Windows 8 Upgrade – Discussion and suggestions

Microsoft recently released their latest version of the Windows operating system, Windows 8. This follows Windows 7 (2009), Windows Vista (2006) and Windows XP (2001).

Windows 8 screen

And once again, they are *forcing* users of older versions to perform clean installs – which means they must back up all their data, erase the hard disk completely, install the OS, re-install the applications (can you find all your installation CDs and/or downloaded installation programs?) and then finally restore their data. This is time consuming, to say the least, not to mention not for the faint of heart. And it requires having space somewhere to back up all of your data.

This policy is incomprehensible, but is not a new one. When Vista was released, several pieces of the operating system’s file and directory structure changed, but Microsoft provided an upgrade path. You could upgrade Vista on top of XP and it would move or rename files/folders as appropriate. (C:\Documents and Settings became C:\Users, the hidden directory Local Settings became Application Data, etc.).¬†When Windows 7 was released (Windows 7 has the same basic structure as Windows Vista), they provided an upgrade path from Vista to 7, but not for users with Windows XP. I assumed it was because Microsoft couldn’t (read: wouldn’t) provide the conversion process for the different directory structures. But, having just learned that they did just that for XP -> Vista, tells me that it was a conscience, deliberate decision. To me, this is irresponsible. First, if they could do it from XP to Vista, they can also do it for XP -> 7. Second, since Windows 7 is more-or-less Windows Vista 2.0, the process they had provided when Vista was released would likely have worked without (much) change, so it’s not like they would have had to create the procedure from scratch.

But, they are doing it again with Windows 8 upgrades. If you have Windows 7, no problem. Vista or XP? Nope, sorry. Start again. Carve out an afternoon or a full weekend (you don’t really need email/web/internet during the weekend do you?) to do the full process. Sheesh.

To be fair, anyone doing a major upgrade should automatically do full backups of their data, just in case. But, backing up in a Windows environment is really awful. You have to do it more-or-less manually, plus if you end up needing to restore the data, because something happened during the install, well, that’s not easy, either. You’ll get your data back, but….Skype history? Yahoo Messenger chats? Firefox settings? To say nothing of Picasa. You might be able to get some/all of those back, but it’s not easy or well-documented. Kind of a “cover your eyes and aim for the bull’s-eye” deal.

But, some people throw caution to the wind and just say “Upgrade” and live with the consequences. They should be allowed to do that. Motorcycle with no helmet? My choice. Drive a car without a seatbelt? My choice. Upgrade my OS without backing up first? My choice. For each of those and more, that behavior is not recommended, but it’s the user’s choice. And since performing a clean install of Windows is so labor-intensive, time-consuming and, most importantly, imperfect, I can understand why people might want to go that route. Who wants to spend time re-downloading and installing their applications, trying to restore all the users’ settings and documents and stitching it all together manually? Blecch!

Just to draw a comparison, the situation is not at all like this with Apple computers. Apple has released nine major versions of their Mac OS X in the same time that Window has released four. In all that time, you can upgrade from any version to any version and keep your user accounts intact. Naturally, backing up is always recommended, but it’s not an obstacle to upgrading. Installed applications are still installed and work, provided they are still supported. Mail still works. Skype history is not lost. And so on. But, even *if* the user decides to erase and re-install a fresh copy, the Time Machine backups fully restore every document, every setting, every configured email account, every dotted “i” and crossed “t” for every user. (The only thing it doesn’t restore are passwords, but this is a deliberate security feature. Imagine someone steals your Time Machine backup volume. They restore your data to a different computer. If the email – and other – passwords were also restored, then they could send emails, download new emails, etc.) So, in the end, your system is exactly the way it was before doing a clean install.

I say this not to say how great Apple is or how awful Microsoft is, but rather to point out that this kind of concern for customers investment and time is a choice, a decision made by the company’s executives. I personally find that Microsoft’s policy/decision regarding upgrades is awful.

Suggestion: if you are going to upgrade to Windows 8 and are forced to do the whole backup and clean install, consider this instead. Look at the size of your hard disk and also how much space is still available. If you’re disk is less than 250 GB, consider just replacing it with a 1000 GB (1 TB) disk. Then, you don’t have to bother with a distinct back-up step, because the data is on the old disk, untouched. Install Windows, create the same user accounts, and then restore your data from the original disk. The added benefit here is that if something goes wrong anytime, you can simply swap disks and have a working computer until you have a moment to figure out the other problem with your Windows 8 disk.

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About zonkeringeneva

An American, married to a German, moved from Russia to Geneva but living in France! HEE-WHACK!

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