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Move to Windows 7 from Windows XP

Notes from my switch to Windows 7 from Windows XP. A good experience overall, but not without its own gotchas, trials, and tribulations. Applied to computers that I build from scratch, and always loaded from a solid non-OEM retail (or preferably VLP) distribution.

Overall, A Good Experience

Overall, I have to say the experience has been a good one. While I'm a huge fan of linux, I do have to stay current with the windows technology, too, so it was time to begin to catch up with a few of my clients that had migrated to Vista. I haven't had to switch desktop Windows operating systems since the jump from Windows 2000 to Windows XP, and when Vista came out, I was too busy to make the time investment, and then after all the bad press and droves going back to Windows XP, I just never found the time to experience it -- there were just much higher priorities. A dead desktop found upon arrival home from the holidays made it clear that it was time. I've installed Windows 7 64-bit edition. And, yes, I know some of this stuff was introduced in Vista. Many thanks to everyone who gave the feedback to Microsoft because overall, from most usability aspects, things have improved, although some customizations may be harder — just keep this mantra in your memory: "run as Administrator". sigh.

My notes here are not about guiding you (or me) through every step of the process; rather a reminder of things I ran into while making the switch, so I can remember them if/when I have to do it again.

OS Installation

Since I'd upgraded the motherboard at the same time, prior to installing I reviewed the BIOS settings and made what I thought were appropriate changes. I made the mistake of enabling S.M.A.R.T. in the BIOS for the hard drives. This caused the windows installer to fail in copying files. Finally using the default failsafe options worked. Doh! Also, Windows 7 Installer creates a separate hidden partition (of about 100M) for storing some of its installation files.

LAN Problems

Interestingly after installation, I couldn't get the computer to connect to the network. I got the dreaded "Unknown Network" problem that is seen a lot, apparently. The problem had to be Windows 7 I surmised. Especially since it was new hardware. I tried 101 solutions to no avail -- even those that didn't seem to fully pertain. Finally, after installing XP and having the same problem, I decided to try and plug it into another device. Dang, that worked. Must be the hardware (and I'd tried different ports, too, and gotten the correct lights to display - hmmmm). I even updated the BIOS and had the latest chipset drivers installed. Granted, the switch is an older one, but very good and I'd never had a problem before. I tried manually configuring both ends to the same settings (speed 10 or 100, flow control on/off, full/half duplex), but to no avail. A new (older) network card in the PCI bus fixed the problem. Yay, I don't have to purchase another switch (although I probably should given the value opportunity).

Notable Changes

Some differences of note for the 'under-the-hood' user. Beyond the general interface, Probably the biggest is where files are stored. When I migrate a user, and/or when I inevitably rebuild the machine's operating system (brainwipe and reinstall), then I need to know where to pull those configuration files and place them correctly to save configuration time overall.

File Changes

There are a number of structural changes to the file system, especially in the Profiles area (Documents and Settings in Windows 2000 and XP), and Program Files for x64 versions (64-bit is often abbreviated as x64 for some reason).

Symbolic Links (aka symlinks)

Also, Windows seems to have embraced a new Linux-ism, the symbolic link, which they call a JUNCTION or SYMLINKD. You can see these in Explorer if you reveal hidden files, and you can see them in the command prompt (aka DOS prompt) using the command 'dir /ah'. Interestingly, though, you can't follow them see where they point in the GUI, but you can see where they point in DOS.

Program Files and Program Files (x86)

Only 64-bit users will see this, but two Program Files areas are created for 64-bit and 32-bit program compatibility with permissions and such.

Users (Profiles, Documents and Settings)

Yes, changes to profile storage areas again. What was Documents and Settings in XP is now Users (similar to usr in Linux). Overall, I think the changes are positive simplifying a lot of the complicated structure of these directories. Overall, a logical rearrangement.

All Users moved to C:\ProgramData (as it always has been, realistically) and is set as a symbolic link, although some of that also points to C:\Users\Public. Default User is now C:\Users\Default.

Application Data (where most of the real data was stored) is now AppData (mostly in .\Roaming), and Local Settings moved to AppData\Local

My Schtuff (aka My Documents => Libraries)

My Schtuff used to be stored inside of My Documents. It still is, but it's moved. We now have libraries, and you may define more of them. Now My Schtuff (think My Music, My Videos, etc) is at the same level of My Documents (makes sense, doesn't it?) and all of these are libraries essentially stored off the C:\Users\<account> directory. One can change where each library is pointed to as desired (local data drive or network drive).

Toolbars and Quick Launch

QuickLaunch seems to have sort of been replaced by un/pinning to/from the Task Bar. There is a new Desktop one I haven't found where it's kept yet. Address and Link toolbars. Hmmmm, interesting concept if I could make it work with the ones I wanted to have it work on, but likely mapped to Microsoft stuff.

Pinned programs are in C:\Users\<account>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned.

The Quick Launch toolbar is gone, though, as a natural part of the evolution. Pinning is in, but I don't like it using so much space.

Shortcut Keys

Shortcut keys to run programs now only allow Ctrl+Alt+<key>. As before, the shortcut must be found in the Start Menu hierarchy and/or the Desktop. I've found other inconsistencies. I believe they have to be actual shortcuts — those special application shortcuts (like to Microsoft Word) don't work. You have to


Run as Administrator

This was a new one on me, but a good one to know. I replace a lot of functionality in Windows and like to allow that program to change file associations. This was the first instance I ran into this, but I ran into it in other situations as I came up to speed.

