What Microsoft Doesn’t Know About Operating System Upgrades!

August 13th, 2009

The other day, I read several reports explaining that there were several dozen possible upgrade scenarios to take you from either Windows XP or Windows Vista to Windows 7. Assuming you really care about such things, you’ll find that only a fraction of them are designed with even a semblance of the concept of simplicity.

Now just to be fair and balanced, according to published reports about installing Snow Leopard, it’s designed to install in place under most circumstances. That means you launch the Installer, click on a few buttons, and walk away. There is no further need for user intervention required except, perhaps, for the data you enter on the Registration screen. There are some variations on the simplicity theme, but they aren’t really worth mentioning.

Even better, say must reinstall Snow Leopard and, after a few upgrades, and you already have 10.6.4. In the old days, you’d have to do a clean (Archive and Install) installation of the most recent full version you have at hand, and then download and install all those updates again, hundreds of megabytes worth. If the published information about Snow Leopard remains accurate once it’s actually released, that will no longer be necessary. The files that got changed to make it 10.6.4 rather than 10.6 will not be deleted. You won’t have to start from scratch. Consider the amount of time you’ll save, not to mention the long wait for all those downloads via your Internet connection. After all, how many of you save those update files after use? Really now!

Now I realize there are situations where a Mac OS X installation fails. There are some members of the tech media out there, in fact, who will tell you with a straight face that you should never just upgrade Mac OS X. It’s got to be a clean install to avoid possible hazards when all is said and done.

All I can tell you is that I did follow the obsessive/compulsive method in the old days of the Classic Mac OS. I was even quite cautious for the first few versions of Mac OS X, but not lately. It’s not that something can’t go wrong, but with millions of successful installations from people who never, ever saw a Mac troubleshooting site, it’s clear that simplicity is usually the way to go. The main exceptions involve systems that exhibit anomalous behavior or have been heavily hacked prior to the upgrade.

When it comes to Windows, totally clean installs are the norm, and it’s not as painless as Archive and Install on the Mac, where you basically lay aside your old system stuff in a Previous System. Under Windows, it’s Archive and Erase primarily. That means backing up your files, wiping the drive and then running your Windows installer. Once you have determined that everything is fully operational, you can proceed to reinstall all your apps and peripheral drivers that aren’t part of a Windows package.

I realize that if you’re in the IT department of a large company, you will probably deploy your PCs with a specific pretested disk image when they are upgraded. All the computers in a particular department with specific app requirements will basically run a mirror image of the original installation and employees need to retrieve the documents they require. They’d usually be backed on the network for them.

In circumstances of that sort, you can expect that even upgraded Macs — and new ones for that matter — would be put into service in a similar fashion. For the enterprise, this approach makes sense and ensures maximum predictability and reliability.

For small businesses and particularly home users that don’t have a PC guru in the family, it can mean one huge mess. That, plus the Microsoft Tax you pay to get an individual upgrade kit, makes it far less worrisome to just throw out your current PC box (all right take it to the recycling plant) and get a new one. Besides, the damn thing is probably infected by all sorts of malware anyway, unless you kept abreast of updates with your security software, and that means you didn’t forget to renew the annual licenses.

Now with over 90,000 employees and billions and billions of dollars at disposal, you’d think Microsoft had better things to do than to deliver the Bing search engine to Yahoo!’s customers. Surely they could come up with some positively brilliant methods of installing an operating system upgrade and doing all the heavy lifting behind the scenes without requiring more than a few mouse clicks. That ought to apply regardless of the previous version of Windows you’re running, the number of apps you have and any of ten thousand and one different installation scenarios.

But Microsoft’s corporate mentality doesn’t know how to cope with simplicity. That’s why they have dozens of Windows 7 installation strategies, and only a handful that aren’t totally hostile to normal users.

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8 Responses to “What Microsoft Doesn’t Know About Operating System Upgrades!”

  1. dfs says:

    All true, but I see one problem. If you install Snow Leopard from the $29 upgrade disk. I’m sure in the overwhelming number of cases all will go smoothly. But then let’s say sometime down the road your Mac develops some problem where the only solution is to do a clean install. Evidently you would have to install Leopard from your original installation CD, then download and run the jumbo upgrade to bring it up to X.5.8, and then reinstall Snow Leopard on top of that. Man, that involves a bit of heavy lifting too and also is pretty time-consuming! I can imagine that some users will opt to shell out $129 so as to have a CD with the full installation handy in case of emergency, figuring that the extra #100 is worth it to buy insurance against a pretty substantial amount of sweat and downtime. Or is there something about this deal I’m failing to understand?

  2. @ dfs: There’s nothing that says you can’t do a clean install from a Snow Leopard DVD.


  3. Louis Wheeler says:

    dfs, We can’t assume that because the $29 Snow leopard disk only upgrades Leopard 10.5 that there are missing system files on the DVD. The complete Snow Leopard 10.6.0 code is probably on the disk, so it is not simply an upgrade disk. Operating systems tend to take up more space than the programs used to install them.

    What has changed with this upgrade is that the entire DVD is written into a vacant space on the disk and then the parts which are necessary to upgrade are quickly transferred. If a system file is corrupted, then its checksum has changed so it gets replaced. The fewer files transferred the quicker the install.

    The program could easily phone home to determine the checksums for upgrades which have later version number than the DVD and download those if that is necessary. I’m expecting the installer to have a great deal more control than previously.

    Even so, you should able to clean install everything.

  4. Richard says:

    You forgot to mention the wonders of a fouled up registry…or was it too painful to recall.

