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Proper Windows OS Installation

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This article covers how to install the Microsoft Windows Operating System (OS).

What is covered in this article:
> Different Versions and Editions of the Windows OS
> Upgrading versus Fresh Installation of the OS
         - Steps to take prior to Upgrading the OS
         - Steps to take prior to a Fresh Installation of the OS
         - Steps to take after  you have installed an OS

Different Versions and Editions of the Windows OS:

Versions and Editions

Windows XP

No longer supported by Microsoft

Starter
(for developing countries and emerging markets only)
Home
Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition was designed for home users who used Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows Millennium Edition (Me). Windows XP Home Edition is designed specifically for home users. (1)
Professional (Professional x64)
XP Professional contains advanced features that the average home user would not use. However, these features are in XP Home, they are simply disabled and can be made functional.
Media Center Edition (MCE)
Is a version of the Windows XP operating system designed to serve as a home-entertainment hub. The last version, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, was released on October 12, 2004. (2)

Windows Vista

Currently supported by Microsoft

Starter
(for developing countries and emerging markets only)
Home Basic
Supports basic computer needs, such as e-mail, browsing the Internet, and viewing photos. (1)
Home Premium
Allows you to go beyond e-mail and web surfing to improve personal productivity and enjoy digital entertainment. (1)
Ultimate
You can smoothly shift between home and work related tasks. You are able to enjoy music, images, live and recorded TV, and online entertainment. Work tasks include improved document sharing and networking support.
Business and Enterprise
(not within the scope of this article)

Allows for the protection of your business’s key information.  It includes enhanced mobility technology to stay connected in and out of the office. Information is easy to find,  which makes collaboration much smoother.

Windows 7

The most current version of the OS

Starter
(for developing countries and emerging markets.  Windows 7 also uses this on notebook PCs)
Windows 7 Starter is the edition of Windows 7 that contains the fewest features. The Windows Aero theme is not included in this version.  Windows 7 Starter is only available in a 32-bit version. The desktop wallpaper, and Visual Style (Windows 7 Basic) is also not user-configurable.

This edition is available pre-installed on computers, especially netbooks, through system integrators or computer manufacturers using OEM licenses. (2)
Home Basic
Also created for developing countries and emerging markets as well as laptops, not deployed in any major markets.
Home Premium
Premium makes it easy to create a home network and share all of your favorite photos, videos, and music. And you can watch shows for free when and where you want with Internet TV on Windows Media Center. (1)
Ultimate
Ultimate is the most edition of Windows 7.  It combines remarkable ease-of-use with the entertainment features of Home Premium and the business capabilities of Professional, including the ability to run many Windows XP productivity programs in Windows XP Mode.  For added security, you can encrypt your data with BitLocker and BitLocker-To-Go. (1)
Professional and Enterprise
Pro helps you be more productive and protects the critical information you work with. Many routine tasks just take a couple of clicks, so you can spend less time setting up projectors, printers, and networks. Advanced backup options help you protect your hard work with automatic backups to your home or business network. And with Windows XP Mode, you can use virtually all of your Windows XP programs in Windows 7. (1)

Upgrading versus Fresh Installation of the OS:

Bottom line up-front:  If you are thinking about upgrading or installing a new OS you should take the following into consideration before you continue.

Is my computer operating as it should, and is there any software vital to me that will not work on the new version of the OS?
Do I have a fully operational and licensed copy of my current OS? (If not, you need to buy a legitimate copy of the OS and do a Fresh Installation.)
Do I have everything that I would need to restore my computer to its previous state should an error occur?
If you can answer yes to all of the above you can do either an upgrade or a fresh installation, and you should be successful.

If you are currently experiencing problems with your system, an upgrade will not make anything better.  Chances are, you will have a lot of the same problems, just on a new OS.  I recommend a Fresh Installation at this point.  This will eliminate most OS related issues, and give you a clean start.

