompatible with the Aero interface.

It did not matter what video card I tried, ATI or nVidia, or the level of GPU, all of the configurations stated that I could not run the Aero interface. After a search on the Internet I found that in all cases the GPU was indeed compatible and worked fine with Aero. This of course put into question whether any of the information provided by the Upgrade Advisor was accurate.

The days of people having a single computer in their house have long since past for most people. It is not uncommon for a household to have several computers. In our case each member of the family has their own computer meaning we have six computers in our house. Three of the computers are running Mac OS X while three are under Windows.

When Apple introduced Snow Leopard I was able to buy a family pack that provided five licenses to run the new operating system. I was hoping that Microsoft would do something similar. I was relieved to find that Microsoft would offer a family pack but only for Windows 7 Home Premium. Further the licenses were limited to three rather than Apple’s five.

The cost of the Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack was set at $149.95 which is only $30 more than a single license of Windows 7 Home Premium. Of course it is $100 more than the Apple OS X Snow Leopard Family Pack and contains two fewer licenses so the deal is relative.

The Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack contains both 32-bit and 64-bit versions so that was a welcomed relief. The Windows 7 Ultimate version that I received contained only the 32-bit version. When I contacted Microsoft for the 64-bit I was told I needed to send in the 32-bit DVD and wait 30-60 days for a new disc and even then they could not promise I would receive one.

I started with my daughter’s computer which was running Windows XP Professional. Her computer had an AMD dual-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, an ATI video card, and a 320GB hard disk. The upgrade began and I sat back waiting for it to complete. In the middle the screen turned blue and the computer hung up. Finally after three hours I rebooted. The upgrade continued and completed normally after the restart.

I thought things were ok but when I tried to install Microsoft Office 2007 it failed with several errors about not having access to write to the registry. After another two hours trying various things to get Office 2007 to load I finally gave up.

I deleted the disk partition where Windows 7 was installed and created a new partition. After doing this I started the Windows 7 upgrade again and this time it went without issue. I was able to install Office 2007 and other applications. I have no idea what happened during the first upgrade but I was finally successful.

The next computer I upgraded was my son’s small form factor Shuttle with an Intel dual-core processor, 4 GB RAM, 750GB hard drive, and integrated graphics which was running Windows XP Professional.

In this case I ran the utility to transfer users and settings to an external hard drive. The transfer program worked well but you need to be careful. The application does not appear to differentiate between two hard drives so all of his music that was located on a second hard drive was transferred to the external hard drive.

I upgraded this computer to 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium. Since I was running Windows XP it erased the existing Windows system and installed Windows 7. This upgrade went without incident and once completed worked flawlessly.

I ran the transfer utility again and it gave me errors that there was not enough room to restore the users and settings. After some troubleshooting I realized that the utility was attempting to restore his music that was located on a separate hard drive onto the Windows 7 boot drive. Once I told the transfer utility to only restore users and settings it completed successfully.

The final system I upgraded had Vista Ultimate 64-bit loaded on it. I had some issues when I tried to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium since the system explained that many of the features of Vista Ultimate would be lost. I ended up just telling the system to do a custom install that would blow away the Vista data.

Once I chose that it upgraded the system without incident. All three computers are now running Windows 7 Home Premium and seem to be working well. They are all running Aero without incident so I am not sure what the Upgrade Advisor is looking for when it comes to compatibility.

So far Windows 7 seems faster than Vista was. The XP machines don’t seem any faster but they don’t seem any slower either so I guess that’s a plus. The kids like the Aero interface and in general have been happy since the upgrade.

I guess I would say at this point that Windows 7 is better than Vista was when released but it is still too early to tell whether the upgrade was really worth all the hassle that I seemed to have.

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