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Microsoft Windows 7 is set to launch

It is ready, set, go time for the Windows 7 launch, which will mean millions of computer users heading to the store to see the latest of what Microsoft has to offer.

The Thursday launch will be a big deal for Microsoft, which will try to repeat the success of Windows XP and eliminate the perceived failure of Vista, which never caught on in the all-important corporate market.

If you are considering upgrading to Windows 7, the first suggestion I would make is to download and run the "Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor," a free tool available from the Microsoft Web site that will run on your system and spit out a report that will tell you what will work and what will not work on your system.

Do keep in mind that if you are currently running Windows XP, there is no upgrade path to Windows 7. That means you will have to reformat your hard drive and start over. That will mean you will lose your data and all of your programs if you select this option. (Geeks are now firing up their Pine programs to send me e-mails on how you can hack Windows 7 to actually upgrade XP, but I am discussing mere mortals here.)

Keep in mind when Microsoft asks you if you want to do a "custom" install of Windows 7, it is asking you if you want to wipe your hard drive and start over.

If you are now running Windows Vista, you are probably all set for Windows 7, but run the Upgrade Advisor first. Also keep in mind that you will need a DVD drive for the software to install. Some computers only have CD-ROM drives.

Before you get started, back up your entire PC so you can get back where you started if things go horribly wrong. It is best to do an "image" of your computer, which will put you back where you started in a flash. If you don't have a program like Acronis True Image or Symantec Ghost, then download a program called "Macrium Reflect Free" that will image your PC for you for free. You can download it from several free software Web sites.

Which version of Windows 7? I would use the 64-bit version if your motherboard is capable if using more than four gigs of memory and your processor is capable. Again, the Upgrade Advisor will alert you of any compatibility issues. You can make your own selection from the various Windows versions that will be released Thursday.

Do keep in mind you will need to find Windows 7 drivers for your printers and other devices. You can start that process before you actually buy the software (If you can't find Windows 7 drivers, you can try Vista drivers in a pinch and see if they work.) But, do keep in mind that Windows 7 has lots of drivers built in, including some generic drivers to try. Do run the built-in driver update feature before you add your printer, which will contact Microsoft automatically and update the built-in driver database.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com.