There are two ways to install Microsoft Windows Vista: the easy way and the right way. What’s the easy way? Boot your system and run an upgrade installation after Windows XP starts. But an upgrade installation is a big mistake. Here’s why: Windows Vista is no mere rehash of Windows XP—it’s a brand-new operating system in every way. As a result, an upgrade installation takes up to three times longer than a clean install and guarantees that your “new” operating system inherits whatever’s wrong with your current installation. Besides, you’re probably running software that won’t work with Windows Vista.
You’re much better off with a clean install. If you’re worried about wiping your drive, relax. In the next section, we’ll tell you how to get your old system ready. Besides, if you’re paranoid, you can always buy a new hard disk with plenty of room for Vista for less than $100. How much system does Vista want? A 3GHz or faster Pentium 4 or Pentium D, a 2GHz or faster Core 2 Duo, or a 2GHz or faster Athlon 64 or Turion 64 (x2 versions preferred) will work. Add 2GB of RAM and a DirectX 9 videocard (no wimpy integrated graphics, please!) and you’re ready to go.
Follow thse steps to ensure a smooth and painless transition to your new OS
Insert the Windows Vista DVD and click “Check compatibility online” to open the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor in Internet Explorer. In just a few minutes, you’ll find out whether your hardware can run Vista, which Windows Vista edition Microsoft thinks is the best match for your hardware, what system upgrades are necessary to make your system compatible with a particular Vista edition, which devices need driver downloads for compatibility with Vista, and which currently installed programs are incompatible with Vista. The Upgrade Advisor warns you if you need replacements or updates for any of your programs.
Step two in the Vista upgrade process is backing up your old data. While the Windows Easy Transfer program (step three) will transfer email, documents, favorites, and other files and settings, you should also back up any remaining important files, such as email messages from non-Microsoft email clients, layouts for CD and DVD mastering created with programs such as Roxio Easy Media Creator or Nero Burning ROM, and so on. To ensure that your data can be easily retrieved, drag and drop your files to another drive or burn a CD or DVD, rather than relying on a third-party backup program (which might not be compatible with Vista).
To start Windows Easy Transfer on your Windows XP system, insert the Windows Vista DVD and select “Transfer files and settings from another computer” from the Install Windows menu. Click Next from the opening dialog. You cannot have any other programs running while Windows Easy Transfer is running. If you still have programs running, a Close Programs dialog appears. Click Close to close your programs. You can perform direct transfers between old and new computers using either a special USB cable called an Easy Transfer Cable, a network connection, or a USB or removable-media drive. The easiest solution is an external USB hard disk, which you can choose in the next dialog box. You can also select a CD, DVD, USB flash memory drive, or network folder. Click Next to continue. Click Browse and navigate to the drive where you want to store the backup and then click Next. To transfer all the user accounts on your old computer to your new computer, select “All user accounts.” You can also transfer just your own user profile or click Advanced Options to specify exactly which profiles to transfer. The next dialog box displays the files and folders that will be transferred and tells you how much disk space is required. Use Customize to fine-tune your selections. Click Transfer to begin the file-copying process. When it’s done, you can move on to installing Vista.
Now you're ready to get the new OS up and running
To start the Windows Vista installation process, insert the Windows Vista DVD and reboot your system. Press the spacebar to boot from the DVD when prompted. On the first dialog, you’re probably safe sticking with the defaults, but if you need to change the install language, time and currency format, or keyboard layout, this is the place to do it. Then press Install Now to continue. The next screen deals with activation. You can enter the product key either when prompted or later. Vista will work for 30 days without an activation key. When it comes time to activate, you’ll need to use a key for the version you have installed. (It’s important to note that you can’t downgrade from Premium to Home Basic or from Ultimate to Home Premium without a reinstall though.) There’s an option to automatically activate Windows, but we recommend against using it, in case there are problems with your Windows Vista install on this particular system. Click through the rest of the prompts until you get to the hard drive selection phase.
