Removing unneeded applications and making sure your hardware devices will work with Windows 7 are good things to do before you purchase and install the new operating system.
A merciless approach — ruthlessly excising software clutter prior to the OS upgrade — will help ensure that the process goes smoothly.
With Windows 7’s official release to consumers just weeks away, you may be champing at the bit to upgrade your existing system. If you choose to install Win7 on an old Vista machine, however, a wise precaution is to clear out some of the clutter the machine has collected over the years.
First, determine which version of Windows 7 is best for your needs. In his July 16 Top Story, WS contributing editor Woody Leonhard examines the various Win7 editions. He concludes that, for most people, the less-expensive Home Premium version is a better choice than either Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate.
(Note that Windows 7 Starter Edition is available only preinstalled on netbooks. Woody’s June 4 Top Story discusses the design limitations Microsoft is placing on netbooks running Windows 7 Starter.)
Once you’ve selected a Windows 7 version, download and run the beta of Microsoft’s Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, which you’ll find on the company’s Get Windows 7 page. The utility will indicate whether there are known Windows 7 compatibility problems with any devices on your PC. If so, the advisor may even suggest how to resolve the problem.
Microsoft’s page states that systems running Vista will usually have no problem moving to Windows 7. Conversely, if you’re currently using XP or any other operating system, the company says you should “experience Windows 7 on a new PC.” That may be good advice, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to find out for myself rather than take Microsoft’s word for it.
To be sure, many (most?) Windows 7 hardware and software incompatibilities won’t become known until after the OS ships on Oct. 22. This means you should take the advisor’s results at this point with a grain of salt.
The current beta version of the advisor is available only in English. Also, using the page requires that you share information about your system with Microsoft, though the company promises that “no information will be used to identify or contact you.”
Dump the applications you no longer use
Uninstalling unused applications not only frees disk space, it also returns precious system memory to Windows and applications, shortening their start-up times. If you’re planning an upgrade to Windows 7, moreover, removing nonessential programs reduces the odds that you’ll encounter incompatibilities during the upgrade process.
We’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to unnecessary software installations. A program catches our eye, we give it a spin or two, and then we promptly forget all about it. In addition to wasting disk space and cluttering the Start menu, the software can become a security threat as it ages and goes unpatched.
If you plan to use a program infrequently in the future, it may be best to install it only long enough to use it and then uninstall it until the next time you need it. A side benefit of this approach is that you may be more likely to try alternative applications — possibly smaller and faster ones — instead of sticking with whatever program’s already on the system.
Another option is to exile some programs from your computer’s hard drive to removable media. Firefox, OpenOffice.org, 7-Zip, Java, and other popular Windows apps and utilities are now available in portable versions you can install on a USB drive. This keeps them handy without adding them to the Registry or Start menu.
WS senior editor Gizmo Richards reported on how to choose and use portable applications in his June 18 and July 2 Best Software columns (paid content).
Free utilities make system cleanup a breeze
The problem with the uninstall utilities that ship with most apps is that they tend to leave behind files, folders, shortcuts, and Registry entries.
Gizmo’s Sept. 17 Best Software column (paid content) describes two free uninstall utilities that do a more-thorough job of excising applications from your system: ZSoft Uninstaller and Revo Uninstaller. You’ll find links to download the former on the ZSoft Software site and the latter on the VS Revo Group site.
Also, in today’s Best Software column, Gizmo covers the manual approach to removing programs when an uninstall routine is unavailable.
After dumping all but the essential programs on your system, take a moment to jettison other superfluous files. Right-click the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop and choose Empty Recycle Bin to really delete those deleted files. Next, right-click your hard drive’s icon in Windows Explorer or any folder window and choose Properties, Disk Cleanup.
Finally, defragment your hard disk. You can start Windows’ built-in disk defragmenter from the drive’s Properties dialog box by choosing the Tools tab and clicking Defragment Now. However, a third-party tool such as J.C. Kessels’ free MyDefrag (formerly JKDefrag) is faster and more thorough. You’ll find a download link for the program on the MyDefrag site.
Once in a while, you’ll run into a program that just can’t be pried loose from your Windows installation by using Windows’ own tools. WS editor-at-large Fred Langa presents his favorite uninstall tools, including Microsoft’s free Windows Installer CleanUp Utility and jv16 PowerTools, in his March 26 LangaList Plus column, “Clean up the mess left by incomplete uninstalls” (paid content).
Prepare your PC for the big Win7 migration
There are three more steps to take prior to beginning the upgrade.
First, use Windows’ free, built-in Backup utility or another backup program to copy your data files to a removable medium. You’ll find instructions for using Windows Backup in Microsoft Knowledge Base article 308422. Gizmo reviewed third-party backup programs on Sept. 4 and Sept. 18, 2008 (paid content).
Second, gather the installation discs and serial numbers for your applications. If you do a clean install of Windows 7, you’ll need the discs and software license numbers to reinstall the programs once the upgrade is finished. Also, be prepared to download and install any patches and security updates for the programs from the vendors’ sites.
Third, be prepared for any unexpected hardware glitches. Visit the download section of your PC vendor’s site to find the Windows 7 drivers for your specific video and network adapters. Save the Win7 version of the drivers for your system’s adapters on a USB drive or other removable medium. If something goes wrong with your upgrade, installing the new drivers you’ve saved in this way may solve the problem.
There’s no reason to start your Windows 7 sojourn with a poky PC. By banishing the bloat beforehand, you’ll spend more time working (or playing) and much less time watching the Windows hourglass.
| UPDATE 2009-10-08: In the Oct. 8, 2009, Known Issues column, readers describe how to prevent a reinstalled application from activating. They also suggest additional areas of Windows to clean out prior to upgrading from Vista to Windows 7.|
Scott Spanbauer writes frequently for PC World, Business 2.0, CIO, Forbes ASAP, and Fortune Small Business. He has contributed to several books and was technical reviewer of Jim Aspinwall’s PC Hacks.