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Windows 7: Windows.old: The confusion is over.

28 Apr 2009   #1
Orbital Shark

Windows.old: The confusion is over.

After reading various posts regarding the Windows.old directory I have re-installed build 7100 for the sole purpose of confirming what the Windows.old directory actually is.

When installing Vista/Windows 7 you can choose to install over the existing OS (not upgrade) without formatting the partition. Windows 7 (not sure about Vista) seems to have a sort of 'Intelligent Install' as to what it keeps and what it moves to Windows.old (and i'll get into this later).

For the purpose of this test I have intentionally kept files in my user folders that I wish to keep.

After installing i'm faced with my desktop, clean, fresh, just 1 icon (the recycle bin). Upon opening explorer and viewing 'Computer' it is clear that there is still a multitude of files still on the HD (an extra 12GB in my case). Access the main (Windows 7) drive and you will see several directories, 1 of which is Windows.old directory (See Pic 1).

Upon inspection of this directory it's plain to see that it is a mirror of your previous drive structure (See Pic 2). You can now access your media in the user directory and Move it to your new user folders (Documents, Music, Videos etc). Once you are happy that all files have been moved you can now delete the directory to free up a large amount of disk space.

NOTE: You will have a few UAC (User Account Control) prompts but this is normal, you can continue.

Now for the Inteligent Install:

You will notice that i've highlighted several key areas in Pic 1 and Pic 3. Notice the date? (Fresh install date it 28/04/2009).

My belief is that Windows recognises certain folders as being independent from any install process and keeps them on the active root directory (Media Player Classic in my case was not installed so no previous registry key was created). See Pic 1

Next is the 'Program Files' folder, you will notice that, according to Pic 3 they have not been changed. Windows seems to have recognised the files & folders contained here as native to the installation and has kept them as no changes have been made to them.

Hope you find this solves any questions you have regarding the Windows.old directory :)

Attached Thumbnails
Windows.old: The confusion is over.-capture.png   Windows.old: The confusion is over.-capture1.png   Windows.old: The confusion is over.-capture2.png  
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2009   #2


I'm not sure I understand.

Though it's interesting the installation may not have overwritten a couple manually installed folders in pic 1, I'm not understanding pic 3 in particular.

I believe the dates/times for PerfLogs in pic 1 and everything in pic 3 -- anything dated 4/22 -- is "standard" and don't understand what was intelligently "retained."

Windows.old is simply an automatically saved backup of prior installed folders, like the prior Windows folder, Users, Program Files, and Program Data. You could do a backup like that manually yourself before fresh installing. You can go through it after an install if you need to retrieve settings, some documents, fonts, etc., that you may have forgotten to back up.

Everything else has been freshly installed and given the date of 4/22. It appears some files are likely modified in Windows and Users during install resulting in the install date getting applied to those, in this case 4/28. But nothing in C:\Program Files was "kept" in C:\Program Files (??). I don't believe there's any "intelligent install" going on -- just a basic automatic backup folder.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2009   #3
Orbital Shark


The date of 4/22 you're seeing is from when i last installed build 7100 (for more test purposes). Windows has 'chosen' to keep the original folders & files as it saw no need to replace them.

Some people don't have the luxury of backing up (sometimes 15-20GB or more) data to secondary drives, this has been written as confirmation that your original media will be safe if you choose to clean install Windows without formatting.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

28 Apr 2009   #4

Windows 10 Pro x64 x3, Ubuntu

Hi Guys,

If you have a look at this Tutorial of Brink's over at Vista Forums,

Repair Install For Vista - Vista Forums

you'll see that this feature was also in Vista.

As I understand it it also works for windows 7 install over Vista, (not actually tried it , so please check before you try )
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2009   #5
Orbital Shark


Good call Nigel,

I would think that 7 would treat the Vista partition as just another 'Windows' installation but as the version numbers of files in the 'Program Files' folder will be different then a complete overwright would happen and everything would be moved to the Windows.old folder.

My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2009   #6

Windows 10 Pro x64 x3, Ubuntu

Hi Jeff

Then again the norm with an existing Vista install would be to upgrade the install on a particular partition, or create a dual boot on a separate partition,

This would be a nice safety system if you choose to install fresh over an existing Vista partition in error, [and as long of course as you didn't format the partition during install], at least your data files should be safe.

It's not the best way to upgrade but I'm sure as Windows 7 is released quite a few will be grateful that Microsoft have designed thing this way
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2009   #7


I did a fresh install from 7077 to 7100 without formatting.

One peculiar thing is that windows kept all my pinned menu items in it's appropriate directory, but did not actually pin them to the start menu or taksbar. When I got around to installing all my programs and pinning them, they duplicated inside that directory. Not sure why windows would keep the old pinned information, but I'm starting to think it kept alot more info as well.

I'm gonna do a format/fresh install cause I don't like the idea of having an os with superflous stuff hanging around.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2009   #8

Windows 7 Ultimate

I went thru the same issue when I installed Vista. Seven, like vista, even if you do a fresh install, and it sees that there was an existing system, will save the windows folder, and rename it. I like that feature, it is almost like a back for me. I can still access my "Users" folder from my old win7 build. If you decide to delete the old windows folder, you have to get past the permission issues, and that can be a pain sometimes. I reboot into erd commander or BartPE and delete if from there.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2009   #9
Microsoft MVP

windows.old has been around since at least XP

The custom overwrite install option is in a zone between upgrade and clean install from disk, since it bundles all of your files from the previous OS install into the windows.old folder so that it can clean install the new OS, but it is a clean install without formatting so I consider it inferior. Why not save your files on a disk or USB drive instead to get a cleaner wipe if u aren't doing upgrade which keeps everything in place?

The usefulness of the .old folder for me is to immediately move quickly all my user files back into place in the same folders in the new OS, then I quickly delete the entire windows.old folder because it contains the entire previous operating system which could conceivably begin running programs if somehow executed.

Good brain tickler, too!
My System SpecsSystem Spec
18 Mar 2011   #10

Windows 7 32 bit

look at mine! the dates are 2 years apart!

Windows.old: The confusion is over.-win-7-problem.jpg

My System SpecsSystem Spec

 Windows.old: The confusion is over.

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