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November 2012The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Installing a New Operating System

Replacing the operating system on your computer is about the biggest change you can make with your computer software (the hardware equivalent would be replacing the motherboard). While keeping your current operating system up to date is no different from keeping all your other software up to date, actually replacing the operating system is considerably different from a version upgrade of applications.

The best way to install a new version of an operating system onto your computer is to do a clean install where you wipe everything from the hard drive and install the new operating system the same way that you would onto a brand new computer. You can still use an upgrade version of the operating system to do this provided that you have a copy of the prior version of the operating system install disk that you can place in the drive to prove that you actually have the prior version.

Of course wiping the hard drive means that you will need to back up all your data beforehand so that you don't lose it. You will also need to ensure that you have install disks and serial numbers for all of your applications so that you can reinstall them all onto your new operating system. You should triple check that you have everything you are going to need to reload all your software before you wipe the hard drive to start the install of the new operating system.

Another thing you will need to do is to check the compatibility of all your applications with the new operating system, if you are running older versions of some applications then you may need to upgrade to a newer version of the application as well when you move to a newer operating system. You will also need to check that drivers are available to allow the new operating system to communicate with your hardware, particularly external devices such as printers and scanners.

Proper planning is essential when upgrading to a newer version of the operating system and I suggest that you list all of the current configuration information in a book first so that you can then use it as a checklist that you have everything you need to be able to rebuild your system prior to wiping the drive and then use the list again as you install all the applications onto the new operating system so that you can make sure that you don't leave anything out.

As an additional precaution before you wipe the hard drive to start the new install you could take an image backup of the entire hard drive. This will give you the ability to put everything back the way that it was before you wiped the hard drive if you run into difficulties during the new install.

Upgrading to a new operating system is such an involved process that you may decide to stick with the current operating system on your current computer and only upgrade to a new operating system when you replace the hardware as well. This provides a safer upgrade path as you don't have to wipe out your existing configuration in order to do a clean install. In fact in many instances the store you buy the new computer from will have installed your new operating system for you. When you are in that position all you need to do is to install all of your applications and copy the data across from your old computer knowing that the old computer itself still works the same way that it did before you started setting up the new computer.

When I have set up a new computer I have set up the new and old computers in such a way that I can use both computers at the same time. This has allowed me to install the applications one at a time onto the new computer running the new operating system and check them to make sure that they work while still having everything available on the old computer to allow me to continue doing everything that I needed to that I had not yet had time to set up on the new computer. As the applications got set up on the new computer I would be doing more on the new computer and less on the old one until I had everything installed on the new computer and didn't need to use the old one any more. Having the two computers on the same network made it extremely simple to copy across information from one computer to the other as required.

There is actually one other alternative if you have only the one computer and want to install a new operating system provided that you have a big enough hard drive with plenty of free space so that you can partition the drive. I generally have my computers configured with three (or more) partitions so the the C: drive contains just the operating system with all the applications installed on the D: drive and my data on the E: drive. With this setup and provided that you have a boot manager available you can then set up a second C: drive as the empty drive into which to install the new operating system. Once you have it installed you can then select whether to run the new operating system or the old one when you start up the computer. The only complication with this is that Windows stores a lot of information about the applications in the registry and that will be on the C: drive so depending on how big a change there is in the operating system you will either need to copy the application specific parts of the registry from one operating system to the other in order to make them available on the new operating system or (probably easier) reinstall the applications on the new operating system specifying the same location on the D: drive as the application currently resides. Provided you pick the same options during the install as you did when you first installed it this should make the application available on the new operating system without stopping it from working on the old operating system (having backups of everything before you start is a good idea in this situation in case you end up with an application that stops working in both operating systems.

Switching to a completely different operating system instead of just upgrading to a new version of the one you are already running has additional things you need to consider. The applications that you are running on the old operating system will most likely not work on the new one when you swap to a completely different operating system. This means that you will need to obtain the equivalent application for the different operating system where one is available or look for a replacement application where an exact equivalent isn't available.

Upgrading any of your software except the operating system is something that can be easily done without needing much planning. The worst case situation there would be if the new version is so different from the old version that it doesn't work properly with your system and you need to delete it and reinstall the old version in its place. Replacing the operating system with a completely new version involves a lot more planning so as to make sure that you get everything moved across and working properly.

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