Migrating off Windows XP Professional SP3 to ?
January 18, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8? Microsoft is ending support for XP in April, so an upgrade is probably advisable. IT professionals and software engineers of Metafilter: what do you suggest? (Details inside)

The System: A late 2006-date stamped Dell Optiplex 745, Windows XP SP3, 4 Mb RAM, Intel Core2 CPU 6300 @ 1.86 GHz, Hard Drive = 74 GB capacity w/ 45 GB free space. (And it runs like a top.)

Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor suggests that an upgrade to 7 shouldn't be a big deal; the Windows 8 Upgrade Advisor suggests more work will be involved but an upgrade is doable.

Competency details: I am highly technically adept, and have never been defeated by the Evil Empire (i.e., Microsoft) or its minions since the invention of the PC. Taking computers (and other things) apart and putting them back together has never been more than a routine task when it has been necessary for upgrades or repairs. Figuring out software problems and finding workarounds (or working with programmers to do so) is also something I've always been comfortable and successful doing.

That all having been said, I have better things to do with my time, and do not keep up with computer technology as a hobby or beyond what it necessary for practical, functional purposes. It is also probably worth noting that I have absolutely NO formal training in either hardware or software.

The gossip around Windows 8 has not been good; that around Windows 7 seems better. The general consensus seems to be that Windows 7 Professional is the way to go. My gut leans toward Windows 7 Professional.

However, Microsoft REALLY wants people to move to Windows 8, and a legal purchase of genuine Windows 7 seems hard to find. Microsoft is no longer offering it directly. Amazon sells two versions of OEM Windows 7 Professional: one package with one disc (for ~$148) and another with 3 for ~ 3x the price, but it isn't clear what the difference is. People on Ebay and elsewhere offer versions, but I imagine some of these are a bit dodgy.

As much as I hate to wave bye-bye to XP, it is probably time. Your advice and suggestions would be very much appreciated!

posted by cool breeze to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I went with 7 over 8 last summer.
posted by tilde at 9:17 AM on January 18, 2014

I manage both 7 and 8 in my office and I would definitely go with 7.
posted by 4ster at 9:20 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm very happy with the XP to 7 upgrade. Win8 changes the interface a lot. I've not tried to do an XP to 8 upgrade, but all the XP to 7 ones I've done have gone smoothly.

For home use, I find the Home Premium to do what I want. If you want RPC, memory support about 16GB, native FS encryption or Windows XP mode (which is ok, but not super fabu), you want Pro.
posted by bonehead at 9:20 AM on January 18, 2014

Windows 8 is better than 7. Only so slightly however that you don't need to learn anything new, other than how to shut down the computer. Quite seriously, all the Windows 8 bashing is nonsense.
posted by oxit at 9:27 AM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Windows 7 Pro. There's no sensible comparison. Newegg has Win7 Pro SP1 OEM CDs for $140. If you don't need Group Policy or the handful of differentiating features in Pro, Home Premium goes for $99.

Also I'd suggest a clean install rather than an upgrade installation.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:33 AM on January 18, 2014

Windows 7 and 8 are both much better operating systems than Windows XP – I think you'll enjoy the upgrade, whichever you choose. I only have experience with Windows 7 and don't plan to upgrade anytime soon since it does everything that I need it to do, but if I were buying a new computer or installing a new OS I'd go with Windows 8 at this point. Yes, the interface is different, but you can find tutorials online that will help you return it to something more familiar if you want to do that. Also, as time goes by it's going to become harder to find new software and new drivers for Windows 7; Windows 8 is the current standard, for better or for worse. If you're upgrading, I see no good reason not to upgrade to the most recent operating system.
posted by Scientist at 9:35 AM on January 18, 2014

Quite seriously, all the Windows 8 bashing is nonsense.

Trouble is, some people feel this way and others (including myself) go strongly the opposite direction. While, even for us doubters, the newer 8.x release is better than it was a year ago, you can't know if you'll react like me or like oxit unless you try it.

Your reaction to the move to 8.x is something that varies so much from person to person that I'd urge you to actually seek out an 8.x machine to try out yourself for a couple of hours.

If you can live with it, I'd suggest you go with it, because as you observe, Microsoft seems deadly committed to marching on. If, like me, you can't stomach it, then 7.x is a very XP-like delaying tactic.
posted by tyllwin at 9:35 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've stuck with 7, but I just don't have experience with 8 and don't have a touch screen; so far there's no real "killer app" for 8, so I'm not feeling any urgent need to go there.

Windows 7 SP1 is a really fine Windows OS-- it improves on XP and Vista, it has a competent compatibility mode for older software; I like it, and I think XP users would find it to be a vast improvement. I'm not sure if it's your thing, but it's a solid gaming OS as well, possibly the best gaming OS since Win98SE (with XP as the next runner-up).

