Having to do a clean install of Windows can be a good thing – it gets rid of amazing amounts of accumulated junk on your system. But if you’re not prepared, it can be terrifying – you can lose all of your work and personal files if you’re not careful.

Just recently I installed XP Pro on a new motherboard and to prepare myself, I wrote up a checklist of things to check, save and print before getting started. I hope this helps you as much as it helped me.

  • Open up Windows Explorer, navigate to C:/Program Files and take a screenshot of all your currently installed software. This was integral to making sure I reinstalled what I really needed, and also let me know what I could afford to get rid of (approximately 3/5 of what was in that folder). Print a copy or two so you can mark it up, and save it to CD-ROM.
  • Take a screenshot of your desktop – this will help you remember what icons you had and where they were placed (if you don’t care, don’t bother. But if you’ve carefully arranged your icons, take a screenshot). Print it and save it to CD-ROM.
  • Get a free program like drivercontroller.exe, which will let you save all of the drivers on your machine to CD-ROM in one folder so you don’t have to go hunting them down later.
  • Pull out the CD-ROM’s for all the boxed software you want to install (including your Windows XP disk). Note – if you purchased Windows with a computer from a manufacturer and are installing to a non-manufacturer computer, be prepared to go buy a new copy of Windows. Yours probably won’t work.
  • Pull out the CD-ROM’s that came with your printer, graphics card, sound card, speakers, monitor, wireless networking card and any other hardware you’ve installed.
  • Put registration keys, licenses or serial numbers for downloaded software into a text file and save it to CD-ROM.
  • Obviously, save all of your documents – spreadsheets, word processing files, photos, music files, etc. either in a backup set or to an external drive that you can access later. Preferably both.
  • Export favorites from your web brower(s) – Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc. – and save them to CD-ROM.
  • If you’ve downloaded fonts in addition to what comes standard with Windows, zip them up and save to CD-ROM.
  • I recommend you save the following to CD-ROM by folder, and put a little text file in each application’s folder reminding you where to install this information on the newly-formatted hard drive. You may need to visit the software manufacturer to find out how to do this:
    • Export mail and contact information from your mail software (your profile if using Thunderbird).
    • Backup financial files from Quicken/Quickbooks or Money.
    • If you use planning software, make a backup.
    • If you use project management or time tracking software, make a backup.
    • If you use FTP software, save the profile if you can.
    • For any specialty software you use (in my case it’s HTML, server and Adobe Creative Suite), save your settings if possible. You will probably need to check out the manufacturer’s site to find out how to do that, but it’s worth the time if you spent time getting your software configured just right.
    • Any other databases, like a client management system – make a backup.
  • If you’ve made a number of Exceptions in your firewall software, save them by taking screenshots. Print and save to CD-ROM.
  • If you have a complicated home network, consider taking screenshots of the settings screens. Print and save to CD-ROM.
  • Anything you’re not sure of, if you can back it up or take a screenshot of it, better safe than sorry.

Here’s an excellent guide from Paul Thurrott about clean installs of Windows XP.

Note especially the need to defragment your hard drive after getting XP up and running. It’s good advice; I checked my new hard drive before starting to reinstall software and it was 27% fragmented just from all the XP updates….

Good luck! Reinstalling your operating system is a pain in the neck because of all you have to remember, but hopefully this checklist will save you some time and worry.

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