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Removing Old Versions of Windows from Your Hard Drive

With mainstream support for XP now cut off for good, an increasing number of businesses are looking to upgrade their system infrastructure in favour of newer operating systems. Often, installing a new version of windows can be relatively simple - but how do you get rid of what's left over?

Typically, system files are write protected and difficult to gain access to but there is an easy way of getting rid of them. If you just purchased an upgrade version then there is nothing to worry about, because upgrade versions naturally convert the files from your old OS into newer ones. If you install a fresh version of Windows without formatting your hard drive, then the old operating system will be conveniently heaped into a Windows.old folder. The purpose of this is to protect any data you may wish to hold onto from your previous user accounts - be it documents, pictures or browser preferences, they are all stored there. This is fine if you want a permanent backup, but if it's taking up too much space then it is time to remove it.

To get rid of the Windows.old folder in its entirety, open the 'disk cleanup' application in the start menu (see the previous article for an in depth explanation of this application). Once it has finished its preliminary checks of the disk, check the Disk Cleanup tab and select 'Clean up system files'. Following that, choose the drives you have installed windows on then click OK. Tick the box for Previous Windows Installations and proceed with the disk cleanup.

The previous solution will only apply if Windows has detected the previous operating system. It may be, for example, that the hard drive with your old OS was unplugged during the fresh install, then re-attached as a secondary drive. If this is the case, your Operating System files will more or less be all over the place and not contained in a rather convenient Windows.old folder. The method you choose next depends on what you want to keep.

If the majority of the disk needs to go, then formatting is for you. Simply copy over the files you want to backup to a spare drive or place them in a separate partition. Once your necessary files are safe, right click on the drive from the Computer menu and head to properties, then 'format disk'. Beware - check and double check everything you need is safe and you are formatting the correct disk. The formatting process will then wipe the drive and remove the old OS.

On the other hand, there may be program files and such that you wish to keep on the secondary hard drive that are too large to go through the lengthy backup process. If this is the case, simply 'Take Ownership' of the windows folder. This is done through the security and permissions menu. Once the folder is owned, you may delete the windows folder (again, make sure this is on your old OS and not your new one!).

A more in depth explanation of permissions can be expected in a follow-up article with an explanation of the notions of 'folder ownership' and 'write protected files' and what these mean to the user. If faced with a choice of the three options covered here, consider Disk Cleanup as the most straightforward and safe option for you (the other two are for more confident or advanced administrators).

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