If you are installing Vista on a brand-new (or empty) hard disk, select Unallocated Space on the drive you want to use and press Next to continue. Windows will handle the rest. (If you want to use BitLocker hard drive encryption, you’ll need to follow some different steps.)
If you’re replacing an existing Windows installation, you need to delete the old partition first. To do that, select the drive with your installation and click the partition you want to delete. Click Drive Options (Advanced) to display Delete, Extend, Format, and New Partition options. Click Delete to get rid of the partition, then select Unallocated Space and press Next to continue.
You’re almost done! After the system reboots, you’ll need to set up an account. Enter your user name and password when prompted and select a picture for your user account before moving to the next screen. Give your PC a name and select a desktop background, then move on to the next screen and select “Use recommended settings” to enable automatic security updates for your PC. On the final screen, you’ll need to select your time zone and adjust your system’s internal clock before the Windows installer completes.
The first time you start Windows Vista, it takes a few minutes to calculate the Windows Experience Index, which will give you a very rudimentary idea of how your computer performs. The Experience Index measures your CPU, memory, disk drive, and graphics performance.
Your first stop in Vista should be the System Properties control panel, where you’ll find the Device Manager. To open the Device Manager, click the Start menu; go to Control Panel and click System and Maintenance, then click System. Next, click the Device Manager, which is on the top-left portion of the screen. Should you see any exclamation points in the Device Manager window, you’ll need to determine what the problem is. Usually, getting incompatible hardware working is as easy as downloading and installing a new driver, but it can be more complex than that. When you’re done, you should check your computer’s Windows Experience Index base score to make sure everything in your system is working as expected.
While we’re in the Control Panel, it’s worth mentioning that many of the functions you’ve grown accustomed to have been moved around. However, the redesigned interface actually makes sense. The new design, when paired with the kick-ass search engine—which allows you to search for not only a control panel’s name but also individual functions inside the panel—works very well. If you want to change the background, simply type “background” into the search bar. We were very impressed with the usefulness of the search feature.
Furnish Vista with all the creature comforts of your old OS
After you fine-tune your Windows Vista installation, it’s time to reinstall your old applications—assuming they’re compatible with Windows Vista. If you ran the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor before starting the installation process, you know which applications work—and which ones need to be updated or replaced. Still, you may encounter some problems.
After the installer finishes installing some older apps, you’ll be prompted by a dialog box that asks whether the app installed correctly. If it didn’t, you can attempt a reinstall using slightly modified permissions, which frequently fixes compatibility problems that occurred during the initial attempt.
However, if an application installs but doesn’t appear to work properly, it’s helpful to know a few things that have changed between XP and Vista. Once the installer has run, applications are allowed only read access to files in the Program Files folder; they can’t write to anything inside the Program Files directory. However, some older applications need to store data and configuration files (such as .ini files) in the same folder as application files; if the app can’t write to those files, it won’t work properly. So how does Windows Vista accommodate these apps without compromising security? Vista automatically redirects write operations that occur in Program Files to a special folder in your user profile. For example, if you install an application that attempts to create C:\Program Files\<application>\Setup.ini, Vista’s virtualization saves the Setup.ini file to C:\Users\<your_account>\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\<application>\Setup.ini.
Note that the AppData folder is normally hidden. If you need to make adjustments to the config files for a legacy app or delete a file, you may have to access the VirtualStore folder manually.
Once your apps are installed, if you’re still having trouble getting them to run, try the Program Compatibility Assistant. With it, you can force Vista to emulate Windows XP, always run with full administrator privileges, or even disable Aero Glass. You can access the compatibility settings by right- clicking the app’s shortcut, selecting Properties, and clicking the Compatibility tab.
To finish moving your data from your old Windows XP install, you’ll need to run the Easy Transfer Wizard from within Vista. When you’re in the Welcome Center, click “Transfer files and settings,” then click Start Windows Easy Transfer to start the wizard. You’ll need to provide administrator-level credentials when prompted by User Account Control.
