Migrate to Windows 7 at Your Own Pace

You don’t have to jump into Microsoft’s new OS right away; here’s how to make the switch gradually.

Rick Broida, PC World October, 2009

Although I’ve been playing with Windows 7 for a couple months now, I’m not quite ready to dive in. I want to make gradual move, keeping my Vista-based PC up and running while I transition to the new OS. Why? I have my reasons. For one thing, I don’t want any driver- or software-related surprises–or worse. Early upgraders are already reporting issues; read “Windows 7 Upgrade Woes Mount: Endless Reboots and Product Key Problems” for a look at what’s been going on.

What’s more, I don’t have a full afternoon to devote to the tedious process of offloading my data, installing Windows 7, reinstalling all my apps, restoring the data, and so on and so on.

So I’ve come up with a plan. Instead of wiping my system for a fresh install or doing an in-place upgrade from Vista to 7, I’m getting the best of both worlds. First, I partitioned my hard drive–which, thankfully, has more than enough room to accommodate both Vista and Windows 7. Then I loaded Windows 7 onto the new partition, which gave me a fresh install (always the best approach, in my humble opinion).

After that, I need to make sure Windows 7 works well with all my hardware. Assuming it does, I’ll start installing the apps I use daily and copying over my data from the Vista partition. Eventually, after a few weeks (or even months), I’ll remove the Vista partition. I’ll need to figure out how to make 7 the primary partition so I don’t run into boot issues, but that’s a problem for a much later day. This week I’ll tell you how I set up a new hard-drive partition and installed Windows 7.
Partitioning Your Drive

So my first step was partitioning the hard drive. Vista has a built-in partitioning tool; Windows XP users will need Easeus Partition Manager, a free utility, or another third-party tool.

Keep in mind that this approach requires a reasonably large drive, preferably one with at least 50GB of free space–more if you have a lot of video files and other data you’ll be copying over from the old partition. On my system, which has a 750GB drive, I created a 300GB partition for Windows 7. Here’s how to do that:

  1. To create a new partition in Vista, click the Start button, type diskmgmt.msc, and press Enter to open the Disk Management utility.
  2. In the Volume column, find your C: drive, right-click it, and choose Shrink Volume.
  3. Vista will calculate how much “shrinkage” is allowed. And here’s where you may run into trouble. My 750GB drive had close to 400GB free, but Disk Management was willing to shrink the partition by only about 80GB. I turned to PerfectDisk, a drive-defragmenting utility that can perform the all-important function of moving system files to the beginning of the partition, thus freeing up much more of the available space.
  4. With that step done (or not, if you’re okay with Vista’s default findings), enter a size for your new volume (I entered 300000 for 300GB, for example) and click OK. After a few minutes, Disk Management will show you a new space on your drive, labeled “Unallocated.”
  5. Right-click Unallocated, choose New Simple Volume, and then follow the steps indicated by the utility.

When you’re done, you’ll have a brand spankin’ new partition that’s ready to receive Windows 7.
Installing Windows 7 on the Partition

Now it’s time to install Windows 7. This part was easy: All I did was reboot my PC with my Windows 7 disc in the drive, then follow the boot-screen option, “Press any key to boot from CD.”

If you don’t see a similar option upon booting, you may need to venture into the BIOS to change the boot order, with your CD/DVD drive ahead of the hard drive. Consult your system manual if you don’t know how to do that.

Once the Windows 7 installer starts running, just follow the prompts–making sure to choose the Custom option when asked which type of installation you want. Next, you’ll have to choose where to install Windows 7. Select New Simple Volume, which is the partition you created previously.

Now go get a cup of coffee. My install went pretty quickly–about 20 minutes in all–but yours could take twice as long depending on the speed of your system.

When it’s all done and you restart your PC, you’ll see a menu with two boot options: Windows 7 and your previous version of Windows. Choose the former to start working with the new OS, the latter when you need to get back to your stuff.

In the coming weeks I’ll talk about reinstalling software, migrating data, and more.

Free Tools for Fine-Tuning Your Windows 7 Setup

No-cost apps and Web services help you set up your Windows 7 computer just the way you want it.

Rick Broida, PC World November, 2009

Last week I told you how to migrate to Windows 7 at your own pace–there’s no need to jump into the deep end right away. Now that you’ve got Windows 7 up and running on your newly partitioned, dual-boot PC, it’s time for the next big step in any OS migration: reinstalling your software.

I’ve always hated this part, as it involves digging out CDs, downloading apps from lots of different sites, and then manually installing everything. Takes forever.

Thankfully, I’ve found salvation in the form of Ninite, a new service that automatically downloads and installs popular software.

All you do is scroll through Ninite’s list of 70-odd apps, check-marking the ones you want. The service offers the most current versions of nearly every popular mainstream program, including Firefox, Skype, OpenOffice, iTunes, Picasa, Steam, and Revo Uninstaller.

Once you’ve made your picks, click Get Installer to download a small executable file. When you’re ready, run that file and sit back while Ninite goes to work.

How long does it take? That depends on how many programs you’ve selected. I chose a baker’s dozen (including the trial version of Office 2007 Standard, which I already own–now I just have to type in the security key), and I’d swear Ninite was done in all of 10 minutes.

I’ll bet the service saved me a couple hours of manual labor. It worked flawlessly, and it installed 90 percent of the programs I use regularly. Awesome. Just awesome. And did I mention Ninite is free?

