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Updating Your Operating System

Windows 10 is here for PCs (click here to read my series on the new features in Windows 10), and Mac OS X El Capitan is right around the corner for Macs. On top of that, iOS 9 is nearly ready to launch on iPhones and iPads, Windows 10 for Windows Phone is on its way, and Android “M” is set to arrive in the spring of next year. But what does this mean for YOU, the user? In this blog post, I will talk about what an OS is, what it does, and some considerations for when and how to upgrade.

What’s an OS?

OS stands for Operating System, and it’s the underlying code that makes everything else run on a computer. It provides a platform for applications to run and converts all the cool, shiny apps you use every day into machine-readable code of ones and zeros. In addition to that, the operating system directly interfaces with the File System (read about those here) and is responsible for structuring how and where files and folders are stored on a hard drive.

One of the first commercially successful operating systems was put together by Microsoft. You may have heard of it; it’s called DOS, which stands for Disk Operating System, and it requires a lot of typing and memorizing commands. You can still access it from any Windows computer by hitting the Windows key and typing “CMD” then hitting enter. Have fun! The first commercially successful operating system with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) was the original Macintosh OS, and we still use the concepts of windows, drop-down menus and mouse pointers all these years later in every major OS.

Every few years operating systems get updated. They usually add lots of new features that take advantage of faster computer hardware, and they often bring improved security to help protect you from malware and hacking. In general, running the latest version of the operating system for your device is a really good idea because it contains the latest security updates and patches. When a new operating system comes out, you have the choice of upgrading your existing computer or buying a new device with the newest OS preinstalled. In this article, I’ll talk about upgrading your OS.

Backup First!

I may have mentioned this before but backing up your computer is IMPORTANT. Upgrading the operating system on your computer, tablet or smartphone is the equivalent of doing brain surgery, so making sure you have something to fall back on is a MUST! Do not attempt to upgrade your OS unless you have a very recent backup. Read my blog post on backups before going any further!

Should You Run the Beta?

A new trend has emerged in recent years among operating system manufacturers. In the “good old days” of yore, Microsoft or Apple would announce a launch date for a new OS, and geeks worldwide would line up around the block to be one of the first to buy the stack of floppies (or CD-ROMs) with the latest OS installer. They’d install that software on their computer and cross their fingers that the software developers had already ironed out any bugs. It usually took a few rounds of updates, however, to really get a stable OS up and on its feet.

But in recent years we’ve been downloading our OS updates directly from the manufacturer, and this has presented a unique opportunity; OS developers can give us a “technical preview” of the OS before it’s fully baked or ready to release to the world. That gives us the opportunity to experiment with the operating system and report any bugs or issues we may notice. This, in turn, gives the software engineers a better idea of what to fix, so everyone benefits when we get a stable operating system, and it finally releases as a finished version.

A word of warning, though! Running the public beta of an operating system is risky business. There’s a very good chance your device will be extremely buggy, crash a lot, and quite probably need to wiped and reloaded and some point. Also, the technical previews are generally free of charge, but that doesn’t mean the final production software will be. My advice: If you have a spare device that doesn’t contain anything important, go ahead and download the technical preview and play with it. But DON’T install it on any machine that you need to be stable, e.g. your primary computer or phone. It’s just not worth it.

How Soon to Update After a Release?

After the OS has been in public beta for a while, and after most of the issues have been resolved, it’s then released to the public for purchase. So another question to consider is how long you should wait to install a new operating system after it officially launches. Again, first you have to ask yourself “how critical is this device to my daily productivity?” If even the smallest hiccup on that device could derail your day, wait until other people have had a chance to find some of the bugs and report them, then upgrade to the first n.1 update. Also, look at the critical software you use regularly, and check the developer’s websites or Twitter feeds for information regarding compatibility with the new OS. Don’t upgrade your OS until you’re sure all your apps are going to run just fine.

Clean Install or In-place Upgrade?

Another choice you'll need to make is whether to upgrade your current system as it is (in-place upgrade) or whether to erase your computer and start from scratch (clean install). There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Doing an In-place Upgrade

If you do an in-place upgrade you'll have the benefit of all your files, documents, photos, music, applications, settings, email, bookmarks, etc. waiting for you right where you left them as soon as after the OS upgrade finishes. (Note: you should still back everything up first!) This will save you a lot of time, for sure. However, the disadvantage is that some of your applications may be incompatible with the new OS, and any “issues” that may been slowing down your computer will likely still be there in the new OS.

Doing a Clean Install

A clean install requires erasing the hard drive, installing the OS from scratch, and then re-installing your apps and copying your files back from backups. Obviously, this takes a lot more time and requires knowing where all your apps and files should go. However, this method essentially turns your computer into a brand new machine, with nothing to slow it down!

Doing a Windows 10 Install

Just a quick note about Windows 10: Microsoft is offering Windows 10 for free through July 2016, but you must have a legal version of Windows 7 or 8.1 to take advantage of this offer. If you wish to do a clean install, it is recommended to do an in-place upgrade first (to register your legal copy of Windows 10 with Microsoft) and then do a wipe-and-reload clean installation.

Should You Upgrade?

New software is never without its bugs and issues. When I upgraded my Surface Pro 3 to Windows 10, I lost all networking capabilities. It turned out to be a bug in a third-party VPN application. I had to roll back my device to Windows 8.1 (so ancient looking!), uninstall the VPN client, and then re-install Windows 10. So as exciting as new operating systems are, they are not for the faint of heart.  Go through this blog post as a checklist and weigh the pros and cons. But no matter what, have a fallback plan.

Don't Go it Alone

At Bit-Wizards, we offer Managed IT Services (MITS) for businesses of any size. We recommend to all our clients to wait until January before upgrading to Windows 10. This gives us a few months to learn the new OS while the apps our customers rely on start rolling out compatibility updates. This is just a precaution (and best practice) which helps our clients avoid headaches and unnecessary troubleshooting costs when upgrading.

We do provide support for Windows or Mac, iPhone, Android or Windows phone, no matter how many devices your business has. So if all this upgrade mumbo jumbo sounds complicated – we can help keep your software up-to-date and help you deploy worry-free OS updates to your company devices. 


Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT