Upgrading from Windows XP to 7? Start with some aspirin

Microsoft has begun heavy ad rotation for advertisements for its newest operating system Windows 7; you may have seen the one that features a charming toddler extolling the happiness it will bring to the computer world.

Color me skeptical, having been stung before by Windows OS "updates." I had a chance to talk with Vishal Dhar, the founder of iYogi, a service that provides brand-independent Windows OS customer service to the 90,000 customers who have signed up for its 24/7 tech support.

What can we expect with the launch of Windows 7?

"Windows Vista to Windows 7 migration should be virtually seamless. Where we see a challenge is in Windows XP migration to 7." Dhar pointed out that 70% of Windows users didn't upgrade from XP to Vista, so the large majority of users will be facing this larger jump. A recent iYogi survey showed that almost half of consumers it polled expect to call tech support for help in the process.

What are the potential problems faced by a user upgrading from XP to Windows 7?

Dhar told me that much of the most popular software used on XP will require a clean reinstall. For example, Firefox users will have to download new versions of the Web browser, and will need to save and reinstall their favorites and bookmarks. Media player playlists and settings will have to be reinstalled (iTunes being the exception. Ironically, this piece of Apple software will be easier than some of Microsoft's own programs to transition, since iTunes repair screen can update your play list.) Users of Microsoft Office will have to find their install CD and product code, and will need to export/import their calendar, notes, e-mails, and other user files.

Microsoft seems determined to discontinue support for its XP system, so even those users clinging to the stability of this product may be forced to upgrade soon. I asked Dhar if the new OS would require new hardware, but he told me that Windows 7 is not that resource hungry, so it should run on computers three or four years old.

Dhar's business, one of several offering individual tech support across a wide range of needs (such a problems with software, computer operations, and networking) clearly illustrates the failure of manufacturers and software companies to provide the kind of support that breeds customer loyalty. Recently I had a problem with my Dell laptop that took days and an obscene amount of money to correct. Most aggravating, however, was the sheer amount of time wasted just trying to penetrate the cone of discouragement that hovers over its "customer service."

Dhar's company is in growth mode; he plans to add a dozen countries to the four iYogi currently supports (U.S., U.K. Canada and Australia). Like competitors Hiwired, Supportspace, Fixflash, Support.com and Geeksquad, the company is thriving on the failure of Microsoft and others to support their products to the degree that the user public needs.

Some sell these services ala carte, others on a monthly or yearly unlimited-help basis (per computer, rather than per person.) iYogi's $140 per year charge is on the low end of the range. Of course, cost and value are not the same, and one can only know if they've received value by the quality of the help received. Still, if the company lives up to Dhar's claim that its wait time is less than a minute, that's already a quantum leap beyond what most manufacturers offer.

My suggestion? If you're looking to upgrade from XP to Windows 7 and aren't savvy about computers, get help; from a knowledgeable friend or coworker, or perhaps one of these companies. Back up your system, and plan to take your time. Make sure you have your software discs and product codes in hand. A couple of beers on ice might be useful, too.

I'm hoping for a happy finish to my upgrade. There's a reason companies like iYogi exist, however, and it's not because we need someone to organize a party of celebration.

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