Upgrading – Allows the user to install the newer version of the OS while leaving the users data, customized settings and applications in place.  The user should not lose their favorites, or anything residing in the My Documents folder.  This has not always been the case however; often times when a user would upgrade some remnant of the old OS would still be there.  Sometimes in the systems registry,  sometimes in a specialized setting or often times in the form of old drivers that will not be compatible with the new OS. (3)  

That being said, the way that Microsoft performs its upgrades now is much cleaner; for instance, when you upgrade to Windows Vista from XP, rather than keeping your settings and placing the new OS over top of them as was done in the past, Vista’s installer now reads them and stores them in a temp directory, then once the install is complete it places the stored data and settings in the appropriate place for the new OS.  This removes a large majority of the issues seen previously.


Steps to take prior to UPGRADING your OS:

Check for hardware support – Minimum system requirements met and list all of your hardware and check for compatibility.
Check for application support – if your new OS will not support a needed application, obtain a copy of the newest one there are websites out there that will let you create a custom install package for the most common of these programs. (http://ninite.com/ , http://allmyapps.com/windows/install-pc)
Get new drivers – use your hardware list and check the manufactures websites for the latest drivers, download them and have them on hand ready for install.
Backup all valuable data to external storage – this is quite possibly the most important step, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an issue arise during installation and data loss occurred.

Fresh Installation – Removes all data from the drive, sometime formatting it and installs the new OS to the drive.  When performing a fresh installation, the OS may ask to connect to the Internet to download the latest updates and drivers from Microsoft ensuring that your OS is as up to date as possible the first time you log in.  

A fresh install will also remove a lot of issues that arise as the user installs and uninstalls software, installs and upgrades hardware.  Each such action leaves some evidence behind.  After some time, this can cause a system to run slow or have hardware conflicts.  There are utilities out there designed to find and eliminate this kind of issue, but a fresh install will do it every time.  

Some people even feel that it is a good idea to do a fresh install of your OS every couple of years as a maintenance task.  Personally, I feel that is a bit extreme.  If you do not mess with your system's configuration on a regular basis and you ensure that you do a complete uninstall of your software, there is no need to do a fresh install on a recurring basis.  That being said, there are some different tasks that should be performed prior to a fresh installation.

Steps to take prior to a FRESH INSTALLATION of your OS:

Backup all of your valuable data to external storage.
Download any applications that you will need to install post, and save them to the same external storage.  There are websites out there that will let you create a custom install package for the most common of these programs. (http://ninite.com/ , http://allmyapps.com/windows/install-pc)
Download all patches and updates to your OS as well, this will save you some time later.
Download the latest drivers for all of your hardware; I recommend that you go to the hardware manufacturer's site as it may contain more recent updates.
Run complete system diagnostics -  test your HDD for any errors, test your RAM (use your BOIS, or a third party application).
You may even want to take this opportunity to see if your main board BIOS has an update as well (this you will normally get from your computer manufacturer)
Now that you have completed all of that, you should be confident that you are about to install an OS to a system that is healthy and ready to receive it.  You have also taken steps to ensure that you will be back up and running fairly quick (at least compared to someone that has not done all of the prep work).


Steps to take after INSTALLING/UPGRADING your OS:

Install the latest patches, service packs and updates for the OS.
Install the latest drivers for your hardware, use device manager to ensure everything is running as it should
Install all of your critical applications (MS Office, Web Editor, Picture View) anything you consider a must have.  There are websites out there that will let you create a custom install package for the most common of these programs. (http://ninite.com/ , http://allmyapps.com/windows/install-pc)
Setup Windows exactly the way that you want it. (Computer name, passwords, network configuration, etc)
Create a system image – this will allow you to restore you system to its post-installed (clean) state to include all of your third party apps, customized settings.  This step is a life saver if you ever have to restore your system after a catastrophic failure.  (Note: You will need a double-layer DVD (8.5 GB) or an external HDD to store your system image).

Thank you for reading this article.  If you found it helpful please vote it so.  
Source documents for this article:

1) Microsoft
2) Wikipedia
3) Article by: Mario Svaliega 2007
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