As the very positive reviews for Windows 7 keep rolling in I’m finding more people wanting to test the waters by moving to Windows RC1 today.  The very first question I get is should I upgrade or should I do a clean install.  Here the official word form the the Windows 7 web site:

  • Windows XP (or any other operating system)

We recommend that you experience Windows 7 on a new PC. Here are some featured PCs that can run Windows 7.

While we don't recommend it, you can opt to upgrade your current PC from Windows XP or another operating system to Windows 7. We recommend that you get help with this process from your local computer service provider. You'll need to back up your current files and settings, perform a custom (clean) installation, and then reinstall your files, settings, and programs.

With any version of Windows, including Beta or Release Candidate (RC) versions, I almost always follow a regiment of doing a full back up and then a clean install (wipe the disk).  Though a well managed system should not experience problems during an RC upgrade, the meaning of “well managed” varies from one user to the next.  For example, I consider my system to be well managed by exercising a few simple maintenance rules:

  • Install a good anti-virus program and keep the signature file up-to-date (i.e. enable auto-update of the signature file)
  • Schedule and run Windows Update (automatically) in the background
  • Avoid installing programs from un-trusted sites

Because of the role I play at Microsoft, I often run and test Beta/RC versions of Microsoft and non-Microsoft software on my system.  Consequently, they may have residual effects on my system that are not completely eradicated during an upgrade.  So for me, I always elect to do a clean install; it just feels better this way since it wipes away any issues I may have introduced under the old system.  I suspect many others feel the same as I do.

Also, note that anytime you work with Beta/RC software, you assume some risk since the software is not yet ready for prime time.  A RC product is close to being finished, a Beta version is not.  That is why it is imperative that you back-up your files and settings before performing an upgrade or clean install of the this type of software.  Remember, backing up your files is THE most important step.  You can easily rebuild a system, but seldom can you ever recover lost files.  So be sure you have a reliable back-up plan, one in which you have a high level of confidence in.

Lately, I’ve been using Microsoft Windows Easy Transfer (WET) to backup and restore my files and settings when moving from XP/Vista to Windows 7 and it has worked exceptionally well for me.  If you choose to use WET, take and perform a couple of trial back-up runs to get yourself acquainted with the tool.  For step-by-step instructions visit http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd446674(WS.10).aspx.

Now the downside of a clean install of Beta/RC software is that you may run into a hardware compatibility issue that requires a driver update (e.g. graphics, video, printer, etc).  Many Windows compliant drivers will install as part of the clean install of Windows 7.  Other driver updates will install when running Windows Update.  But, you may still find yourself with a hardware component that fails to install correctly after a clean install of the new operating system.  This may be due to one of the following factors:

  • The hardware is no longer supported by the vendor under the new operating system and therefore a new driver will not be provided
  • The vendor has not yet developed a Windows compliant driver for the new system, therefore a new driver is not installed

Now Windows has gone a long way to insure compatibility, but if you do find yourself with hardware problems after a clean install, you have a couple of options:

  • Visit your hardware manufacturer’s website to locate, download and install the latest version of the driver, preferable a Windows 7 compliant driver
  • Upgrade your hardware

Truth of the matter is an upgrade (vs. clean install) could still lead to the same outcome, i.e. hardware that doesn’t work well.  However, with an upgrade, the old drivers may still be present on the system making easier for you to reinstall and test the old hardware drivers under the new operating system.

Here’s my 10-step approach to a clean install of Windows 7:

  1. Verify that your PC can run Windows 7 - http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/upgrade
  2. Back-up your current files and settings.
  3. Make a note of any programs you wish to reinstall after installing Windows 7
  4. Perform a custom (clean install) of Windows 7
  5. Install your antivirus software and update the signature file
  6. Run Windows Update to verify that all available updates have been installed on your machine
  7. Restore your files and settings
  8. Restore your programs noted above in step 3.
  9. Verify that your hardware installed successfully.
  10. Explore the features of Windows 7 - http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/what-is?os=other

In closing, I came across this posting today that you may find of interest.

Experts Find Windows 7 to Be a Smooth PC Upgrade

http://www.ny1.com/content/ny1_living/technology/101543/experts-find-windows-7-to-be-a-smooth-pc-upgrade/Default.aspx?ap=1&Flash

IMO, the word upgrade is used literally here, i.e. to exchange something for another of better quality.  Not in the context of an install option as discussed above.  But the good reviews do keep coming in :>