Migrating Your Bookmarks

I’d argue that the first thing a user wants upon migrating to a new PC–or, in this case, a new operating system on the same PC–is his or her bookmarks.

Fortunately, that’s perhaps the single easiest chunk of data to move as part of our “slow” migration to Windows 7. All you need is Xmarks.

Available for both Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer, Xmarks automatically and effortlessly synchronizes your bookmarks between PCs and the Web.

If you were already using it, just install the program in your new Windows 7 partition, sign into your account, and presto: All your bookmarks will magically appear in your browser. (All your Web-site passwords, too, assuming you configured the tool to sync passwords.)

If you weren’t using Xmarks before, start by booting back into your previous version of Windows, installing Xmarks, and setting up an account. (Don’t worry, it’s free.) Then you can jump back into Windows 7 and install Xmarks there.

There are other ways to copy bookmarks, but this is by far the fastest and easiest–and you get the added benefit of having a password-protected copy of your bookmarks on the Web, accessible from any PC.

Bonus Tip: Make Windows 7’s Taskbar More Like Vista’s

I like most of what Windows 7 brings to the table, but there’s one thing I definitely don’t like: the new taskbar. Specifically, I miss the text labels that accompany each running program. Without them, it takes me an extra second or two to figure out what’s what. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to make the Windows 7 toolbar look a lot more like the one in Vista (and, for that matter, XP). Here’s how.

  1. Right-click on any open area of the toolbar and choose Properties.
  2. Click the “Taskbar buttons” pull-down and choose Never combine.
  3. If you really want a more Vista/XP-like taskbar, check the “Use small icons” check box. Me, I like the bigger icons.
  4. Click OK.

Now, this won’t give you exactly the same taskbar you remember (Windows 7’s pinned icons tend to interrupt the “flow” a bit), but at least you’ll have the text labels and bigger buttons back.

Migrating to Windows 7: Final Touches

By Rick Broida PC World November, 2009

For the past month or so, I’ve been leisurely migrating to Windows 7–at my own pace. If you’ve been following along, thus far we’ve partitioned the hard drive and installed Windows 7 on a new partition, and then used a couple free programs to install favorite apps and copy over Firefox bookmarks. This week I’ll show you how to finish up the process by migrating your Apple iTunes library and copying over your data.

Move Your iTunes Library

Copying over your iTunes library is a drag-and-drop procedure, though it may take some time.

Start by making sure you’re running the latest version of iTunes in your original version of Windows (XP or Vista). Then boot to Windows 7 and install that same version of iTunes. Any mixing of old and new iTunes library files could lead to unpleasant results.

While still in Windows 7, exit iTunes, then click the Windows Explorer icon in your taskbar. (Wasn’t it nice of Microsoft to finally make Windows Explorer readily accessible?)

Browse into the Computer section; find your original Windows XP/Vista partition (on my system it was Drive D:, even though it appears as Drive C: when I boot to that partition); then navigate into the Users, Your Username, My Music, iTunes folder.

You should see various iTunes Library files and subfolders. Now, find the corresponding iTunes folder in your Windows 7 partition–but don’t open it. Instead, select all the files and folders from within the original partition’s iTunes folder, then drag them to the new partition’s iTunes folder.

Depending on how much music, video, apps, and the like you have, the copy process could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more.

Along the way, Windows will likely notify you of a few duplicate files. Make sure to select the Copy and Replace option, as you want to overwrite the newer (and mostly empty) iTunes files with the ones from your original installation.

Once Windows has finished copying everything, start iTunes. Everything should be exactly as it was in your older OS. One cool exception: When you mouse over the iTunes icon in the Windows 7 taskbar, you’ll see Play/Pause and Skip controls you can use for music playback without needing to maximize the program.

Copy Important Data

It’s time to start wrapping up the process, installing any programs that didn’t get installed earlier, copying over data files, and setting up peripherals like printers. In other words, the time has come to start living under Windows 7’s roof, returning to XP or Vista only when necessary. Before you turn off the lights and lock the door, however, make a list of the programs you still need to install and the data you need to copy. Allow me to help with the latter.

Here’s a list of common data you’ll want to make sure you don’t leave behind:

Documents: Everything in your My Documents folder, and in any other folders you use to store Word files, spreadsheets, presentations, and the like.

Music: If you don’t use iTunes, or you keep your MP3s in a folder other than My Music, make sure to copy them over.

Photos: Most folks store them in the My Pictures folder, so all you have to do is copy the contents to the eponymous folder in Windows 7. Same goes for…

Videos: Most folks store them in the My Videos folder, so copy the contents to that same folder in Windows 7.

Financial records: If you use Intuit Quicken or Microsoft Money, your best bet is probably to use either program’s built-in backup option, saving the backup file(s) to an easy-to-find spot on your Windows 7 partition (the Documents folder, for example), then run the program in Windows 7 and restore the backup.

E-mail: If you use Gmail, Yahoo, or another Web-based e-mail service, you’re golden. Just sign into your accounts as usual using your browser. However, things are a lot trickier if you hang your e-mail hat in Mozilla Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, or Windows Live Mail. Because I can’t cover the migration steps for all those programs here, I advise you to do a little Google searching and find the instructions you need. They’re out there.

As I’ve noted before, the beauty of this slow migration is that if you forget something, no problem: You can copy it over as needed.

At some point, perhaps after a month or so, you can make this move more permanent by shrinking the partition for the old OS and enlarging the one with Windows 7. I’ll cover that at a later time.

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