Upgrading from Windows NT 4.0 or 2000 to Windows XP is, unlike the 9x/Me upgrade, guaranteed to be relatively painless for most users. This is because Windows XP is simply the next version of the NT/2000 product family, and it doesn't represent a major architectural change from those previous versions. As you probably know, Windows 2000 was to have been called Windows NT 5.0 before the marketing droids at Microsoft got a hold of it. Well, on that note, XP is really NT 5.1, a version number that should conjure up images of a relatively minor upgrade.

And it is, especially for Windows 2000 users. This is because, at its heart, XP is simply Windows 2000 with a new task-based user interface, improved application and hardware compatibility, and other small features. During the development of Windows 2000, Microsoft did all the hard work of making the NT 4.0 upgrade as seamless as possible, and this work is carried over for XP. For 2000 users, the upgrade is even simpler, because there are relatively few changes under the hood. All in all, most modern PCs running NT 4.0 or 2000 should be easily upgradeable to XP.

A cautionary note, however. Unlike the 9x/Me upgrade, the NT/200 does not offer any uninstallation capabilities, so it's a one way street: Once you begin the upgrade, the only way back to your previous OS is to wipe out the hard drive and reinstall from scratch. For this reason, I advise carefully backing up your files and settings before proceeding with the upgrade. Not coincidentally, Microsoft offers a tool that does just this, the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. But this tool will only restore your backup to an XP box, so it might be better to use a traditional backup program for this just in case.

Understanding NT 4.0-specific issues
Windows NT 4.0 users upgrading to Windows 2000 or XP won't get the benefit of the new directory structure, which places user profiles in the C:\Documents and Settings folder by default, rather than C:\WINNT\Profiles. It's not a big deal, but NT 4.0 systems upgraded to 2000/XP will retain the old directory structure.

Also, the version of NTFS used in XP is much more recent than that used in NT. As I recall, NT 4.0 SP5 added support for NTFS 3, which was used in Windows 2000. XP, however, uses NTFS 3.1, so if you decide to later wipe out XP for some reason and reinstall NT, you'll have to remove the XP partition, re-create it, and format it again during NT Setup.

Pre-installation checklist
Before you upgrade to XP, there are just a couple of things to think about.

1. Don't bother with the latest system updates - Because XP includes the latest security and product updates from Microsoft, there's precious little reason to update the system before upgrading.

2. Run scan disk and the disk defragmenter before upgrading. Upgrading to XP is going to cause a lot of damage to the structure of files on your system, so you might as well clean it up first. You're going to want to defrag the disk after installation too, however, but getting the hard disk off on the right foot will speed the upgrade.

3. Run the Upgrade Advisor and see whether you're going to need any updated drivers or software updates. If so, download them now and have them on the hard drive so you can install them after XP is installed.

4. Backup - As previously mentioned, backup your critical data. There is no way back if the XP upgrade fails for some reason.

OK, let's take the plunge and upgrade to XP.

Step-by-Step: Upgrading Windows NT/2000 to Windows XP
Upgrading Windows NT/2000 to Windows XP is a straightforward process. In the following example, a typical Windows 2000 Professional system is upgraded to Windows XP Professional, but the steps are identical for NT 4.0 as well.


 
  1. Insert the Windows XP CD-ROM
When you insert the Windows XP CD-ROM, you will be confronted by the front-end application shown here. Select Install Windows XP to continue.
 

 
  2. Choose an installation type
When the Setup wizard begins, it will prompt you to choose between an upgrade and a clean install. An upgrade will take your existing operating system and upgrade it to Windows XP, and this is the option we will select here. You can choose clean install if you'd like to overwrite the existing OS or install XP in a dual-boot situation.
 

 
  3. License agreement and product key
Next, you'll have to agree to Microsoft's complex licensing agreement. Among the highlights: You don't actually own Windows XP and you can only install it on one PC. In the next step, you enter your product key, which is found on an orange sticker attached to the XP CD's jewel case.
 

