NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2009
Reinstalling Windows
Written by Vinny La Bash,
a member of the Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., FL

http://www.spcug.org
vlabash (at) comcast.net (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author `(see e-mail address above).

No matter how diligent you are at computer housecleaning and tuning your system, at some point you will need to reinstall Windows. One of the most infuriating things about the process occurs after the installation when you realize you have forgotten something important like exporting your Favorites folder. Several weeks ago I reinstalled Vista on my laptop and almost forgot to do something elementary. So perhaps itís time to review the basics.

There are many reasons to reinstall windows. Perhaps the registry has gotten corrupted or it could be an accumulation of little things that are driving you nuts. Whatever is annoying you, a clean install is always the best option. Before doing anything, careful planning will keep you out of trouble.

The detailed procedures outlined here apply specifically to Vista, but the general concepts apply to any version of Windows and even other operating systems. There are three main areas to a reinstall. You need proper preparation, the install itself, and the aftermath to clean up any mess you may have inadvertently created. That means you donít schedule a reinstall the night before any deadlines.

Start by documenting any critical login identifications and passwords. If you pay bills online, access financial information, eBay, PayPal or anything else important to you., now is the time to write it all down. Some folks use a password protected spreadsheet file. Others use some kind of encrypted application to store the data. I prefer good old reliable pen and paper stored in a safe place, not taped to my monitor.

Do you have your Windows product key available? You need it to reinstall Vista. Are there any other applications you will reinstall that require product keys, like Microsoft Office? Gather them all, including any drivers you may need to reinstall hardware, like a printer or mobile smart phone.

A clean install requires that you backup your data files. This is especially important if youíre planning to reformat your hard drive. Backup email contacts, calendar entries, and anything you consider important. Donít forget anything special you may have saved on your desktop. Thatís an easy one to overlook.

Have you installed new hardware recently? Any new devices, except physical memory, require some kind of driver software to work properly. You can get the most up-to-date drivers by visiting the manufacturerís web site and downloading them. Go to the Device Manager for a list of installed hardware or use Belarc Advisor for a more detailed description.

Do some housecleaning. Search your drive for files that are obsolete or otherwise unnecessary. Itís amazing how much digital detritus can accumulate over time. Perform a full deep virus scan so your new setup can get off to a clean start. Use Disk Cleanup if you want to reduce the number of unnecessary files on your hard disk to free up disk space and help your computer run faster. It removes temporary files, empties the Recycle Bin, and deletes a variety of system files and other items that you no longer need.

Back up the My Documents folder and any sub-folders that may exist. Backup Links if you use Internet Explorer; Bookmarks if you use Mozilla Firefox. If youíre not sure youíve backed up everything you need, back up the entire disk. If youíve forgotten anything, your data can be recovered.

By now you should have:

Documented all logins and passwords
Backed up all important data including My Documents and any sub-folders
Have all product keys and activation codes handy
Backed up your email contact list, and calendar entries
Backed up Favorites, Links, Bookmarks, etc.
Collected Driver disks
Check everything at least twice to make sure you havenít overlooked anything essential and youíre ready to go. Insert your Windows disk and reinstall the operating system.

After the process is complete, there is still work to do. Use Windows Update to retrieve and install the latest service packs, security updates, and any necessary patches. After bringing your operating system up-to-date, turn your attention to applications and device drivers.

If you reinstalled Vista from the manufacturerís installation or system restore disks, drivers for the original software and hardware that came with the system are likely to be either no longer relevant or out-of-date. You may need to visit several manufacturersí web sites to download and install the most recent drivers. This is part of proper preparation, but if you neglected this step itís not a fatal mistake.

Restore any data you backed up earlier, reconfigure network settings if applicable, and tweak the system to suit your personal preferences. Create a system restore point, and do an image backup of your entire system in case you need to reinstall again.

Donít fool yourself. Reinstalling the operating system, applications, drivers and such is never as simple or as easy as it should be. If you plan carefully however, it doesnít need to be stressful.

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