Because Windows XP is such a major upgrade for Windows 9x/Me users, Microsoft has provided an excellent tool that will allow users to test their system's hardware and software compatibility before they even run out and purchase the new system. Dubbed the Upgrade Advisor, this tool is actually stripped straight out of Windows XP Setup, so it's exactly the same compatibility check that will occur during a normal upgrade. And because the Upgrade Advisor includes XP's Dynamic Update technology, it will update itself at launch if you have an Internet connection, ensuring that it's got the latest compatibility checklist.

The Upgrade Advisor runs in Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 2000. If you're going to upgrade any of these operating systems to XP, I strongly recommend that you download and run this tool first. You can download the Upgrade Advisor (31.7 MB) from the Microsoft Web site.

Step-by-Step: Running the Upgrade Advisor
Running the Upgrade Advisor is pretty straightforward. In the following steps, we take a look at the entire process.
 


 
  1. Welcome to the Windows XP Upgrade Advisor
The Upgrade Advisor is a standard Microsoft wizard application, which lets you easily step through the process. The first screen is simply informational in nature.

 
  2. Download the latest files?
In the second screen, you are prompted to connect to the Internet and download the latest compatibility updates from Dynamic Update. I recommend that you do so.

 
  3. Hardware and software compatibility information
Whether you choose to download the updates or not, you'll see this informational screen next, which informs you that most newer hardware and software will work just fine in XP. This has been my experience as well.

This screen also notes that most of the issues that crop up while testing compatibility will not prevent XP from installing and running properly.


 
  4. Upgrade Advisor report categories
The report that's generated by the Upgrade Advisor breaks compatibility into two categories:

- Blocking issues, which prevent you from installing Windows XP (rare). An example would be trying to install XP on a system with only 32 MB of RAM.

- Compatibility warnings, a list of hardware and software that won't work in XP or will require driver updates from the manufacturer. Most of these issues will not prevent XP from installing and running properly, as mentioned previously.


 
  5. Updating compatibility list with Dynamic Update (optional)
If you chose to download the latest files in Step 2, that will happen now.

 
  6. Preparing an Upgrade Report
Once the Upgrade Advisor has the latest files, it begins examining your system and preparing a compatibility report. This could take several minutes, depending on the speed of your system and the number of hardware and software components you have installed.

 
  7. Upgrade Report
Finally, your upgrade report is completed, and a summary is presented to you. In this case--a heavily used Windows 98 system--we've got a bunch of problems, though it's not actually as bad as it looks. There is hardware that might need additional files--and indeed, it does need an updated XP driver, and various software related issues. Most of the software that doesn't support XP here is custom software that came with this particular system, and it's largely superceded by software that ships in XP anyway.

Incompatible applications include Partition Magic 6, a disk utility. This makes sense, as most disk utilities will need to be updated for XP.

XP also doesn't support the legacy NetBEUI networking protocol, though you can add this later if you really want to; it's an extra on the XP CD-ROM.


 
  8. Save the Full Details report
If you click the Full Details button, you can save the report to your hard drive (though a version is saved in the WINDOWS directory by default).

Here is the report that was generated on this very used system.

  9. Find hardware and software that works with XP
After you've saved the report, the Upgrade Advisor is complete and you can view the Windows Catalog Web site, which includes a list of hardware and software that works with Windows XP (this site goes live October 25).

Where to go from here...
It's crucial that you run the Upgrade Advisor before any upgrade or clean install of Windows XP. If it finds any incompatibilities, please visit the Web sites for the manufacturers that make the offending software or hardware, and see whether there are any updates.

Next, let's look at Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, a crucial tool for anyone adding a new Windows XP machine, or wishing to clean install, but still preserve all of their documents and customized settings.