To transfer your settings from XP, select “Continue a transfer in progress.” Next, navigate to the drive and folder containing the SaveData.MIG file. Then, to properly migrate your profile, you’ll want to match up the user account on the new computer with the appropriate user account on the old computer. Review the selected files and settings, then click Transfer to start the transfer process. Once the transfer is active, you can leave your computer. Depending on the amount of data to transfer, it could take several hours to complete.
At the end of the transfer process, a “Transfer is complete” dialog appears, providing a summary of the user accounts, files, folders, program settings, and system settings transferred. You should take a look at the detailed Windows Easy Transfer Summary and save it as an HTML file, so you’ll have a manifest of files you brought to Vista.
After you restart your computer, you can use programs that depend upon the settings and files you transferred with Windows Easy Transfer. For example, when you start Windows Mail, messages from Outlook Express (which stores messages in database files) are imported as individual message files into the current user’s AppData folder.
Power users will surely want to avail themselves of these advanced Vista tricks
If you use Windows Vista Ultimate or Enterprise, you can protect your system drive’s contents from being viewed by laptop thieves or after-hours hackers with BitLocker, which encrypts the system drive. To use BitLocker on your system, you must configure the drive properly. You’ll need to have two partitions: a 1.5GB partition used to start the system, while the remainder of the hard disk will comprise a second partition and be encrypted using BitLocker. Both partitions must be formatted with the NTFS file system.
In order to enable BitLocker, you’ll need to perform a clean install of Vista on your system. First, boot your machine from the Windows Vista DVD and run the Recovery Environment. Open the command prompt, start Diskpart, and perform the following commands (Warning! This will format your hard drive!): select disk 0 (selects first hard disk); clean (deletes partition table); create partition primary size=1500; assign letter=S; active (creates 1.5GB partition s: and sets it to be bootable); create partition primary; assign letter=C (uses remainder of disk for c:); list volume (displays disk information); exit (closes Diskpart); format c: /y /q /fs:NTFS; format s: /y /q /fs:NTFS (formats partitions created with Diskpart); exit (closes command prompt). When you install Vista, install it to the c: drive.
Before you run the BitLocker setup program, you need to determine if your system includes a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip; if it does, enable it in your system BIOS. On TPM-equipped systems, BitLocker uses a PIN number stored on the motherboard (or on a USB key) to decrypt your drive, so you won’t be able to decrypt your data using another machine. You can also use BitLocker without a TPM chip (a USB flash drive is used for credentials), but you’ll have to tweak some settings in the Group Policy Object Editor (gpedit.msc). Open Computer Components, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, BitLocker Drive Encryption, Control Panel Setup and then click Enable Advanced Startup Options. Select the option to allow BitLocker without a compatible TPM. To complete the preparation process, click Apply and then OK to close the Group Policy Object Editor. Once you’ve done that, you can run the BitLocker setup program in the Control Panel.
Windows Vista enables you to go almost anywhere in your system right from the Start menu without the Start menu taking over your screen. The right side of the Start menu provides shortcuts to the current user’s folder hierarchy, as well as direct links to the user’s document, picture, music, and game folders. Each link opens a customized Windows Explorer view. For example, click Games, and the Games Explorer displays installed games, including ESRB ratings and package art. Click Music, and the Music Explorer provides buttons for playing and burning music.
You can find any type of file by clicking Search and entering text that matches the file name, extension, or file contents. Click Computer to view all your connected drives and get access to system properties, drive mapping, and other tools. Click Network to view network connections and shared resources. Click Connect To to connect to a network—dialup, wired, or wireless.
Fast search even found its way into the Start menu. To find and launch a program quickly, type its name into the search tool above the Start button and press Enter.
On the right side of the screen, the new Windows Sidebar displays a customizable list of utilities (“gadgets”), perfect for making use of the extra space available in a widescreen display. However, you can also hide the Sidebar or adjust the transparency level of the gadgets to make them less noticeable (click a transparent gadget to see it in normal mode). The Power button on the Start menu actually puts your system into sleep mode, but you can change that functionality by going to Power Options, clicking Change Plan Settings, and selecting “Change advanced power settings.” Then expand the Power buttons and lid section and change the Start Menu power-button action.
