Trial and error is what makes a man. It's problem solving 101. Let me tell you something though, whenever "error" happens it's never very pretty, so I wanted to share some wisdom that I learned recently with my Windows 10 Upgrade experience. (I'm also going to use boat analogies because I'm from Colorado and don't get enough of them in my life.)
Don't Rebuild A Working Ship
The beautiful thing about Windows 10 is it can be installed without impacting any of your applications or personal files. That means if you've already got Windows 7 or 8.1 running on your PC then you can just move everything over to Windows 10 without losing anything. While it may differ from user to user how smoothly this upgrade happens (it took me about 12 hours to figure out what all the different errors meant so I would be able to get it running), once Windows 10 is up and running you already have all the same files and applications you use without the stress of re-installing.
So always consider upgrading before doing a fresh install!
New Paint Won't Fix A Leaky Ship
That said, if you've been noticing a lot of memory issues with your computer, or maybe it has just begun running a lot slower than you would like... there's a lot that may be the cause and sometimes a fresh install is just what you need to get back on your feet.
I know personally I was having an issue in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive where opening the Steam Overlay (which lets you access community features in the game and invite friends to play games with you) would cause the game to crash. A friend of mine who knew I was having the issue eventually found that the only known fix was a fresh install.
Who doesn't love new things anyway, makes them look all sleek and aerodynamic!
Make Sure You Have All The Parts
What is a sailboat without its sail? What is a yacht without its mini-fridge of chilled beverages? Of course you can just have a row boat, but adding applications and files to your computer and your operating system is what really makes it unique and run the way you want it. This is the part where the checklist I mentioned in the title is actually relevant. Of course this is a list aimed specifically at digital artists, but I will go over some files that are good for everyone to keep track of as well!
This is pretty straight-forward. Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, and anything else that you can find in the C:\Users\[yourname] folder that is worth keeping. Windows 10 uses the same file organization as previous iterations of Windows so you'll always be able to put it in the same location once everything else is set up.
Make sure that these files are either backed-up to an external hard drive that is disconnected during the fresh install or uploaded to a cloud service like DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc. There are a lot of services out there for both paid and free file and system backup services.
Now it gets a bit trickier... software is fickle and doesn't like being copy-pasted like Personal Files do, so it's important to follow these steps and make sure you don't forget anything.
First, before you install Windows 10 it is good to make a laundry-list of all the applications you want to move to your new install. This could include an alternative browser to Microsoft Edge like Firefox or Chrome, digital art applications like Adobe Photoshop and Flash, 3D programs like Max/Maya and Zbrush, file organization systems including 7-Zip and WinRAR, game engines such as Unity and Unreal, music programs like Spotify and iTunes, etc. Also, be sure to look into software you have for different hardware. This could include drawing tablets, gaming keyboards and mice, audio systems, DVD/Blu-ray, etc.
That is why best practice is to go through all of both your start-up menu shortcuts and through the "C:\Program Files" and "C:\Program Files (x86)" folders to find out what all you may need to either download or find disks for upon fresh install.
Of course simply having a list of applications isn't enough many times. A lot of paid software comes with activation keys that will need to be found in an old email or by using key finders (computer software that locates the key within your system files). There is also a lot of software that must be accessed through an account such as Adobe and Autodesk. There is also a lot of software that has single-machine licenses which means you may need to look into how to deactivate the software on one computer before registering it on the updated computer.
While video games may not be needed to run a computer, there is a good chance that if you own a PC you have at least a few games on it. Making sure any DRM and online store software for games you own (including Steam, Origin, Uplay, and others) are installed so you can continue to access your digital library.
Steam is also very forgiving in letting you copy the game files. Those files are usually located in "C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common" though you may also have a SteamLibrary folder on another drive so check your Steam settings! If you copy the game folders from these locations and put them in the same location after installing Steam on your new operating system, Steam can usually relocate the files (avoiding a redownload of everything needed for the game).
Also, while many games utilize cloud-saving now, it's always good to look in your Documents folder for save files relating to the games you own. A quick google search can also help you find these save files for older games... speaking of older games, while most software that works on Windows 7 and 8 will work on Windows 10 without any fuss, it's good to check for any games that may have certain protections.
Other Files That May Pass You By
"Files, Software, Games... what else could I possibly be missing?" You would be surprised, I know I was! There aren't too many files that also need to be copied as usually these are temp files or registry files (which are usually installed with applications). Here's a short list of files that you may not think about right away (and for artists may be EXTREMELY important):
- Photoshop Brushes and other Adobe Plugins (located in "C:\Users\[yourname]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe")
- Custom Fonts (located in "C:\Windows\Fonts")
- Minecraft Saves (located in "C:\Users\[yourname]\AppData\Roaming\.minecraft")
- Browser Plugins if you do not have cloud-syncing turned on for your browser
In reality just checking which applications also use the AppData folder is good. If you don't know how to access AppData do a quick web search and you'll be quick to find out how to show hidden folders and access it no problem!
Have Blueprints On Hand
Of course it's always good to make sure you don't just have a list of things you need. If something goes horrendously wrong, you don't want to put all that work to waste. That is why backing up computers is important!
And this isn't just true for updating or upgrading operating systems, backing up files is good practice at all times. Windows even includes their own built-in application for backing up files to an external hard drive should either the files or the entire system need to be recovered. There are also a lot of third party applications both online (usually with cloud data support) or included on the external hard drives themselves.
That way if installing Windows 10 (or any other operating system) does go awry, you always have a fall-back to your previous installation.
Testing The Waters
Well, now you have a list of EVERYTHING you need (hopefully). Every boat must be put to a trial by fire (or water) at some point, so at this point take your Windows 10 installation media (check the Windows 10 website for everything about acquiring these update/install files) and follow the instructions to install Windows 10!
The best part is, if you already had a Microsoft account on Windows 8.1, you've already got all the other profile features saved and ready to go! Once the Windows 10 welcome screen is running and you access the new, beautiful Windows 10 desktop you can begin the process of downloading all the installers you need from that laundry list of applications and get all your files (and maybe games) copied back over to their respective folders.
Don't Get Sea Sick
Windows 10 has been absolutely great for me, but that's not true for everyone. It is still a brand new operating system and a lot of the kinks will need ironed out. Upgrading is entirely optional still, though with all the benefits it's hard to see a downside. Just keep in mind that not everything you loved about Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 will be the same in Windows 10. There are settings that will need adjusted and preferences that need set.
Hopefully, the whole process of getting the system installed was (relatively) painless though, and that you are back to doing whatever it is you do on a computer! No headaches over lost software or files involved!