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The Politics of Windows 8 Upgrades

Until the end of January, 2013, anybody who owns a valid license to Windows XP, Vista, or 7 can pay $40 for a download upgrade to Windows 8, or $70 for an upgrade package with DVD. That certainly removes most financial barriers to jumping into the Windows 8 soup. And at least for Windows 7 users, the near-identicality of drivers for the two “numbered Windows OSes” (7 and 8, that is) make driver issues something less of a concern than it was for those who faced the transition from XP to Vista, when Microsoft revamped its device driver model thoroughly (and catastrophically for its sales results). I’ve installed and upgraded systems from XP, Vista, and Windows 7 to Windows 8 now for customer preview, release preview, and RTM versions and have encountered only half-a-dozen driver issues or so, most related to printers and scanners, and one mysterious USB device that has yet to give up its secrets.

Having been down this road quite a few times in the last year myself, I had to chuckle this morning when reading well-known curmudgeon John Dvorak’s latest piece for PC Magazine entitled “The Great Upgrade Upheaval.” His observation that upgrade involves finding files and serial numbers for software installed long, long ago, then using that information to reinstall strikes a pretty humorous chord with me. My solution has been to enshrine legacy stuff like that in a virtual machine, then run the VM when I need to use the old stuff I couldn’t install on a new OS, not because of compatibility issues, but because I couldn’t find the necessary information to obtain the original media and a license key to make things work!  I’m not sure Dvorak is right to blame Microsoft for this, but it’s certainly a problem all of us can relate to.

As for Dvorak’s whining and moaning about data, preferences, and settings that Windows strews willy-nilly all around the system drive, I agree this creates complexity that has to be addressed. That’s why I’ve learned to appreciate tools like the Microsoft User State Migration tool, or the Windows Easy Transfer tool, both of which automate all the little files, settings, preferences, favorites, and so forth that gradually turn into any user’s customized and comfortable desktop environment.

For example, I just transferred my wife’s working environment from an older mini-ITX system to a new Dell notebook and everything moved over for her just fine, thanks to Windows Easy Transfer. But what queered her move in this case was the Dell’s behavior with the external monitor with the notebook lid open or closed: open, it restricted screen resolutions to settings related to the laptop’s own built-in display; closed, it allowed the external monitor’s native resolution and settings to decide what things looked like. Because it’s difficult to tell if the lid is closed all the way, the behavior of the system just seemed too capricious, arbitrary, and unpredictable for her to enjoy making a go of things using the Dell box. It’s too bad because its speedy SSD, Sandy Bridge processor, and Intel HD 3000 graphics ran rings around the MSI G945 industrial mini-ITX mobo on her old and trusted mini-desktop setup. But because she couldn’t easily make things look the way she wanted them to on the Dell, she’s now reverted happily back to her old machine.

The same sort of inertia seems to be afflicting Mr. Dvorak. Though I do understand it completely, he would do well to remember that there’s more than one way to skin the upgrade cat. Buy a new Win 8 machine with enough RAM for multiple VMs, and he can take all of his legacy runtime environments with him to Windows 8 in VM form, and use them when and as he sees fit. Shoot! He could even just use Win8 as a hypervisor environment, and live entirely in his legacy VMs if that’s what he prefers.

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