How To: Upgrade Windows XP to Windows Vista

A lot of my PC brethren are beginning to take the plunge and upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista. There are a lot of new features in Vista, and it seems well worth the upgrade. But, before you cross that bridge, there are several steps to take to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista.


  1. Determine what type of upgrade you will do: clean install or “upgrade in place”. Many of us are familiar with the “upgrade in place”, which does not remove any items from your computer; however, this option is not available for all users, depending on your current Windows version and your purchased version of Windows Vista. Please review the Vista Upgrade Paths to determine your installation type. Also, review the Microsoft Upgrade Advisor for recommendations on which version of Vista is right for you. IF YOU MUST PERFORM A CLEAN INSTALL, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYTHING WILL BE DELETED FROM YOUR COMPUTER — MAKE BACKUPS!!!
  2. Find your Windows XP Product Key. If you have lost the key, you can find your Windows XP product key on the original CD. Make a note of this key code, just in case.
  3. Locate the product IDs for all your purchased & installed software, such as Microsoft Office. If you cannot locate the original cds/dvds, you can use this method to find the product key for many Microsoft products:
    • Launch the program in question
    • Click “Help” from the Menu Bar
    • Click “About {program name}”
    • Make a note of the Product Key shown

    HINT: I highly suggest your keep a paper notebook journal of all of your product key IDs.

  4. Locate all of your software/hardware installation cds/dvds and have them ready for the upgrade. (Depending on your upgrade type, you may not need them.) This would include driver disks for all of your hardware, such as printers, cameras, keyboards and other peripherals.
  5. Backup your “My Documents” folder and other key data (email configuration, browser favorites, cookie files, etc). While Windows Vista has a transfer wizard to automatically copy these files to a network computer as a fail-safe, I suggest using Windows XP’s excellent backup utility to burn this data to a CD/DVD or to another computer on your network; however, you may prefer to make an online backup location. Sites such as offer 1GB of free online storage. If your system does not have Windows XP backup installed, follow these directions to install Windows XP backup utility on XP Home or XP Professional.

    Be sure to backup your personal folders and key items.

Once you have backed up all of your items and noted the product keys for your applications, you are ready to begin the upgrade to Windows Vista.