Specific Program Notes (Move to own doc)

Firefox - still a 32-bit program. There is a 64-bit distribution, but there are many problems with it, and it doesn't run flash since Adobe still hasn't come out with a version for a 64-bit browser. Lusers! After installing, you can find/load/copy over your newly created profile in c:\Users\<name>\. [Themes: Slickerfox (current), Classic Compact, MicroFox, Stratini] [Extensions: Download Statusbar, Firebug]

Thunderbird - Store your data/profile as desired then use the profile manager to make that work for you (run manually with 'thunderbird.exe -ProfileManager' command).

7-Zip - to change the file associations, run as Administrator. Even using the 64-bit version (9.0beta3, it was)

Zoom Player Home Professional - my favorite video player to replace Windows Media Player (although I have to still use that one some times). Different from their Vista instructions (none on 7 as of this writing), per this thread, install in Standard Mode as a 32-bit application.

OpenOffice - Just needs java installed.

Microsoft Outlook - copy over the main Outlook.pst file in profile (XP or before: C:\Documents and Settings\<user>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook) to C:\Users\<user>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook. There is a way to change where this points, but if I remember right, it requires registry changes. Sigh.

MediaMonkey - the database and ini files are stored at C:\Users\<user>\AppData\Local\MediaMonkey (C:\Documents and Settings\<user>\Local Settings\Application Data\MediaMonkey in XP). You can overwrite these and/or Modify db/ini locations or Change the MediaMoneky Database Location or Share the MediaMonkey database. Essentially, I installed the software, updated the .ini and MM.db files and voila, back up and running.

Usenet Explorer - my favorite tool for dealing with binary files (television videos, old cartoons, and such) from Usenet - must run the installer as Administrator to load in the Program Files area, even though it's an x64 program.

Textpad - I had to run it as Administrator for the license information to be saved.

Miranda - Somewhere along the line, profiles was updated. Everything but profile information is in the C:\Program Files (x86)\Miranda folder. The profileName.dat file and the Profile directory with profileName subdirectory is now in C:\Users<user>\AppData\Local\Miranda. Copy appropriately.

Dreamweaver 8 (yeah, still using an older version). Extracts to C:\Windows\Downloaded Installations\Macromedia Dreamweaver 8\ and leaves itself there. Sigh. The updater program fails, but there is a solution. And the updater requires the extracted .msi file. Configuration stuff in profile C:\Users\<account>\AppData\Roaming\Macromedia\Dreamweaver 8\Configuration. There is a WinFileCache-<code>.dat file you will have to copy over (not sure what it does, exactly). Can't find my site info, though; it's stored in the registry. If you still have access to the original machines, you can export the registry info. Otherwise, you have to rebuild them all (as needed). It might help to periodically export all the profiles through the site manager; for each change.

TopStyle - in profile, current.tsl layout definition.

Putty - configuration stored in registry: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\SimonTatham. Essentially, export the key then import into the new machine. Or build anew.

FileZilla - in profile, C:\Users\<account>\AppData\Roaming\Filezilla (C:\Documents and Settings\<account>\Application Data\FileZilla).

Audacity - Using version 1.3.10beta. Upon running, Audacity will look for VST filters. It doesn't matter if you run this in Admin mode or not. You will get a couple of errors. But as long as it writes to the plugins.cfg, you'll be fine. To make that happen, you have to install at least one of these plug-ins. You can also cancel and skip it, but it will run every time. You can uncheck the scanner in preferences, but I didn't try that. I installed a plug-in, and I'm okay now.

IrfanView - great image/photo viewer (and does videos, too, but I uze Zoom Player for that), editor, resizer, rotater, tool. Don't leave home without it.

Palm - I've been a Palm user ever since the original PalmPilot in 1996. Can't live without my PDA. Currently using the Tungsten T3. Tungsten T3 uses an older version of Palm Desktop (4.1.4e). According to the Tungsten T3 Support Page the newer Palm Desktop 6.2 supports the T3 on Windows 7 and Vista x32 (x86). Unfortunately, what isn't found on the the support page, but is found in the forums and on the Palm Desktop 6.2 page is that it doesn't support USB synchronization on Windows 64-bit versions. Alas, I have the USB device. So, I got a bluetooth usb adapter and used the solution posted by Palm and as described in the forums. I had to enable BlueTooth. I had to get it connected in the bluetooth area to the PC. I then went to Hotsync and under the menu Connection Type, had to add a new connection to the PC via BlueTooth and had to discover the PC again. In the Hotsync Mgr, I had to change the settings to use Bluetooth. I had found some discussion suggesting I needed to install Pimlico Software's PalmHotSync software for Palm Desktop 6.2 compatibility with older devices. This may be the case, but it wasn't needed for my T3. After ensuring it was working, Didn't try Pimlico's software again, after that tho. I do keep wishing for the ability to hotsync with Evolution on Linux. Someday, I'm sure. Previously I used Intellisync, but abandoned it for PocketMirror circa 2007 but now that Nokia has acquired and shuttered the software, I'm glad I did. PocketMirror 4.3.0 didn't work for me, though. It kept giving me errors. I uninstalled it and went back to the standard Palm Outlook setup. Sigh.

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Comments are solely the opionion of the author and not to be construed as the opinion of anyone else.


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