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Getting Your System Ready for Windows Vista

If you plan to throw caution to the wind and upgrade to Microsoft Windows Vista, here are some things you need to first consider.

By Vangie Beal

If you plan to throw caution to the wind and upgrade to Microsoft Windows Vista, there are some things you need to consider first. Not only do you need to think about which version of Vista is right for you, but you also need to think about issues such as data backup and how to transfer files from Windows XP.

Using the Vista Upgrade Advisor
Perusing the Microsoft Web site and reading about the features and details of each version of Vista will probably give you a good idea of which is version best-suited to your needs, but you also need to make sure the version you have in mind is also suited to your computer system.  To help you determine which Vista is right for you, Microsoft offers an Upgrade Advisor, \ a reporting tool that scans your system to help you determine if a Vista  upgrade will work with your current system set-up and software.

Begin the process by plugging in all your hardware and gadgets, such as external hard drives, printers and so on. Next you install and run the Upgrade Advisor. You'll go step-by-step through the prompts and in just a few minutes the Upgrade Advisor will be scanning your system. After the scan has finished, you get an on-screen report of any known system, device or program incompatibilities that you'll encounter if you install Vista.

From this report you'll have a good indication if the bulk of your hardware and devices will work with Vista, and you'll know beforehand which devices need to be upgraded.  If the Upgrade Advisor report shows incompatibilities with some of your system devices, don't assume right away that Vista will require too much in system upgrades to bother with. You need to check the manufacturer's Web site of any found incompatible devices and check for newly released Vista drivers, which just may not be available on the Vista DVD itself.

If the manufacturer does have a Vista driver available, you can install the driver after you have put Windows Vista on your system. While this process can be time-consuming (after all you have to do the work instead of Vista) it does mean you won't necessarily have to upgrade the device. If Vista does not support the device and the manufacturer has not released any Vista drivers, then you might not be able to use it after you upgrade to Vista.

The Upgrade Advisor also produces a report on the software you have installed on your system. If any software is known to not work under Vista, that is noted on your Advisor report. You will probably find that most software will work, but some smaller applications, such as some FTP applications or music-downloading software, for example, might need to be removed from your system before upgrading.

Lastly, the Upgrade Advisor will also make recommendations as to which versions of  Microsoft Vista are compatible with your current system. If the Vista you're considering is listed, without any major compatibility issues noted, you're good to go with migrating to Windows Vista. If you decide to purchase an upgrade version of Vista, and not a full install package, be sure to view the system requirements for the upgrade. Not all upgrades work with some versions of Windows XP.  For example, if you have Windows XP Home Service Pack 2, you can purchase the Upgrade version of Windows Vista Home Premium. If, however, you have Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2, it is incompatible with the Home Premium upgrade, and you'll need to purchase the full version of Vista Home Premium instead.

Make Use of the Advisor's Report
When you have decided on which edition of Microsoft Vista you are going to purchase (and have made the purchase and are getting ready to install) you should run the Upgrade Advisor again to refresh your memory of which drivers, devices  and programs are not compatible with Vista. If you have chosen an upgrade versus a full install version you will need to properly remove those incompatible components from your system before upgrading.

In the case of a full clean install, and by this we mean using a full version of Vista (not an upgrade package, this won't be necessary, as you'll be installing to a clean hard drive. It's still important to note which programs and devices were listed as incompatible. For hardware and unsupported devices, you will want to to remove or disable them before installing Vista and take care of getting those running after the OS upgrade. You will also want to avoid installing fresh copies of those incompatible applications on your new Vista-enabled system as well.

Additionally, if you plan to install Vista as a full clean install, if the hard drive already contains your XP operating system, it's advisable that you format the drive first to get a good, full clean install of the new operating system.

         

   

Sample Reports (screenshots) from the Vista Upgrade Advisor.
Click for larger image

Purge & Clean
After you have taken care of and planned for any device and software incompatibilities as found in the Upgrade Advisor, there are a few more steps you should take to get your system prepared for installing Microsoft Vista. Again, this information is mostly of use to those installing an upgrade version of Vista on top of an existing, compatible version of Windows XP. The next thing you need to do is purge your hard drive of any software and applications that you don't use. This is basically means going through your hard drive and properly uninstalling applications and deleting any other files on your system that you don't really use.  After cleaning the unwanted files and software off the drive, you should then run a disk cleaner and disk Defrag utility before backing up your data and installing Vista.

If you choose to do a full version install of any Vista operating system, we recommend you start with a clean hard drive so the purging and disk clean-up steps are not as necessary, but formatting and defragging are.

Backing up your data, however, is necessary regardless of which type of Vista install you've chosen.

Back It Up
Once the drive is purged, cleaned and defragged, it's time to backup your data. You probably have your own method of backing up saved files, folders and commonly used information such as Internet Explorer Favorites and contact lists.  We recommend you follow your own backup routine, whether it be by making a disk image or simply dumping copies of what you need to a second hard drive, DVD or thumb drive  We do plan on introducing you to a nifty Microsoft tool that will back-up your XP files for transfer to a Vista machine, but it is important to backup your data using a method not directly connected to the Vista upgrade process for added security.

Windows Easy Transfer
Windows Easy Transfer makes migrating data from your XP-based machine to a Windows Vista machine a simple process. The Windows Easy Transfer wizard will simply prompt you to select the files you want to migrate and prompt you for the location of where it should store those files. You can send the data to a second hard drive in your system, an external drive thumb drive, network drive, or even burn it on CD or DVD.  If you do not have any of these alternative storage devices available, you can also purchase a special USB cable that allows you to transfer the data to another PC. It's important to choose an external location to save the files to. Do not save your Easy Transfer data to the hard drive on which you're installing Vista

Windows Easy Transfer allows you to transfer the following data from XP to Vista: User accounts, Files and folders, Program data files and settings, E-mail messages, settings, and contacts, Photos, music, and videos, Windows settings, and Internet settings.

        

Sample Screenshots from Windows Easy Transfer.
Click for larger image

For a clean install of Vista on a new or formatted hard drive, Windows Easy Transfer is an important step. When Vista launches for the first time after the install, there is no record of your bookmarks, files, user and application settings and so on. Directly in the "Vista Welcome Screen" you'll find a quick link to transfer the data saved by Windows Easy Transfer to your newly upgraded Vista machine.  Once the data is transferred to the drive with Vista installed, the files and folders are directed to the right places on your hard drive and you should be able to access these familiar XP files, folders, and settings.

For those using an upgrade version of Vista, if all goes well, you should find that after the final installation reboot, all of your files and data will be in perfect order and available to you exactly as they were in Windows XP (one of the benefits of using a Vista upgrade version). With that said, running the Windows Easy Transfer tool before the upgrade is a quick and simple process, and a step you can take anyway, if for no other reason than an extra secure backup of those important files and settings.

Summary
Now that you have it cleaned-up and backed-up, if you're planning to install an upgrade version of Windows Vista, you will want to disable your virus scanner before installing. Once Vista has successfully been installed to your PC, you can begin your set-up tasks, such as using Windows Easy Transfer to get those files migrated to the Vista-based drive and taking care of any hardware and devices which were not supported by Vista, but can be installed by using a driver provided by the manufacturer. Of course if you did a full install you will now be ready to start the seemingly never-ending process of reinstalling software, setting up your desktop, getting the antivirus security in place and then start playing with some of the new features in Windows Vista such as desktop gadgets, and shifting windows. Oh, and of course, you'll probably want to make downloading Vista updates a priority, too.


Use our feedback form to submit your questions on home or SOHO networking issues. We cannot guarantee to answer every question we get, but we’ll consider them all.



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