Mobile Technology News & Mobile Fun

What is a Windows 7 upgrade, really?

By Scott M. Fulton, III, Betanews

In a blog post earlier this month that didn’t raise any eyebrows at the time it was released, Microsoft Windows Deployment team leader Chris Hernandez posted the results of an internal company study gauging the amount of time required by different profiles of Windows Vista-based computers for an upgrade to Windows 7. According to Hernandez’ numbers — which did not surprise me in the least; in fact, at the time, I didn’t think they were significant enough to highlight here in Betanews — Hernandez’ team estimated it could take as much as 20 and one-half hours to complete a Windows 7 upgrade, for an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600-based system with 4 GB of DRAM, and a 1 TB Western Digital hard drive full of 650 GB of data, including 40 pre-installed applications. (For the record, that hardware profile is very much like the system I use for testing Web browsers.)

Hernandez’ objective was to demonstrate that it takes less time to upgrade to Windows 7 than it did to upgrade from XP to Vista, usually on the order of 5%.

Several days later, the report aroused the curiosity of Ars Technica’s Emil Protalinski. Producing a much better-looking chart than Hernandez, Protalinski accurately related the minimum upgrade time from Microsoft’s various profiles (40 minutes for a 32-bit upgrade of a cleanly pre-installed Vista) and the 20.25 hour maximum. “We don’t even want to know how long it would take if Microsoft had bothered doing the same test with low-end hardware,” Protalinski wrote.

Cue the blog-O-square, which responded with links to Ars’ report along with the requisite hyperboles. Writes one, “If you’re a heavy Microsoft user with a large hard drive and with many, many applications, stock up on coffee, pizza or beer. Or just have one of those upgrade parties with your friends.” And Yahoo suggests, “Set Aside Your Weekend.”

Scott Fulton On Point badge (200 px)At last, the delayed uproar provoked a response late yesterday from one of the true voices of reason with regard to Windows processes, ZDNet’s Ed Bott. In his blog post yesterday, Bott suggested that perhaps the reason for the prolonged upgrade experience (which, by the way, was also prolonged for the Vista upgrade as well) was because Hernandez’ test setup didn’t reflect users’ real-world experiences. If enough folks spent 20 hours in the upgrade cycle, “we would have heard about it already from the 8 million or so people who installed Windows 7 in its beta, RC, and RTM releases,” Bott wrote. “Yet I don’t remember reading any such complaints. Do you?”

Actually, yes I do, but I’d rather not reproduce them here because this is a family-friendly news service. In fairness, they weren’t worth reading let alone posting. From the gist of their tone, I’d actually venture a guess that the complainers experience was much further from the real world than Chris Hernandez.

As many regular Betanews readers are already well aware, I’m already on the record as saying that if you have Vista, you should upgrade to Windows 7. In fact, here are my complete upgrade criteria: 1) You have Vista. If you said “yes” to the above, you should upgrade to Windows 7. That’s regardless of what hardware you have, because it is my professional opinion that Win7 is friendlier and even better for older hardware than Vista.

But does Hernandez’ extreme-negative upgrade experience represent anything you might expect in the real world? Ed Bott suggests that Hernandez’ 650 MB data profile is unrealistic: “I have copies of every e-mail message I’ve sent and received since 1995 and every book and article I’ve written since 1998. Collectively, those files add up to 212 GB. The only people I know with 650 GB data collections are professional videographers and BitTorrent addicts.”

Hi, Ed, how do you do? I performed a little inventory a few minutes ago, on just the systems in my office that I use for business. Right now, they’re consuming 581 GB of data on four hard drives. Mind you, with the exception of some sporadic music and video files (all of it legitimate — I actually wouldn’t have time to become a BitTorrent addict if I had the time), most of this pertains to my business. My archival data is all stored separately, right now on hundreds (not a joke) of full DVDs. PR photos, test cases, book chapter drafts, white papers, case studies, source code, betas, alphas…I am a big consumer of business data.

Now, if you asked my wife, you’d hear that I am perhaps not of this world. The fact is, I know more and more people like me, and I’m meeting more all the time in this business. I actually applaud Ed Bott for being able to conserve as much space as he has over the last decade; if he wants to write his next book about how he accomplished this, my wife may apply to be his editor.

But how much time do I spend on Vista-to-Windows 7 upgrades? Without having yet conducted any scientific tests on the matter (for reasons which become clearer after reading Hernandez’ work in detail), I’ve found that I can expect Microsoft’s automated upgrade process to consume just under three hours. What’s nice is that I’m not watching over it like Snoopy’s impression of a vulture; I can get it started, go off and use some other machine, and come back in a few hours to see it’s almost done.

However…If anyone seriously believes that this is all that’s required for a Windows upgrade process, then he may never have been a hired consultant. Especially with branded laptops, there’s a significant amount of preparation that has to be done beforehand. With one Toshiba system, I re-flashed the BIOS, uninstalled a few Vista-oriented drivers that were bothering me anyway (including an old ATI video driver whose newer version wasn’t working on Vista), and uninstalled some apps that I knew would have trouble, including third-party anti-malware whose retailoring for Windows 7 isn’t yet complete. Then after Microsoft’s part of the upgrade was done, I spent several more hours testing existing apps — did the profiles for Outlook 2007 survive? Do my developers’ tools need to be reinstalled? Are the drivers functional? Can I print?

One Toshiba made big popping noises prior to making any kind of sound, literally hiccupping before anything came out of the speakers. Did I write a big, hyperbolic blog post about it? No, I installed the upgraded Conexant audio driver I found from the manufacturer’s Web site — problem solved. My video was fuzzy after the upgrade. I re-installed the ATI video drivers that just came out for Win7. Problem solved, crisp and clear video. I couldn’t sync with my BlackBerry. Downloaded Desktop Manager 5.0, problem solved. I couldn’t tether to my BlackBerry. Downloaded the newest VZAccess Manager, problem solved. My phone recording software didn’t work. Downloaded brand-new TRx Phone Recorder, problem solved.

The reason you typically don’t read many complaints from me about processes such as Windows upgrades is not, as a few commenters here have suggested, because I’m being paid under the table by Microsoft or anyone else. It’s because I’ve been in this business long enough to have learned to solve problems before whining about them. In fact, if readers should take anything away from Betanews, I believe it is the ethic of solving problems before whining about them. Improve software. Improve business. Improve life. There’s plenty of blogs out there for whiners.

So Yahoo suggests that an upgrader actually set aside a whole weekend to do a Windows upgrade…Since when have we not had to do that? Maybe I’m just acclimated to working in the IT industry, but making all the preparations and doing all the post-setup corrections is part of the job. As many other colleagues have stated, if you want to have a more guaranteed flawless upgrade “experience,” where you know for a fact that what you do will probably work right without your direct involvement, then yes, get a Mac. Speaking for myself, I like to be in charge of the hardware I use (I do build my own desktop and media PCs), so I make the required investment in time and energy. For me, it is worth the time, and I am happy with the results.

Windows will never be flawless. But over the last three decades, Microsoft has faced down the challenge of working reasonably well with an infinite combination of the world’s hardware — a task that is easily as technically complex as sending humans to the moon and back. To guarantee an operating system that works well with hardware, you have to guarantee the hardware; that’s what Apple does. It’s an honorable decision and it works for Mac users. If you want choice in this business, however, you have to work for it. No one’s going to provide perfection on a platter for you. Good computing is worth working for.

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2009

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