Windows 10 is coming and you have a choice to make. Either you upgrade your existing Windows installation, or you can install Windows 10 from scratch. Here’s how to get Windows 10 without losing your favorite software and settings.
Don’t Lose Anything: The Straight Upgrade
If you’re running Windows 7 or Windows 8, the easiest way to upgrade while keeping all your programs and settings is to use Windows Update to get Windows 10. You’ve probably seen a little notification icon in your system tray, begging you to sign up for an auto-upgrade once Windows 10 releases. Don’t worry, it’s not a virus, it’s what you need.
Upgrading to Windows 10 through Windows Update saves all your existing settings, software, and software settings. It’s the no-fuss way if you want to just get Windows 10 and continue where you left off with Windows 8 or 7. Even if you aren’t using Windows Update, no matter which method to install Windows 10 you use, it will detect an existing Windows on your hard drive. Pick that option when prompted and all your settings will stay intact.
Clean Installation: Programs Only, Not Customization
However, Windows has a tendency to slow down over time because of the badly coded programs you have installed over the years. A fresh Windows installation can be a good way to speed up your sluggish computer.
Tweaks and Customization
However, this means losing all the small personalized changes you have made, like tweaking your Windows Explorer. There is no way to backup all those small tweaks.
While it’s not a big loss, it does mean you will have to take a little time in setting up your operating system the way you want it. This is a good thing, though. By now, you know the tweaks you want in Windows, so you can quickly set them up and move on.
On the bright side, your installed desktop programs and their settings can be backed up easily with a new tool called CloneApp.
CloneApp backs up software and all its settings, its folders, and it also digs through your registry (What is Windows Registry?) to find associated files. CloneApp is a portable app, so download and extract it to a folder, start it up, choose the programs from your system that you want to keep, and hit “Backup”. Once it finishes, copy the entire CloneApp folder to a pen drive. It’ll be a pretty big folder, so make sure you have enough free space.
Next, do a clean installation of Windows 10 using a bootable USB or DVD. Plug in your CloneApp pen drive, transfer it to your computer, and run the app. This time, choose “Restore” and the programs available, and start reinstalling. Simple.
The downside of this is that the Windows Registry is the main reason your computer slows down, as installed programs covertly make their way into your Windows startup, run instances when there isn’t a need to.
Modern / Universal Apps
CloneApp only works with desktop programs, not Modern Apps or the newly named Universal apps and games. There is an alternative in the form of Windows 8 Apps Data Backup, another free and portable utility.
The procedure is just like CloneApp. On your existing Windows 8 installation, first update all your Modern apps. Then download and extract Windows 8 Apps Data Backup, run it, choose Backup, select the apps you want to keep, click “Backup Now”. Copy the entire folder to a pen drive.
On Windows 10, copy the folder from the pen drive to the main hard drive. Run Windows 8 Apps Data Backup again, choose “Restore”, select the apps you want on your new system, click “Restore Now”.
This nifty little tool surprised us. It works well for most apps and games. Just make sure that before you use it, you have updated all your Modern / Universal apps. Without that, we got multiple errors.
Take Your Drivers with You
Don’t forget to backup your drivers. You’ll take all the care in the world about backing up your data, but if your router or printer can’t connect to Windows because of a faulty driver, it’s pointless. While this problem won’t happen if most of your hardware is new, it can crop up for old tools, like that PCI sound card you bought years ago but is still chugging along fine.
The first step is to find and replace outdated drivers, since there is no point in backing up a missing or old driver. Once you’re done, use a tool like DriverBackup! to locate and save all your installed drivers. Put DriverBackup on an external drive, and restore those drivers once you’re on Windows 10.
Full Windows Backup and Migration
Zinstall, a paid app that costs $120, offers to migrate all your settings, files, programs, and other data from any existing Windows 7 or Windows 8 installation to a new Windows 10 installation.
The company granted us a license to test their software. The user guide outlines a simple setup and the interface is intuitive. You can choose from several scenarios and pair it with a migration type. To migrate our settings from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, we selected the Moving from machine to container scenario and the Migrate programs, settings, and user profiles type.
We initially ran into issues with corrupt hardware and a third-party application. Sending error reports to Zinstall resulted in a follow-through from their service department within 24 hours, pinpointing issues, suggesting solutions, and immediately releasing software updates. In the end, we successfully migrated Windows 8.1 settings to Windows 10.
We also tried out EaseUS ToDo PC Trans Pro, which costs $49.95. It did a good job of transferring our files and folders, as well as programs with their settings intact, but it couldn’t replicate Windows settings and tweaks.
The Best Way to Upgrade to Windows 10
After trying out so many different programs, there was one path that gave us the best result. It’s more time-consuming than the others, but it’s worth it because our Windows 10 installation was the smoothest with this.
- Upgrade to Windows 8.1, if you haven’t already. That’s a critical step.
- Use CloneApp to make a list of all programs you have currently installed.
- Use CloneApp to back up only one or two programs, ideally the ones you use the most and have heavily customized. Don’t back up all programs. We only took Microsoft Office, where we have heavily customized the Quick Access Toolbar.
- Update and backup your drivers.
- Refresh Your PC. This is the crucial step. Remember, “Refresh”, not “Reset”. When you choose to Refresh your PC in Windows 8, it will delete all the desktop programs you have installed as well as any associated registry files. However, your non-program data is kept safe. You’re basically bringing Windows back to almost as good as new, while keeping your files and folders, as well as your Modern / Universal apps and their data. Chris has a step-by-step guide to refresh your PC.
- Do a straight upgrade to Windows 10, not a fresh installation.
- Use CloneApp to restore those crucial programs you backed up earlier.
- Use the CloneApp text file made in step two to download and install all the other programs you listed.
- Check if all your hardware is working. If it is, don’t bother with the driver backup. Instead, run our check to find and replace outdated drivers.
- Enjoy your all new Windows 10!
This process gave us the most stable version of Windows 10, while keeping all of our tweaks and Modern apps intact. It also works if you’d like to move a program from one Windows machine to another. Try out this setup for a few days, and once you are satisfied with it, delete the Windows.old folders to free up space.
What’s the One Important Setting You Want to Retain?
There are some good reasons to upgrade to Windows 10, but the thought of losing your current way of doing things is a deterrent. Having gone through the Windows 8-to-Windows 10 upgrade and downgrade multiple times during this technical preview phase, I found that it all came down to one great app that needed to work just the way it has always worked: Microsoft Office, in my case. What about you? What’s the one important program or setting you want to retain?
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