At the time Windows 7 was released, 64-bit computing for windows users was finally in shape-- no longer any worries about drivers and stuff, so it's quite common to see Win7 x64. Your machine was a year old when Win7 came out, and the chip is compatible with 64-bit instruction, so you may consider whether you can go x64 as long as Dell has the drivers for your hardware in 64-bit. Software-wise, 64-bit Win7 runs 32-bit software without complaint.

This 64-bit-question applies to Win8 as well, so you should consider it either way.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2014

One thing to ahead of time: check if your printer(s) and other hardware have released a driver for your new operating system.
posted by glibhamdreck at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's stuff I like about Windows 8 over Windows 7, especially the whatever-the-not-start-menu-is-called-now, because the search is quite good. But especially because of general problems with things like safe mode, some legacy applications that have trouble with UAC turned on and the fact that Windows 8 makes it nearly impossible to turn off, some stuff like that, I'm working on getting my church's computers upgraded and I'm using 7. Also, 7 is friendlier to older hardware.

If you don't have a particular reason you need Professional, just get Home Premium.
posted by Sequence at 9:48 AM on January 18, 2014

My non-technical friends with windows 8 have been completely unable to operate it- everything is in a non-intuitive, weird place for them- everything they knew about operating windows was pretty much useless. They can't figure out how to upgrade to windows 8.1, because they didn't find the settings stuff.

I'd definitely stick with windows 7, at least until 9 comes out- word is they're going to undo some of the worst windows 8 excesses in that release.
posted by jenkinsEar at 10:40 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with the others that Windows 9 will probably be a good compromise between the 'it just works' of Windows 7 and the new, touch-oriented Windows 8. So until that time, I'd go with Windows 7. If you haven't already, drop $90 for a 120GB SSD when you do it!
posted by noloveforned at 10:55 AM on January 18, 2014

Also, do a fresh install of whatever OS you go with rather than running your XP machine through whatever upgrade tool Microsoft provides. You'll need to have install CDs for (or re-download) your other software but it'll run a lot more reliably and a lot longer.
posted by noloveforned at 10:57 AM on January 18, 2014

Up your RAM, put in a SSD drive, and go with Windows 7.

As a data point: The 745 is the lowest computer I will still manage. Anything older than this get's shunted off to sales.

Windows 7 should actually run better and with a smaller footprint than with XP.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2014

I'm amazed at how well windows 8 runs on my 2gb ram tablet, but the cognitive load for me of running windows 8 over windows 7 isn't worth it for what I do when I'm not on the tablet. Things have a tendency to happen when I don't want them to, and not happen when I intend them. So I stick with 7 on the desktop.
posted by wotsac at 11:36 AM on January 18, 2014

I use Windows 8. You can get the Windows 7 'look' and a'proper' Start button by downloading (free) http://www.classicshell.net/.
posted by lungtaworld at 2:16 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like windows 8. If you don't like the tiles, press the windows key and bingo - the desktop as you remember it. Sure it's different. Intuitive? I help some old folks with their PCs, these folks love the internet, skype and email. I've been replacing the end of life XP machines with light ASUS laptops running 8 - they love 8, love the tiles in particular. Nice big bright icons up where they can see them. 8 runs really fast too. There are many many reasons why 8 is good. I hardly have support issues with these folks - one I had to help install office, the other was dodgy hardware that had to be replaced.

Having said all that - 7 is a lovely step up from XP. Personally I would go with 8.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 2:39 PM on January 18, 2014

I used XP for years and was similarly reluctant to upgrade to W8. Eventually I did though, and found that, with the help of Start8 from Stardock ($5.00; there are free alternatives) and some changed settings, I never need to use or even see the tile interface. I've gone several months now using just the desktop. (The update to W8.1 over the internet also went without a hitch.) I don't use any of the tile apps and don't have (or want) a touchscreen. If it's just W8's default interface that's putting you off, I'd say go for W8 and make the same adjustments that I did.
posted by TristanPK at 12:53 AM on January 19, 2014

Wow, you guys were fast -- and on a weekend no less!

Thanks to all for your responses: so many were so very much to the point; I'm not sure I can pick a best.

As to your points above:

Windows 8: Truthfully, the notion of a bigger learning curve is a little like waving a red flag in front of a bull -- if only for the novelty value (and the childish, smug satisfaction around the idea of slaying another dragon). However, life at the moment is, well, a little "difficult" and I'm up to my eyeballs in "challenges" insufficiently within my control to manage. Consequently, one issue to consider is the extra amount of time an upgrade to Win 8 might require over Win 7, and whether this would be time well spent now given everything else.

Software Upgrade Version Choices: Philosophically speaking, when migrating from one system or software package to another, I have tended to go with the most recent versions available. Passing on Vista is my one exception in this regard. Although my current machine was Vista ready (but installed with XP because Vista wasn't out yet), I declined to install it when the discs arrived because the buzz around it was so bad and I quite liked XP.

