As Microsoft's Windows 7 is made available for pre-order, we look at the problems Windows XP users are likely to encounter when upgrading to Microsoft's latest OS, while also answering some of your burning questions.
I'm not forking over another £100 to Microsoft just to run programs in XP mode. What are my options?
You have several. First, you can wait until you upgrade to Windows 7, then install and try out the software you've been running on XP. It might work fine. (Most likely to have fewest problems: products from Microsoft and other major vendors.)
If the program won't run, you can try to run it in Compatibility Mode. Right-click on the program's shortcut, select 'Properties', then click the 'Compatibility' tab. Next, check the 'Run this program in compatibility mode' box, and in the drop-down list, choose the version of Windows, in this case Windows XP.
Or you can run free virtualisation software on Windows 7, such as Sun's VirtualBox, with a copy of Windows XP as the 'guest' OS within the virtual environment. You'll need an XP license to install inside the virtual machine.
That may be your biggest hurdle, since if the copy of XP you're now running came with the PC, you're not allowed to transfer it to another system, even a virtual one (even if that PC is now running Windows 7).
And if you're upgrading from XP to Windows 7, no matter how you acquired the licence for XP, the activation key on the XP CD will probably not work. (During the upgrade, the PC sends a key-cancellation request to Microsoft's servers to nullify the XP activation/product key and link the machine to the new Windows 7 key.)
You can still buy copies of XP, but they're pricey.
What happens if I hate Windows 7? Can I revert to Windows XP?
Yes, you can, but you'll have to do another 'clean' install, this time scrubbing the drive of Windows 7 and replacing it with XP.
Before you do that, you'll need to back up your data files and note your settings. Don't bother with Easy Transfer Utility, which is available for XP; it's a one-way street and doesn't help in 'downgrade' scenarios, which is what we're talking about here.
You'll need to reinstall all your applications on XP, too. If you thought of this before, you'd simply wipe the drive and restore from the disk image you made earlier (see What should I do before I start the upgrade?).
See also: Turn your XP or Vista PC into Windows 7