When upgrading Windows, a clean install is always better

With the deadline for Windows 7 and 8 approaching to upgrade to Windows 10, with no assurance that the time to upgrade will be extended, I believe that it is worth writing an article about upgrading. I have written before that I am not the biggest fan of the changes that Microsoft has made with Windows 10 and I remain concerned about the privacy and other issues, particularly revolving around stability of the operating system.  Next month, I am planning to upgrade (and if necessary downgrade back down again to Windows 7 as I will now have the key for Windows 10), because there is the chance that Microsoft may actually decide not to extend the window to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7.

I would agree with other articles online that Microsoft’s decisions to push Windows 10 have at times, alienated many users and that the way Windows 10 was rolled out has damaged Microsoft’s reputation. Having Windows 10 as an option is a good thing, but forcing it down people’s throats when they do not want it is not. Some have called this whole mess Orwellian.

Regarding the telemetry, there have been recommendations to use third party applications because modifying the Windows registry doesn’t work in that it doesn’t stop the tracking.  There are now open source third party applications designed to stop the telemetry to Microsoft. Here is an example. Use at your own risk of course, but at least the source code is open, so any bugs or other issues should be quickly addressed by the community.

How to perform a clean install

Option 1

Originally, there was no “official” way to upgrade to Windows 10 from previous versions, but a user by the name of justmoa found a simple way around the upgrade.

Anyways, here are the instructions from Ghacks typed by :

  1. Get a Windows 10 ISO image from here.
  2. Burn the ISO, or mount or extract it.
  3. Open File Explorer and navigate to either \Windows\x64\sources or \Windows\x32\sources. Find gatherosstate.exe in the folder and drag it to the desktop.
  4. Run the exe. This will create a GenuineTicket.xml file. Save this to a USB flash drive or anywhere else other than your system drive.
  5. You can now format your drive and run the clean install. Skip the product key.
  6. Once Windows 10 is up and running, copy GenuineTicket.xml to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\ClipSVC\GenuineTicket.
  7. The folder is hidden by default. If you can’t see it, go to File > Options > View > Show hidden files, folders and drives in File Explorer.
  8. Reboot your PC.
  9. Hit Windows+Pause. This will bring up a window showing system information, and at the bottom it should show Windows 10 as activated.

I am very curious as to why  Microsoft would not have provided a clean install option to begin with. This seems like a major oversight to me.

Option 2

Microsoft has since made available the ability to create installation media so that such a lengthy step would not be necessary.

All you need to do is to get the Installation Media from here:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10

Download the Media Creation Tool, then:

  1. Create the installation media.
  2. Back up all of your files in your installation disk.
  3. Set your UEFI / BIOS so that when the computer boots, it will boot from the installation media first.
  4. Install Windows and type in the activation key from the previous version of Windows you have, which should be registered with Microsoft’s servers anyways.
  5. Activate Windows. This should happen automatically on the reboot.
  6. Reinstall all applications.

If you have troubles with activation, I would recommend running the Command Prompt (run then “cmd”, then type in:

slmgr.vbs /ato

This should activate Windows for you.  After that, you only need to restart and then you should be ready to go.

Why do I feel so strongly about clean installs?

I like to clean install my operating system anyways once every 1-2 years. Yes, it is time consuming, but at times, to an extent, I like it in that it gives me the sense of a fresh new start.

One big reason why is I find that even with a good SSD, the operating system tends to slow down with time. In terms of what I use, I currently use a Samsung 850 Pro,  have a Samsung SM843T as a working application drive, and am ordering another SSD, a Samsung SV843, all of which are well regarded SSDs. I am careful what I download, do not install needless applications, keep a firewall (I personally use Comodo Internet Security Pro right now), and clean my registry (I use Auslogics Registry Cleaner and Auslogics Registry Defrag), but even then it tends to slow down.

The other big reason is that when there is a major change, such as a new motherboard, or a major operating system change, I find that there are often problems. These can include:

  • Registry problems
  • Driver problems
  • Hardware incompatibility (often caused by driver problems – I advise that you keep a spare PS/2 keyboard around for this because USB driver problems are very common)
  • Software incompatibilities

I am sure that someone could easily make a far larger list of upgrade nightmares. Microsoft does provide an Upgrade Assistant, which I recommend that you use if you upgrade (which of course I don’t recommend you do). In practice, from my experiences, it has been less than perfect and often misses problems.

