Migrating to a New Computer, Windows 7, and Special Thoughts for Hams

So, now it’s time to add a brand-new Windows 7 computer to your ham radio arsenal, and maybe even make the jump to 64 bit computing.  What’s to consider? 

First, beginning with the introduction of Windows Vista, Microsoft tightened up security.  This trend continues with Windows 7.  Sounds good, but like many improvements, there’s a price to pay.  Experimenters and “tinkerers” (that’s us!) will often be frustrated with the User Account Control (UAC) pop-up window that (all too) frequently asks for your password.  But that’s an annoyance you can get used to.  And remember it’s all done for the security of your system, so it’s actually a pretty good thing! 

But Windows apparently will not let changes be written to the ini files that programs like MMTTY and Writelog need to access.  The quick “workaround” to this installation issue is to install your amateur radio programs someplace other than the default “programs file.”  I recommend creating a separate folder and installing all your ham radio programs in it.  For example, you could create a folder called Hamstuff and put it in the root directory.  (c:\hamstuff).  Then specify that folder for in the installation dialog for all your ham programs.  

Another thing to be aware of is with Windows 7, all device drivers need to be digitally signed (approved) by Microsoft.  So it’s up to the device manufacturer to write updated drivers and submit them to Microsoft for approval.  Don’t count on this happening with the legacy hardware we like to use such as serial cards.  But if you bought a computer that  shipped with Windows 7, you will have all the drivers for the built-in hardware that came with the system.  And, of course, more and more drivers will be written and approved in the future.  So, if some older device won’t work in your Windows 7 machine, (e.g. scanners, DVD burners, etc.) there is a chance an approved driver will appear.  But in some cases, you may need to buy a new device.  (And by the way, Vista 32-bit drivers usually work with 32-bit versions of Windows 7.)

For ham radio applications, there probably isn’t much need at this point for 64-bit computers, so there isn’t much reason to go out and buy one for amateur radio use.  So if you have a 32-bit version of Windows 7, I’d recommend staying with that for now.

But if you need a new computer, especially if you will use it for multiple purposes, it probably makes sense to buy a 64-bit machine.  Just be aware you may have some issues with some programs and drivers.

If you have a favorite Windows XP program that you find won’t run on your new Windows 7 computer, first, see if there’s a program update for it.  Second, try running the programs compatibility troubleshooter.  (Right click on the program’s icon, and then click compatibility.)  Here’s more information:

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Make-older-programs-run-in-this-version-of-Windows    This basically makes Windows 7 “think like” an earlier version of Windows.  

Figure 1: Windows 7 Compatibility Checker (click image to enlarge)

Third, depending on your system, you might be able to take advantage of a free download of Virtual PC and Windows XP, which bundled together comprise a package called  “Windows XP Mode.”  This allows your Windows 7 computer to run a copy of Windows XP in a “virtual window,” using your existing Windows 7 hardware.  Be aware there are some relatively heavy requirements (Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate and at least 2 GB of RAM).  But this is a viable option if your system meets these requirements, and will give you the best of both worlds—Windows XP and Windows 7 running simultaneously on one computer.

Figure 2: Windows 7 XP Mode (Note both operating systems are present, click image to enlarge)

Our final topic in this series is upgrading to Window 7.  If you’re now running Windows XP or Windows Vista, should you upgrade to Windows 7?

First of all, it’s usually not a good idea to try an OS upgrade with a laptop computer.  There are too many proprietary devices to consider that upgrading a laptop is usually not worth it.  But if you have a reasonably up-to-date desktop/tower computer with enough hard drive space available, it might be a good idea to upgrade and take advantage of the new features Windows 7 offers.  Microsoft offers a free download of Windows 7 Advisor, which will inspect your PC and tell you if it can be upgraded. http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/get/upgrade-advisor.aspx So if your computer is a desktop or a tower, and it is capable of running Windows 7 adequately, you might want to consider the move to a newer, modern OS. 

Now, a couple definitions.  In “computer parlance,” there is a difference between an “upgrade” installation and a “clean install.”  Basically, with an “upgrade,” your programs and data files are kept intact, so it’s generally easier for the user to perform an upgrade.  A “clean install” is exactly that—your old system, data files, and applications are deleted, and the OS is installed on a “clean” hard drive partition.   The advantage of the “clean install” is you get a chance to “start over”—any hidden viruses or other OS issues will be a thing of the past, so you’ll leave any old problems behind.  However, it can be much more work to re-install all your applications and data files with a clean install.  Regarding upgrades, Microsoft will only allow upgrades from and to certain OS combinations.  For example, you can do an upgrade from Windows XP Home to Vista Home Premium, but you must do a clean install from Windows XP Professional to Vista Home Premium.  So before you buy any software, be sure to check to be sure you will be allowed to do what you plan on doing. 

Transferring their data has always been one of the first things people want to do when they buy a new computer.   There are many 3rd. party programs available, and you may want to take advantage of one of them.  But Windows 7 now includes a program called “Windows Easy Transfer.”  It can make it much easier to transfer data from your old computer to your new computer.  In fact, it transfers just about everything except for Applications.

This is the last article in this series.  I hope I’ve been able to be of some help to you and offer some suggestions you hadn’t known about.  Please contact me directly with your questions.  mpklocksin@gmail.com

Mark WA9IVH 

Mark Klocksin is the Net Director of the NSRC.  He recently took some computer courses and later qualified for the A+ computer industry certification.  He is sharing some of his recently-acquired knowledge with his fellow radio amateurs.

© 2011 Klocksin Consulting

Mark Klocksin, WA9IVH