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Upgrading Windows:

Why upgrade?  Before you consider upgrading your version of Windows to a newer version, please weigh some of the pro's and con's before you take the drastic step of wiping your hard-drive clean and inserting the Install CD.

Reasons to upgrade Reasons not to
Security: each version of Windows is more secure than it's predecessor...and Microsoft no longer offers patches for its older O/S's. Software compatibility: is there a particular program that you can't live without that runs in DOS? A game written for Windows 98 that you simply adore? Odds are good that it will run under your new Windows (in something called "compatibility mode") but it pays to make certain.
Features: is there a feature--or features--in the new Windows that you want (or need) that simply doesn't exist for your current version?

Also, some of the new generation of programs simply won't run on older Windows machines--such as IE 7 and Windows Media Player 11--and this can limit your choices. This is common in the arena of anti-malware applications.


Requirements: the more recent a version of Windows is, the more stringent is its size and minimum memory requirements. It is possible that your older PC simply doesn't have "what it takes" to run a newer O/S.

Microsoft publishes "Minimum" and "Recommended" hardware and RAM for each version of Windows. The truth is, Windows just doesn't work well at the "minimum": you really do need the "recommended" level.

New hardware: if you have purchased, or are planning to purchase a new device and/or technology, your older Windows simply may not support (or take full advantage of) the unit. To get the full use of new technology, such as the very fast SATA II hard-drives, you may need a more current version. Hardware compatibility: conversely, some older (yet still functional) devices may be so old as to be unsupported by the new Windows (printers are a likely candidate). Check the manufacturer's website for Drivers for the O/S you are considering. This is especially important when considering upgrading to Vista.

Upgrade or New ("clean") install?  Microsoft has long provided the option (usually less expensive) of "upgrading"--sometimes called an "in-place Install"--an existing version of Windows to a newer version. This method offers the advantage of retaining your installed programs and files, user settings, Favorites and Address Books, and the various "tweaks" you've made to personalize your computer...things like themes, desktop settings, and wallpaper. Upgrading, therefore, is the easiest method of obtaining a newer Windows. The chart below lists the possible upgrade paths: find your current version on the left, and then look to the version you are considering on the right--a "yes" means a direct upgrade is possible.

Current version Windows 98 Windows Me Windows NT Windows 2000 Windows XP Windows Vista*
Windows Me N/A N/A NO NO YES NO
Windows NT/Workstation N/A N/A N/A YES YES NO
Windows 2000 N/A N/A N/A N/A YES YES*
Windows XP N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A YES*

*some upgrades are not possible depending on the version of Vista you're wanting. Please click here to see details.


The other method is to do a "clean" install of the new Windows version. This requires more steps than upgrading does, as you will have to reinstall the programs (and games!) you use, and you will have to restore your data and files from the backup you made (In some cases you can use tools, provided by Microsoft, called the System Transfer Tool or User State Migration Tool. Or you can purchase specialty software.) Most techs will recommend this method, however, because of the simple fact that by leaving everything in place, you are leaving all the bugs and quirks, and all the junk, on your current system as well. A clean start is best--just make sure you have a tested/working backup of your system state before you start the install of the new version of Windows, and make sure you can locate the install CD's for all your programs (and games) as you will have to install them into the new O/S.

Special commentary on upgrading to the new Vista:  because Vista is so new, and many manufacturers haven't released drivers for their latest devices yet (and certainly haven't gotten around to their older models...), and because Vista has such stringent hardware requirements, I recommend that you seriously consider buying a whole new machine--one that has Vista already installed--to ensure hardware compatibility (and I recommend you chose one with two Gigabytes of RAM). If your machine is quite new--a year, or less--please, please, please run the Vista Upgrade Advisor tool...and pay serious heed to any incompatibilities it finds. It checks your machine for incompatible hardware and software. Find it, and other Vista advice, here.

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