There is always some risk involved in upgrading and often, you may find yourself spending more time, but with a worse system than if you had done a clean install.

Have you ever noticed that when a computer is brand new, everything is so fast, even though the hardware doesn’t change? The reason why is because you have a clean registry, and minimal background programs/services that could slow you down. Over time, as you install more, that can slow down your system. The benefit of a clean install is that it starts you on even ground at zero.

For Linux

A bit off-topic, but one of the great joys that I find with Linux is that it does not seem to be slow down as badly over time as Windows. I have several hypotheses as to why (and the real reason could be a combination of these):

  • The current dominant file system Ext4 is superior in many ways to NTFS. Also worth mentioning is that Ext4’s successor, Btrfs is likely to be superior as well, when it is ready for prime time.
  • There are a few cron jobs that run in Linux that run that clean out old files. Some examples are logrotate, which cleans out old log files, and tmpwatch, which purges older temporary files.
  • Compared to Windows, relatively few Linux programs add start-up entries. I find myself in Windows using Msconfig.exe to try to selectively start up programs based on what I need. It’s a good idea to uninstall the programs you don’t need and clean the registry.
  • The use of centralized software repositories so that little or nothing is left when a program is uninstalled.
  • Linux uses something called the /etc directory to store key configuration files. Linux also does not have anything quite like a central registry in Windows. Instead everything is kept in small text files. Registry cleaners like Auslogics can be used, but they are far from perfect and there always seems to be something left behind.

Despite these advantages, Linux is not perfect. Even for Linux, Mark Shuttleworth wrote that he was not convinced by rolling releases and recommended clean installs, because “Can we make the update process from point to point really bulletproof? Upgrading today is possible, but to keep the system clean over multiple successive upgrades requires an uncommonly high level of skill with APT.”.

I will continue to recommend clean installs for LInux as well every other year, despite it now being slowed down. It times nicely with the latest Linux versions. I currently use Linux Mint as my main Linux system.

The Next Few Years

I suspect that we will find that the rolling release does not lead to the promises of a strong operating system and that Microsoft will encounter difficulties. The problem is that the rolling release does not fix the slow-down problems that i have described.

Linux distros that use rolling release can end up with stability and security problems that appear in the end user builds, not just beta builds, because by nature, a rolling release is constantly being developed. Strictly from personal experience, I find that fixed releases are generally more stable.

Whether or not a rolling release is better than a fixed release is a matter open to debate. Regardless, there will still be performance loss over time due to the inherent flaws in Windows. Tools that I think are urgently needed:

  1. A registry cleaner and optimizer by Microsoft
  2. Better management of temporary files
  3. Improvements to Windows firewall so that it is comparable to some of the top third party applications
  4. I would like to see a better file system than NTFS for future versions of Windows.

I suspect that I will be continuing to make a clean install every year or so, due to the previously described Windows problems. I would recommend that you do the same. I am not the most comfortable with the idea of rolling releases. I think that veteran users and people who absolutely must have the latest software should use rolling releases, but most end users in production environments should stick with the stability of fixed releases. I think that in the coming years, the flaws of Windows 10’s rolling release model will become more apparent. I think that a clean install will still be very necessary to address the flaws that I have described.

My other concern is, what motive does Microsoft have for pushing Windows to everyone? Are they hoping to profit off of the Windows store? Sell end user telemetry? If so, that makes telemetry blocking all the more important. I just hope we don’t all end up finding out the hard way in a few years.

Conclusions

I think that it would be best for Microsoft to extend the timeline indefinitely to allow people to upgrade from prior versions of Windows to Windows 10 where possible. I would also recommend allowing Windows Vista users to be able to upgrade to Windows 10.

For us end users however, beyond giving feedback to Microsoft, which they may or may not listen to, there is not much we can do. Claim your Windows 10 key before the expiration so that you at least have the option to downgrade or stay on Windows 10. It is true that Windows 10 does bring quite a few new interesting features, and in most cases, I would recommend that you stay on Windows 10, if you are using Windows.

My hope is that Microsoft learns from these mistakes and going forward, provides a better operating system for everyone.

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