 
  4. Get updated Setup files
If you're connected to the Internet, Setup will next ask you whether it can update itself over the Internet using the new Dynamic Updates technology. I strongly recommend you do this, as Microsoft will be updating XP Setup with new critical updates and driver additions over time, and this will ensure that your copy of XP is as up-to-date as possible when first installed.
 

 
  5. Upgrade report
This step duplicates the functionality of the Upgrade Advisor, which we discuss in part two of the XP Installation and Upgrade Super Guide. You should make note of any software or hardware issues that are found during this step.

In this shot, a preinstalled application, EZ CD Creator 4, is found to be incompatible with Windows XP. When you click the Details button, you can find out more information about the problem
 


 
  6. Updating Setup
At this point, Setup is updated and some boot files are copied to the PC. Setup will then automatically reboot the computer. If you see a message about pressing any key to boot from the CD-ROM at this point, do not do so: Your PC has been configured to boot Setup off the hard drive.

 
  7. Preparing installation
In this phase of Setup, more files are copied to your computer in preparation for installation. Then, it will reboot again. As before, be sure to not hit any key if your PC prompts you to do so to boot off the CD-ROM.
 

 
  8. Installing Windows
In this Setup phase, Windows XP installs devices and the network, then copies and configures the other files needed to install XP. The Start Menu items are installed, and then components are registered.
 

 
  9. Finalizing installation
In the final phase of Setup, program and system settings are upgraded, settings are saved, and, finally, temporary files are removed. Then the system reboots again.

 
  10. Welcome to Microsoft Windows
The first time that XP boots, you are presented with the Out of Box Experience (OOBE), which lets you connect to the Internet, activate Windows, and optionally register Windows. When this is complete, you are presented with your XP desktop.

Post-upgrade tasks
Once Windows XP is installed, it's time to perform a few post-installation tasks:

1. Test installed software. Check to see that your software programs all work as before. If any do not, attempt to reinstall them using the original setup disks, or check the Web sites for the specific applications to see whether there are any updates. If any are still not working, open up Help and Support and navigate to the Fixing a problem link under Pick a Help Topic. There, you will find help about solving application and software problems.

2. Test installed hardware. Make sure all of your hardware works. Open up Device Manager (Open the Start menu, right-click My Computer, choose Properties, then go to the Hardware Tab and click Device Manager) and make sure all of your hardware was detected and has working drivers. If any do not--as evidenced by a yellow bang next to the hardware device's name, right-click and choose Update Driver. This will launch the Hardware Update Wizard. The first time around, ensure the XP CD-ROM is still in the drive, and try the option titled Install the software automatically (Recommended). If this doesn't work, visit the hardware maker's site and see if there is an updated XP-compatible driver. If this fails, open up Help and Support and navigate to the Fixing a problem link under Pick a Help Topic. There, you will find further help about solving hardware and system device problems.

3. Run Windows Update to make sure your system is up-to-date. There are already many updates for Windows XP on Windows Update, so you should visit this immediately after upgrading. You may need to reboot after certain updates, and some updates will require you to install them individually. Keep installing and rebooting until you've got them all.

4. Defrag your system drive. During an upgrade, your system drive is going to become heavily fragmented. To defragment this drive, open My Computer, right-click the drive (typically C:) and choose Properties. Navigate to the Tools tab and select Defragment Now.

5. Customize the system further. At this point, you might want to configure the wallpaper, screensaver, and other features, especially if these features weren't carried over from your previous Windows version for some reason. Windows XP configuration occurs in a number of places, but some hot-spots include:

Display Properties - Right-click an empty area of the background and choose Properties.

Performance options - Right-click My Computer, choose Properties, and navigate to the Advanced tab. Click the Settings button under Performance.

Control Panel - configure hardware, networking, installed applications, and other XP features.

Where to go from here...
Hopefully, everything went well, and in general, NT/2000 upgrades to XP are fairly straightforward. But if it's possible, I recommend going the clean install route for the best results. I'll explore that in my next showcase, the Windows XP clean install (Interactive Setup).