    The update process for Win OS products is sufficiently onerous that it frequently is not done (this includes commercial servers as well), leaving the systems open to even more malware.

    If Microsoft really wanted to “take back the desktop” they could do so comparatively easily. All they need to do is abandon Windows. If Apple, little company that it is, can take a free ‘nix distribution and put a GUI on it there is no reason that Microsoft could not do the same with the result that they would have a true OS X competitor in every way. They also would not have to compete with Apple in a direct sense because Apple have repeated refused to take advantage of opportunities to move beyond their own, limited hardware platforms.

    According to Canonical, one of the stated objectives of Ubuntu is to “duplicate the OS X experience”. Should this succeed, this could be the real threat to Microsoft. This would require the support of many commercial application developers to achieve widespread adoption though. The problem with many open source projects is that the development is like herding cats. Because of Canonical’s support, this may not be quite so bad, but focused development is still an imperative.

  5. I have a TiBook that came with OS9. It’s been upgraded in place from 10.0 through 10.4.11 with nary a hiccup. Pretty amazing.

  6. Louis Wheeler says:

    Richard said:

    “If Microsoft really wanted to “take back the desktop” they could do so comparatively easily. All they need to do is abandon Windows. ”

    Yes, and that is the problem. Microsoft would have to give up all its applications to get a new modern, modular, object oriented OS. They tried that in Longhorn with a monolithic OS and it failed. Microsoft had to go back to the drawing board and build Vista from a clean copy of Windows Server 2003.

    “If Apple, little company that it is, can take a free ‘nix distribution and put a GUI on it there is no reason that Microsoft could not do the same with the result that they would have a true OS X competitor in every way. ”

    You need to read some Mac history. The way you are saying things, isn’t true. There was no free ‘nix distribution; there was Steve Job’s NeXT computer which he started in 1985.


    There was nothing easy about easy about creating NeXTstep or Mac OSX, either. Steve jobs ordeal with NeXT proved that. He had the best OS in the world by 1993. It was a flop, because there were no applications.

    Apple bought NeXT in 1997, so it had a proven object oriented OS in NeXTstep. Even so, it took them from 1997 to 2002 before Mac OSX got useful and fast enough in 10.2.


    “They also would not have to compete with Apple in a direct sense because Apple have repeated refused to take advantage of opportunities to move beyond their own, limited hardware platforms.”

    Apple is a hardware company, but its hardware is not limited. The fastest verified run time for Windows Vista is on Mac hardware.

    Besides, Microsoft doesn’t build computers. Cheap computers are unlikely to run that new OS either. System Seven computers that have the full Areo compositing graphics software enabled are not cheap even if they are a few hundred bucks lower than a Mac.

  7. Richard says:


    OS X is built on Free BSD. Yes, it is much more than just a simple Free BSD install, but that is where it began. I am well aware that NeXT began the work, but much has been done since Apple acquired NeXT. Hence I say “Apple developed….”

    To be entirely precise, Free BSD “is not a clone of UNIX, but works like UNIX, with UNIX-compliant internals and system APIs.”


    Yes, it has taken Apple quite some time to get to the current state of affairs with its OS, but it is still a small company. Microsoft has the capability to do more in a given period of time than Apple because of its resources. Actually doing so is another matter entirely.

    Applications are always at the heart of OS adoption. The original Mac had big problems because of application issues. Solaris is UNIX and it has enjoyed limited commercial success both because of this and the fact that it is aimed more at corporate use than desktop use by consumers/end users. Recalcitrant vendors can be a problem as well. Just look at Adobe. It remains to be seen whether Adobe will actually write completely new code in Cocoa for the Mac platform which will be necessary to take full advantage of OS 10.6 changes. In particular, this is a problem among the high end professional photography market because of the performance benefits of a 64-bit OS and application. Adobe is faced with a decision of whether to devote the resources to support the rapidly dwindling Apple market or abandon Mac users to their fate and simply support the Windows platform. Even if Adobe does decide to bring out an up-to-date application for the Mac community, it will be a secondary effort.

    Longhorn was simply a flop in every way. Intel has long been frustrated in dealing with Microsoft because of their refusal to abandon outdated systems which limit what can be done hardware wise. This is one of the reasons that Intel has enjoyed their relationship with Apple. Bloated software, for which Microsoft is well know, is always a problem, but that is another subject.

    People with whom I have spoken who have seen Windows source code (and obviously can’t say much) described it as an “explosion at a spaghetti factory.”

    I must disagree with your statement that Apple’s hardware is not limited. The fact that Windows Vista may run faster on Apple hardware really is not the issue. Limited choices of hardware is the issue. It seems self-evident that the choices are limited. Perhaps the primary reason that Apple has not, and will not, enjoy greater success in the corporate/commercial market is that the choices of hardware simply do not meet the needs of these potential customers. Some does meet these needs, but much does not. “Cheap” is not the only issue, though I have seen some instances where large scale deployment of think client machines to the desktop has been an economical solution to access to data/records in large medical facilities.

    It remains to be seen what Win 7 actually accomplishes. I have seen it referred to as basically a “fix” to clean up what Vista should have been, but there is undoubtedly more work to it than a simple clean-up. It reportedly will run better than Vista on machines with lesser hardware, but will require some pretty substantial graphics hardware to fully utilize all of its capability. At the moment there is probably as much disinformation as actual information about its capabilities.

  8. Dave Barnes says:


    The plural of scenario is scenari. Scenario is Italian.


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