Related to this issue, my machine came with Office 2003 with an upgrade to 2007. For reasons that are not clear, but probably have to do with Microsoft's rejiggering of the Office product line, the Office 2007 version provided did not include Outlook functionality, so I have been using the Office 2003 Outlook with Office 2007 versions of everything else. With an upgrade to either Win 7 or 8, although the Office 2007 functionality should remain for Excel/Word/Powerpoint (if those update discs enable true and complete re-installations of 2007 products, which they may not), I will lose Outlook due to Office 2003 incompatibility. So it appears that I'm probably in for a complete and new purchase of an Office product regardless as I do need Outlook.

A conversion to Windows 7 and later to Windows 9 later may be a good and time efficient compromise.

Yes, I agree that a full clean installation makes sense over an upgrade over the existing system.

I did check for driver updates for things like my HP Laserjet 4Plus printer (a workhorse if ever there was one), and it looks like I'm mostly clear here at least for Win 7.

Your suggestions for an SSD drive are interesting. I had been planning to get one for data backups, but are you suggesting using an external drive for the boot drive to run the OS and software? I had a chat with a friend about this approach a while back, and perhaps it is something to consider further. If nothing else, if the main hard drive develops a problem, an external drive obviates the need to open the box and take the machine apart.

Going forward this is what I should probably do:

Go find a machine running on Windows 8 and play around with it. Really liking it or really hating it will lead to a quick answer to the question of Windows 8 or Windows 7.

Take a closer look at the question of hardware - software compatibility for an upgrade to Windows 8 and compare it to what little it seems I would need to do for Windows 7. If it looks like a Win 8 conversion might suck up more than a day's worth of work futzing things about, then I should probably go with Win 7 and aim for Win 9 later.

Insofar as life's other little issues, my landlord is paying a call tomorrow to "discuss a few things." Whatever these things are, they might argue for the quicker and more immediate solution. (Why is nothing ever easy?)

Thanks again for all your input: it is very much appreciated!
posted by cool breeze at 9:05 AM on January 19, 2014

While you certainly can, I wouldn't run your computer from an external drive. The limited bandwidth of USB2.0 would become a bottleneck. I'm suggesting you install an SSD as your primary internal hard drive and put your current hard drive in an external enclosure or move it a spare internal bay.
posted by noloveforned at 7:14 PM on January 19, 2014

For an SSD, the argument would be to buy an internal drive, adding it to your computer. You would make it your new boot/system disk (drive C:). Your present mechanical drive would be mounted as drive D:

Your OS and programs would be installed on your new fast C: drive, with your documents and files on the larger (presumably) d: drive.

An SSD installed this way can shave quite a lot of time on startup and opening programs. Things feel a lot snappier and responsive. After bumping RAM to 4G or so, an SSD is one of the highest value upgrades for a computer right now, particularly an older system you don't want to fully replace.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on January 20, 2014

I am currently running Office 2003 on Windows 7 professional.
posted by tilde at 8:54 AM on January 20, 2014

Thanks again all!
posted by cool breeze at 11:31 AM on January 22, 2014

The drivers you should check up on are for the internal hardware of the laptop. Windows 7 should take care of some of it, but all the little internal stuff that was installed when you bought it (touchpad driver, wifi driver, ethernet driver, USB driver(!), display driver, optical drive driver, etc.) will need that 64-bit versions if you're to run 64-bit Windows.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:41 AM on January 22, 2014

I hate the "Start Screen" of Windows 8. However, I upgraded to 8 from 7 and am satisfied with it. I installed Stardock's Start 8 start-menu replacement software, which includes the option to boot to desktop, and to pretty much avoid the start screen unless I choose to launch it specifically. It adds a full-featured Start menu with search and everything and is very customizable. This works as a great (and cheap $5) compromise, which allows me to use the newest product (Win 8) with a UI that I prefer.

Reasons I like 8? Much better task manager. Seems to be handling driver and hardware installs REALLY well (integrated drivers must be pretty good). No more Aero and transparency everywhere like 7. It does feel faster than 7 to me. They've just optimized it a bit to feel faster. The desktop UI likely uses less resources which helps with this.

File management (copying/etc) is much faster and more streamlined. Seems to run into less issues in general.

I usually don't recommend it to those not savvy with technology at all, but I'm happy with the upgrade and I think most Windows 8 hate is reactionary to the Start Screen, and understandable at first. However, there are many ways to get around using the Start Screen and the other parts of the OS are enjoyable and it's very easy to make it a pleasant experience if you at least know a little about how to get around an OS.

Also SSDs, even on an old system (when used as your OS drive) will make a HUGE difference in the performance. The disk read/write is so much higher and the seek times are near 0ms (one of the biggest speed benefits). Installs and file copying are much faster. You definitely want to go with a reliable brand. Some SSD companies seem to have issues with them failing pretty early. Samsung and Intel are both very high in reliability.
posted by kup0 at 9:30 PM on January 23, 2014

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