Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate: Upgrade to Vista

The gibberish in the title of this blog is from Dante’s Inferno, and is usually translated as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Like many others, until I looked this up I was under the misapprehension that the Inferno was written in Latin. It’s not: It’s in Tuscan which, at the time it was written (between 1308 and 1321 AD), was a more or less separate dialect of the modern language we today call Italian. But this phrase conveys the fear and trepidation inherent to going certain places where we’ve all been told, often many times, that it’s best to stay away from.

Certainly, if you peruse the literature on installing Vista on a PC, you’ll find the overwhelming professional opinion is that it’s invariably better to wipe the drive on an existing PC, and do a “clean install” of Vista than to brave the trials, tribulations, and occasional horrors involved in performing an upgrade install instead. All these warnings considered, why might anyone be inclined to go the upgrade path rather than the other path? Well, perhaps like Dante himself (who is cast as the protagonist in the Divine Comedy to which his Inferno belongs), you might go in search of redemption. But, rather than seeking to redeem your immortal soul, you’d be trying to hang onto all the applications and stuff you had installed on some earlier version of Windows, hoping to keep it up and running on your upgraded Vista system.

The forums and discussion boards on the Internet are rife with horror stories of those who’ve tried and failed to upgrade, and the horrible messes they’ve had to clean up in getting back to work under some semblance of normalcy. When I wrote a pair of video scripts recently for (henceforth abbreviate DL), in fact, I broke the Vista Upgrade Adventure into two episodes for that very reason:

Adventure 1: Prepping for the Vista Upgrade. Here, Dante visits the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor (an often scary and awe-inspiring quest all by itself) and seeks to carry out all of its prescriptions and to meet all of its requirements. He then creates a complete backup of his Windows XP system (our source for this adventure, as per DL’s instructions) and builds himself a boot disk so he can raise his failed system from the dead (or an unbootable state anyway) and get back to where he started as a worst case scenario. This helps avoid much of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that otherwise accompanies operating system upgrades or installs that fail to complete and leave the system in what computer scientists jokingly like to call an “uncertain state.”

Adventure 2: Performing the upgrade itself, cleaning up the hardware drivers, followed by running Windows Update to get the Vista install current, and then proceeding to install whatever applications the Upgrade Advisor didn’t like in XP form provided that a Vista form is available and you want to keep using the code. As a matter of good form, I think this is also when you should make a complete PC backup, and label it as “Pristine Vista Upgrade, post-install” or something similar. It may someday let your PC return to as close to a state of innocence as it’s ever likely to experience.

My own experience in doing the upgrade can be summed up as: “Got a full, long day to waste? No problem: upgrade your PC to Vista and that day will be no more.” Of course, the process occurred over a series of about three days because I couldn’t actually sit down and do it all in one go, nor am I sure anybody would want to. But the total time involved was something a bit longer than 11 hours, as I will now prepare to report on a pseudo timeline of sorts:

00:00-00:20: Find, download, install and run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor. The scan phase of this program can take quite a while to complete. There’s a copy on every set of Windows Vista media, or you can download it from
. FYI, it’s 6.6 MB or thereabouts.

Dell 620 Laptop image

Dell 620 Laptop - The Scene of Dante's Inferno, also known as a Vista upgrade

00:00-01:40: Read, interpret and act on the instructions in the Upgrade Advisor’s recommendations. For the Dell Latitude D620 notebook PC which I decided to upgrade, this meant replacing a 2004 version of the BIOS with a 2007, Vista-ready version version, and updating drivers for my optical drive, modem, and wireless Ethernet interface. For the record, the Advisor also found about 8 programs it didn’t like, but they had all been preinstalled by Dell and I’d never used them, so I didn’t care. Most of the time involved here went to running down and installing the BIOS and driver updates.

01:30-02:00: Re-run the Upgrade Advisor to see what kind of bill of health it tenders. The machine is now OK except for the applications I don’t need anyway.

02:00-03:00: Install Acronis True Image Home on the machine, and use its built in boot disk utility to burn a boot CD for the machine, then take a complete image backup of its primary (and only) hard drive onto a USB-attached external drive. Test the boot drive (have to reset the BIOS to boot first from the optical drive, I immediately discover, then observe that the boot CD words and is ready to restore my backup. Success!!).

03:00-06:45: Slog through the Windows Vista Business SP1 Upgrade installer. Thanks to my membership in the MS Partner program, I had received a new Vista install DVD with SP1 slipstreamed just the week before (early June 2008). Actual OS install itself took about 01:30, and the process of upgrading the XP-based software and contents consumed the rest of the time involved.

06:45-08:00: Right off the blocks, DriverAgent discovers that the Windows Vista install gets 80% of the drivers correct, but another 20% need to be replaced. Automatic updates take care of everything (video card, Ethernet interface, various USB devices) in about half an hour; the rest of the time goes to chasing down a handful of system devices (PCI Express root ports, SMBus Controller, and LPC Interface controller) and manually updating their drivers from inside Device Manager. It takes me a couple of tries to get things right, but eventually I do.

08:00-11:00: Slog through the Windows Update process for this Vista installation. 23 items were downloaded and installed, after which I backed up the machine again, then downloaded and installed Vista SP1. Came and went doing other things through a lot of this just to check everything was going OK, but didn’t hit any snags on the way to completion.

Somewhere along the way in the Windows Update phase, however, UAC developed some problems that prevented me from executing any files unless I manually navigated to the file itself and used the Run as administrator option. I still haven’t figured out what caused this problem, but am doing OK with UAC turned off on this machine. Other than this minor gotcha, my own recent upgrad adventure wasn’t too horrible, though it was pretty darn time consuming, and I felt compelled to take steps to protect myself from trouble at many steps along the way. I’d be interested in hearing from others about their Vista upgrades: a visit to Purgatory only, or a descent to the 7th level of Hades? You tell me…


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