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A Practical Guide for Upgrading to Windows XP

28 October 2001

To some, Windows XP was finally the answer consumers were craving - the stability of Windows 2000 with the ease and compatability of Windows ME; finally there was a unified codebase. But to others, it was just another attempt at "extortion" by Microsoft. I've been running XP since Beta 2 and fall into the first group. I really like Windows XP. However, this won't be an article discussing the merits of the new OS. Instead, it will focus on the experience of upgrading from Windows ME to XP looking at the preparation, installation and aftermath. It will also include a few simple precautions.

The Preparation

Whenever you upgrade an operating system, a few minutes of preparation can save you a lot of aggravation later. I spent a couple of hours just preping my system. Not all of the items mentioned below are required, but it should help things go smoother.

1. Spring Cleaning - Uninstall all those junk programs that have just been taking up hard drive space. The fewer programs you have, the less likely it will be for problems to appear with Win XP. Also, clean up temporary internet files and your Recycle Bin.

2. Run Regclean - Regclean is a simple utility that Microsoft produced a few years ago. It was originally designed for Windows 95, but I found it worked well in Win98 and ME. Regclean will remove obsolete entries in the Registry. Many times uninstallers do a poor job of cleaning up after themselves. Regclean helps combat that.

3. Remove Third-Party Disc Utilities - If you use programs like Norton Utilities (2001 or earlier), they are not compatible with Windows XP. You will have to uninstall them before upgrading to XP. You will have to purchase Norton Utilities 2002 if you want to keep using it. Unfortunately for me, Norton 2001 wouldn't uninstall properly, so I had to do it manually (no fun).

4. Run Disc Utilities - This is not contradicting point #3 above. Use Win 9X/ME's disc utilities (ScanDisk and DeFrag) instead. It's important that any disc errors be corrected before upgrading.

5 Run Update Advisor - Microsoft has published a tool called Upgrade Advisor. It's a rather large download (50MB) that helps you determine the readiness of your PC for Windows XP (also available on the Win XP CD). It will tell you what hardware and software may be incompatible with XP.

6. Get Updates - Get all driver updates as well as program updates ahead of time. One of the worse feelings during an install is the realization that you don't have the right drivers on hand.

7. Clean Out Start Up Group - The Start Up group contains many of the programs that appear in your SysTray. In most cases, you don't want these programs trying load up when you are installing a new OS. The operating system should have safeguards against such things, but it's better to error on the safe side. Simply drag the icons from your Start Up group to your Desktop.

8. Backup Data - Microsoft has done a good job making sure there are no problems installing Windows XP. However, there is nothing to say that you won't be part of the minority that gets hosed. Backup your critical data.

The Installation

Assuming you have enough hard drive space, the first thing you want to do before you start actually installing the OS is to copy the installation files to your hard drive. Create a new folder on a drive with at least 800MB free on it and call it "WinXPdisk" or something like that and copy all the files from the CD to that folder. Now whenever the OS needs to grab an updated file, you can sit back relax. You won't be stuck hunting for your Win XP CD when it needs a file (which can be very aggravating). Not only that, but the installation should be faster. Remove the CD from your drive and run the "Setup" program from your hard drive.

The installation itself is relatively painless, though it took almost an hour and a half for me. Assuming you have a good connection to the internet, when prompted, let the installation program update itself with the latest files from Microsoft. There were a few spots were it appeared the installation program locked up, but eventually it would start up again.

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