Q: I’m getting more interested in the upcoming Windows 7 as most reports online seem to say that it’s much better than Vista. My question is, can I upgrade directly from Windows XP to Windows 7 without having to first install Vista? — Jerome

A: Windows 7 is shaping up to be one of the better releases from the folks in Redmond based on our testing of the upcoming update (October 22nd, 2009 as of this writing) to their operating system.

The buzz is that it’s nothing more than a reworked version of Windows Vista, which is what makes it worth considering — it’s not a first generation overhaul. Windows Vista has been proven to be a much more secure operating system than XP, so an updated version that retains this higher level of security against all of the malicious code floating around the Internet has real value.

Everything that made migrating from Windows XP to Vista a big pain has been overcome and the rest of the world has had time to update their support for Vista as well.

To that end, those running Windows Vista can easily migrate to Windows 7 by performing an ‘in-place’ upgrade, which retains all of the programs, data, settings, favorites, etc. reducing the time to getting upgraded.

Windows XP users have some tougher choices to make, however. Microsoft is not supporting any form of in-place upgrade for Windows XP users to go directly to Windows 7 (and I can’t blame the company for minimizing its support exposure under the circumstances).

This means Windows XP users will have two choices on how to get upgraded to Windows 7: Wipe everything out and start from a fresh installation or upgrade to Windows Vista, then do another upgrade to Windows 7 [editor’s note: Here’s another option].

Neither of these the two aforementioned choices is easy or quick. Starting from scratch means that you must make sure you have a verified backup of your data before getting started, then wipe everything on your hard drive out, install the OS, reinstall all your programs (after making sure they are compatible with Windows 7/Vista), update drivers, service packs and patches then reset your printer and networking settings and restore your backed up data.

Performing an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista, then to Windows 7 will eliminate the grief of starting over, but exposes you to migrating problems, viruses, and spyware along with your data and programs.

In my opinion, there is really only one choice for Windows XP users: start from scratch!

The amount of work will be about the same, but the end result is more controllable and will give you a cleaner start.

The amount of grime and trauma that builds up in a computer over years of use, especially if it hasn’t been serviced on a regular basis, is significant and best left behind during upgrades. Just think of it as the same exercise you go through when you buy a new computer.

If your computer is old enough (2006 or older) or lacks any real processing power, you may not want to even think about migrating to Windows 7 on your old system (a free upgrade adviser that will examine your hardware is available from Microsoft here.)

If you have to start over again anyway, buying a new computer with Windows 7 pre-installed or getting a new Vista system with an upgrade coupon for Windows 7 when it comes out might be a smarter way to go.

For anyone in the market for a new computer before the release of Windows 7 in October, be sure to check your options for buying an upgrade coupon or negotiating a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it comes out.

Everything that we have seen in our various tests of Windows 7 suggests that it is worth considering for just about any user, especially since mainstream support for Windows XP ended in April of 2009.

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show