Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Upgrading from XP to Windows 7

This week’s Mailbox is devoted to the most common of the hundreds of questions I received in response to last week’s Personal Technology column describing how difficult and time-consuming it will be to upgrade a Windows XP computer to Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 7 operating system.

To avoid the difficulties you described last week with migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7, what do you think about a two-step approach whereby we buy Vista, upgrade from XP to Vista, and then go from Vista to Windows 7?

That would work, since–unlike those running XP–PCs running Vista can be upgraded to Windows 7 directly, without wiping their hard drives, displacing any files or re-installing any programs.

However, you’d be doing twice the work and paying for two new versions of Windows instead of one.

If I bought a Vista computer, but had it downgraded at the factory to XP, will my situation be any different than what you described should I choose to migrate to Windows 7?

According to Microsoft, the answer is no. Your computer is now a Windows XP computer, and thus still has no direct upgrade path to Windows 7. You would still have to remove and later restore your personal files, wipe your hard disk clean, and then re-install all your programs. However, if you received Windows Vista installation disks with the machine, you could upgrade it to Windows Vista first, and then, upgrade it directly to Windows 7, a process that doesn’t require any of those cumbersome steps.

Does the difficult scenario of moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 that you described last week also apply to those of us who run XP on Macs in virtual-machine programs like Parallels or Fusion?

Yes. Microsoft says the same migration steps are necessary whether the Windows XP computer is physical or virtual, and that includes Macs running XP via the Parallels or Fusion software.

It also applies if you are running XP on a Mac using Apple’s Boot Camp program and wish to move to Windows 7.

After Windows 7 comes out in October, will Microsoft somehow force us XP users to stop using it? Is there any reason I have to upgrade, or can I keep using XP, which meets my needs perfectly?

You can keep using Windows XP and all your current programs on your current computer. It won’t suddenly expire.

Especially in light of how hard it will be to upgrade, can you please explain what advantages Windows 7 will have over XP, which is tried and true? I deliberately skipped Vista and am inclined to skip this new Windows version as well.

People should never feel stampeded to upgrade their technology and should keep using whatever meets their needs and makes them comfortable.

However, based on my testing of pre-release versions of Windows 7, I would say it is significantly better than XP, which, after all, was designed a decade ago, an eternity in computer time.

I’ll cite just a few examples. Microsoft says that Windows 7 is more secure than XP, because its underlying architecture allows more defenses against malicious software than in the older product. Microsoft claims, and my tests bear out, that Windows 7 makes networking computers much simpler, quicker and more reliable than XP does. And the company says that Wi-Fi networks work better and faster than they do with XP.

I would add that, if Windows 7 catches on in a way that Vista didn’t, you may gradually find that new software and hardware makers will stop bothering to make their products compatible with XP, though this process will take years.

You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online for free at the All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

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