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What Microsoft Doesn’t Know About Operating System Upgrades!

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.