Microsoft has equipped its new OS with some tools to make problem-solving easier
Microsoft Windows Vista includes a comprehensive toolkit to fix a broken Windows installation: the Recovery Environment. To launch the Recovery Environment, boot your system from the Windows Vista DVD, select your language, time, currency, and keyboard settings, and in the next dialog box, select the Repair option.
The Recovery Environment includes five tools: Startup Repair automatically analyzes boot-level problems and performs the appropriate repairs. Because startup repairs may require multiple passes, you can run Startup Repair up to five times before it gives up. Run it, restart your system, and continue running it if the system won’t start. You can also run System Restore from the Recovery Environment, enabling you to undo a software or hardware installation that prevents your system from starting. Windows Complete PC Restore is a full-blown disaster-recovery solution for Vista Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions. It restores the backup images made using the backup software included with those versions of Vista. Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool tests all system memory, offering three test levels and many customization options to help you find memory (or CPU cache) problems. The Command Prompt, unlike the limited Windows XP Recovery Console, enables you to run any command-line program needed for system or data recovery, including Copy, Xcopy, and Robocopy (a supercharged file/folder copy program). The Command Prompt can also format CD and DVD media and can copy data to or from USB drives connected to the computer. To get help with the Command Prompt, enter Help at the Command Prompt to see a list of commands and add /? to any command you’d like to see specific help for.
When you have a hardware or software problem, Windows Vista captures information about the problem and uploads it to Microsoft for analysis. To view problems and solutions, open the Problem Reports and Solutions applet in the Control Panel. Use Problem Reports and Solutions to view a history of problems and their solutions, configure problem reporting, list current problems and upload them, and clear the solution and problem history. When you upload problems, you may be prompted to upload additional information to help find a solution. Go ahead and say “Yes.” You can review the details in case you’re feeling paranoid.
Get fast relief for system problems with Vista’s exclusive combination of ingredients: an improved version of Event Viewer and the brand-new Reliability and Performance Monitor, both of which are found in the Control Panel’s Administrative Tools. Event Viewer uses the newly redesigned Microsoft Management Console interface to display application, security, setup, system, and forwarded events. You can customize and filter event views to help you find problems quickly. The Reliability and Performance Monitor provides real-time tracking of CPU, disk drive, memory, and network performance, and its Reliability Monitor tracks application failures, hardware failures, Windows failures, and installation failures to generate a reliability index.
A refresher course on Vista's unique features and how to make the most of them
Why install the 32-bit version of Vista if you have a 64-bit processor? 64-bit Vista is simply not ready for prime time. Driver, utility, and shell extension (right-click) support are still largely MIA.
The Backup tool can’t use drives it can’t find. Before you start the backup process, connect your external drive.
Forget to set the white balance on your digital camera? Are your pictures too light? Too dark? Use the Fix menu in Vista’s Photo Gallery to make quick repairs to your pictures.
The Control Panel’s Performance Information and Tools tests graphics, CPU, hard disk, and memory performance to help you find weaknesses in your hardware.
As soon as you reinstall your applications and restore your files and settings from Windows XP, you should run a Complete PC Backup (Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise editions only) to enable a “bare-metal” restore of your system.
Want to share your digital photo collection with the technically challenged? Use the new DVD Maker feature to create a DVD of your favorite photos, complete with menus, a soundtrack, and fancy transitions.
Go to System Properties, then Windows Experience Index: If your system’s score is below 3.0, one or more of your major subsystems is slowing down your computer. Time to upgrade!
In a pinch, you can use Windows XP drivers for most types of hardware (except videocards). Download the latest drivers from your vendor’s website.
Want to synchroize the contents of external drives, PDAs, and media players with Windows Vista? Forget the underwhelming Sync Center and download version 1.4 of SyncToy from http://tinyurl.com/2meyw.
Vista supports administrator and standard user levels. Unlike Windows XP, in which a limited account is practically unusable, a standard account in Windows Vista works fine for everyday use. We recommend most user accounts be given standard-level privileges.