Windows 7 RTM is available, time to upgrade!

As many of you know, Windows 7 RTM is now available to MSDN and Technet subscribers. I've had the bits for Ultimate for a little over two weeks now. I would like to share my personal upgrade experience with you.

First to get the new bits was my work laptop. This machine is a Lenovo T61p with an Intel T7500 Core Duo running at 2.20gHz and 4gb RAM. My previous operating system was Vista Enterprise x64. I deliberately waited to get Win 7 until the RTM version was released. Most of my co-workers had upgraded their machines to the beta and RC versions. But being a database guy, I spend more time working in SSMS and VSTS so my OS choice wasn't as important as having to reinstall all my database tools if I changed the OS.

I got the bits during my Madison training in Redmond. I was ready to upgrade and experience all the cool stuff that I'd seen everyone else running on their machines. After tweaking the registry to allow the upgrade from Enterprise to Ultimate, I started the process. The upgrade ran flawlessly. It took about two hours to complete. A good bit of that time was spent migrating my files and settings to the new OS. Once it was done, I didn't have to do anything to my machine except to personalize the themes and other new features of Win7.

Once I got home from Redmond, it was time to start upgrading the other computers in my household. First up was an HP Presario. This laptop is x64 compatible but was running Vista Ultimate 32 bit. This required a clean install of Windows 7. This process was also smooth and pain free. Install time was much shorter since it didn't have to migrate any files and settings. I had to reinstall Office and iTunes. I also had to reconfigure the Family Safety software. Windows 7 only has controls on usage hours. Family Safety is now part of Windows Live and is much improved. This also means it's available for any version of Windows, not just Ultimate and Premium. I think this is a great move by Microsoft. Family Safety is now web-based and includes contact management for children. You can administer it from the web including changing allowed/blocked web sites, view logs, restrict downloads, etc. All I had to do was associate my child's Windows Live ID with his laptop's user account and it worked. Since this was a "clean install", the existing user files are moved under the Windows.old directory. Once I copied them over to the new Users directory, everything worked fine.

 A note to parents: even if you have a good relationship with your children and trust them implicitly, I recommend installing and using the Family Safety software available as part of the Windows Live package. It integrates seamlessly with Internet Explorer and provides a great way to manage and know what your children are doing on the Internet. If you would like to check it out, the software can be downloaded here.

Next up was a Dell Inspiron laptop. This machine was also x64 compatible so it went through the same process as the Presario. The only glitch during the install process was a problem reading the DVD with the install bits. Note that installing 64 bit Windows requires booting from a CD or DVD disk (or USB drive if your system supports it) since you can't run a 64 bit setup executable on a 32 bit OS. The problem manifested itself when the install process got stuck while expanding files. There's a setup error log saved in the temporary install folder on the C: drive. Checking that file indicated that the install image (the WIM file) was corrupt. This was probably some problem with the laptop's DVD drive reading the disk. Re-burning the bits from a USB drive to a new DVD on the laptop solved the problem.

The next machine to be upgraded is an older Compaq laptop running with an AMD Spherion 3300+ processor. Some of the newer Spherion chips are x64 compatible but this one is not. It also only has 768mb of RAM. It originally ran Windows XP Home and was the source of a lot of complaints about performance. I had already upgraded it to Windows Vista Ultimate, reduced the video memory settings to 32mb and upgraded to the latest BIOS in preparation for the Windows 7 release. I was pleasantly surprised that it would run Vista with that amount of memory. But it worked even with the Aero interface partially enabled. The upgrade process was (once again) very smooth. I de-authorized the computer for iTunes as recommended in the compatibility checker and de-installed the anti-virus software before starting. Since the upgrade, I've had no complaints about performance. I also deleted the recovery partition on the disk drive. This partition contained Windows XP and would never be used again. This freed up 7gb of disk space. Disk Manager will allow you to delete the partition and extend the existing system one to use the newly available space.

A couple of global recommendations about upgrading to Windows 7:

  1. Upgrade the machine's BIOS to the most current available. Check the manufacturer's web site for a new version.

  2. Run Disk Cleanup to get rid of old upgrade files, temporary files and other bits on the machine. I also deleted all the old system restore points since they were not needed with a new OS.

  3. Although Windows Update did a great job of downloading and installing the latest drivers for all the machines I upgraded, it would be wise to stage the necessary drivers on the hard drive from your manufacturer's web site. This is especially true if you're moving from 32 to 64 bit.

  4. If your machine is 64 bit compatible, either x64 or AMD64, install the 64 bit version of Windows 7. The computer world is moving away from 32 bit. You'll find that the performance and memory usage is worth it.

  5. If you have problems re-installing an application because the install utility indicates that the OS isn't supported, try running it in Vista compatibility mode.

  6. When moving from 32 to 64 bit, make a list of what software is installed so you can easily re-install it after the upgrade. If you don't, look at the C:\Windows.old\Program Files directory for hints.

  7. There are a couple of ways to move user files around: the Windows Easy Transfer utility, backup/restore and copy from the Windows.old\Users directory. If you leave the user files for the Windows install to handle, make sure you create new accounts for the machine users and have them log in before you copy the files. This will insure they get put under the correct location under C:\Users.

I've still got two more machines to upgrade. One has an older hard drive that's short about 2gb of the minimum 12.5gb required by the Win7 installer. Another is a server which will be getting Windows Server 2008 R2 in the near future. But for now, my main user base is upgraded and appears satisfied with the new version of Windows.

I realize that everyone's experience may vary from mine. The wonderful world of Windows is a big and diverse one. But I think you'll find that the move to Windows 7 will be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

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