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Windows 7 Upgrade Checklist

Laying the proper groundwork will make your Windows 7 upgrade run smoothly.

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If you have a Windows XP or Windows Vista PC, and want to upgrade to the much-improved Windows 7 operating system (OS), you'll have a lot less pain and aggravation if you lay the proper groundwork first. Before diving headlong into an upgrade, make sure you do these things first.

XP users need to be aware that they can't do an "in-place" upgrade to Windows 7; that is, they can't leave XP on their machine and install Windows 7 over it, as Vista users can. Upgrading for XP users means eradicating the old OS and installing a fresh copy of Windows 7.

Use the Upgrade Advisor. Microsoft's free Upgrade Advisor is an essential tool to download and install before upgrading to Windows 7. The Upgrade Advisor will tell you what steps you need to take before upgrading, including whether your computer meets the hardware specs necessary for Windows 7 (things like processors, memory and graphics cards); what new drivers you'll need; and if you have programs that aren't compatible.

One bit of advice: before running the Upgrade advisor, plug in any peripherals like printers, USB drives, mp3 players, etc. That way, the Upgrade Advisor can scan those devices and see how well they'll work with Windows 7 and if you need updated drivers for them.

Back up your hard drive. This is the most important step you can take. Upgrades, although typically successful, are no sure thing. It is essential that you back up your documents, pictures, videos -- anything that you don't want lost -- to an external hard drive, thumb or USB drive, or some online service like Windows Live SkyDrive. That way, if the worst happens, you won't want to throw yourself off a roof.

About.com offers excellent guidance and advice on backing up your computer.

Check and see if your manufacturer offers upgrade pricing. Many companies, like Acer and Fujitsu, offer discounted, or free, upgrades to Windows 7 to those who bought their PCs after a certain date. Microsoft worked with a number of vendors on a similar program. Most of the deals have now expired (they generally ended on Jan. 31), but you still have time to send in your receipts to validate your purchase.

Get a DVD, rather than a downloaded copy. You'll definitely want a full DVD copy of Windows 7, rather than downloading a copy from the Internet and using that to upgrade. If your upgrade goes wrong or you need to reinstall the OS at a future date for some reason, you'll be out of luck unless you have the DVD. Keep it in a safe place; a place you won't forget.

Don't use a pirated copy. This may be obvious, but I'll say it anyway: the money you save by getting an illegal, free copy, will not be worth the expense in the end. Pirated copies will not be eligible for upgrades, fixes and patches. And when something goes wrong with your copy of Windows 7, you won't be able to get any help from Microsoft.

There are two other good reasons as well:

  1. It increases the costs of software for everyone else. All commercial software companies lose money on pirated software. Those lost dollars have to be made up somewhere, and they get made up by -- you guessed it -- charging us honest buyers more for the legitimate copies we buy.
  2. It's stealing. Let's just say it straight out -- using a free copy of Windows 7 is no different than walking into a store, slipping an iPod Nano in your pocket, and walking out again without paying. Is that who you are?

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