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Upgrading to Windows 7

Upgrading to Windows 7

Date issued:

Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system (OS) lands at retail stores on October 22nd 2009. Here's what you need to know if you're planning an upgrade.

Microsoft's Windows 7 has thus far impressed both users and critics, and the software will be reaching store shelves on October 22nd.

With millions of users expected to migrate to Microsoft's next release, we reckon many might be wondering what their upgrade options are. Given the complicated nature of the multiple editions of Windows 7 to be made available, upgrading to the upcoming OS is anything but straight forward.

In this guide, we'll explain the options available to users wanting to upgrade from Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows Vista systems. However, before we do, let's clear up a few terms that you'll come across in the following pages.

In-place upgrade
An in-place upgrade refers to the installation of a new operating system from within an existing operating system. For example, a user running Windows Vista could insert a Windows 7 disc and begin an "in-place upgrade" direct from the Vista desktop. Following an on-screen wizard, and a few hours of installation, the system would reboot with Windows 7 as the new operating system. This method can be used to preserve system applications and data.

Clean install
Consider this as the exact opposite to an in-place upgrade. Instead of preserving data and applications, a system's hard drive is wiped and Windows 7 is installed afresh. Although this requires a user to re-install applications, it is our preferred upgrade path and is known to be less problematic.

Upgrade edition or full edition
We'll often refer to two varieties of Windows 7 - upgrade editions, and full editions. The difference between the two is simple, upgrade editions are applicable only to users who own a prior eligible Windows operating system. As a reward to existing customers, upgrade editions are notably cheaper to purchase when compared to full editions.

Happy with those? Good, let's start with the options available to Windows XP/Windows 2000 users.

Upgrading from Windows XP and Windows 2000 to Windows 7
For users of Windows XP, the upgrade path for Windows 7 is quite simple - though, that's because you're given only one choice.

Microsoft hasn't provided the means to perform an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7, and users will consequently have to perform a clean install. In order to make the transition a little less painful, each Windows 7 disc will ship with a migration tool dubbed "Windows Easy Transfer". By loading the software, XP users - or, indeed, users of any Windows OS - can backup their data for easy transfer to a new operating system.

With in-place upgrades not an option, a question many may be wondering is 'are XP users still eligible to purchase upgrade editions of Windows 7?'

The answer is yes, and the saving associated with upgrade media will be welcomed by most, but installation of a Windows 7 Upgrade edition isn't without its complications. In order to install an upgrade version of Windows 7, users will be required to have a qualifying Windows operating system installed and activated. Microsoft states that "you cannot install an upgrade version of Windows 7 on a blank hard drive".

But hang on, didn't we just say that the only upgrade option for Windows XP users is a clean install? We did, and that's still the case. In order to install an upgrade version of Windows 7, XP users will first need to have their current operating system installed and activated with a genuine product key. Once validated, a user can insert their Windows 7 Upgrade disc and choose to perform a clean install by selecting the advanced menu option.

Looking ahead, this method could prove to be a headache for users who purchase an upgrade edition of Windows 7 as each re-install would require a copy of Windows XP to be installed and activated first.

For users of Windows 2000, or an older version of Windows, it's bad news. You won't be eligible to purchase an upgrade version of Windows 7. Your only option will be to purchase full-version software and to carry out a clean install.

Upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7
For users of Windows Vista, the upgrade situation is both simpler and yet somehow more complex, as well.

Microsoft provides Vista users with the option to perform an in-place upgrade, but it is limited to like-for-like editions. For example, you won't be able to do an in-place upgrade from Windows Vista Home Basic to Windows 7 Ultimate. The only upgrade routes are as follows:

- Windows Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Home Premium
- Windows Vista Business to Windows 7 Professional
- Windows Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate

Users running Windows Vista Home Basic are out of luck. The only in-place upgrade path is to Windows 7 Home Basic, and that release is being made available in emerging markets only - meaning it won't be offered in developed countries such as the UK and the US.

Furthermore, the same applies to 32-bit and 64-bit variants of the software. An in-place upgrade from a 32-bit version of Windows Vista can only be carried out with a 32-bit version of Windows 7. The only way to move from 32-bit to 64-bit is with a clean install.

Speaking of clean installs, the same restrictions apply to Windows Vista as they do to Windows XP. Users making use of a Windows 7 Upgrade edition will be required to have a qualifying Windows operating system installed and activated. And yes, that means you'll need to install and activate a genuine copy of Windows Vista prior to each fresh install of Windows 7 - unless, of course, you purchased a full edition.

The plot's already thick enough, but what if you're not using Windows XP, Windows 2000 or Windows Vista? What if you're using something newer - say, the Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC)?

Upgrading from Windows 7 RC to Windows 7
Surprisingly, users of Windows 7 RC are eligible to purchase an upgrade edition of Windows 7. However, like Windows XP users, it won't be possible to perform an in-place upgrade. You'll need to do a clean install, and you'll need to have the RC activated before hand.

We're almost done, but there's another major obstacle we haven't yet covered - the Windows 7 E editions.

Upgrading to a European edition of Windows 7
Available only in Europe, the Windows 7 E editions ship without Microsoft's Internet Explorer built in. The web browser-less release, made available by Microsoft in an attempt to conform with EU law, doesn't offer an in-place upgrade from any prior edition of Windows.

Put simply, that means European consumers can't perform an in-place upgrade to Windows 7 whatsoever. That also means that Microsoft won't be offering Upgrade Editions of the software at European retail destinations. Instead, European customers will be treated to full Windows 7 E editions at upgrade prices. Despite the lack of a built-in browser, the Windows 7 E edition does carry one notable advantage.

Being a full edition of Windows 7, it doesn't offer in-place upgrades, but clean installations are available without the need for an existing, activated Windows operating systems. European users, then, can simply wipe a hard drive and install any version of Windows 7 E.

Who'd have thought upgrading to a new operating system could be so complex?