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Next week, The Reg heads into Australia's red centre to perform a Windows XP to Windows 7 upgrade at the Wirliyatjarrayi Learning Centre, a facility in the tiny central Australian town of Willowra.

The Learning Centre offers the first publicly accessible internet-connected PCs in the 300-strong town. Willowra is a two-hour drive from the next settlement and four hours from the nearest bank or High School, so the Internet has a lot to offer locals. But the PCs on site are running XP and the last thing the community needs is a meltdown. So after we visited last year and found a rig in need of some sysadminnery, we offered to help.

The IT team at Batchelor College, the Learning Centre's parent body, took us up on that offer and will provide me with Windows and Office disks. It's up to me to get the rest done, so I asked readers for advice on how to do a great job of the upgrade.

I've distilled that advice and am now working on the following plan:

  • I'll build a WSUS Offline disk, as it puts oodles of Microsoft patches onto one bootable disk. That should mean the machines I update have the latest security updates but don't need to pound the network to download them;
  • I'm checking out Ninite Pro's “freeze” feature to create an offline installer. My plan is to download a colossal collection of apps and create an offline installer I burn to multiple USB sticks;
  • A few readers mentioned Hiren's Boot CD. I checked it out: it is indeed packed with so many useful tools I'll be sure to bring it along;
  • I'll bring two copies of everything, on optical disk and USB. And just as extra backup I'l bring my Hitachi SimpleTough rugged hard disk. It may be only 500GB, but I once tested it by tossing it into the back pocket of a cycling jersey and taking it on an 80km ride. If it can survive that (think about a middle-aged journo's sweaty back for as long as you dare) it should have little trouble on the trip to Willowra.

Before I go, I'll test these techs on a real, live, Windows XP machine that's being donated to us by a friend of The Reg's employer. The friend would rather we don't name him, because of complicated marketing-related stuff, but suffice to say he's A damn good chap and a Fine bowler.

A note about Linux: plenty of commentards suggested it would be a better idea than Windows.

With my technical hat on, I agree. But having visited Willowra and seen how brave it is for adults with less-than-perfect literacy to use the text-heavy environment that is a PC, I feel Windows is the better choice because its user interface is rather more polished. It also offers a more consistent experience. Yes, I know lots of Linuxes are now far easier to use, but in this environment the prospect of someone having to face a command line or learn syntax even occasionally is just not appropriate.

I expect plenty of you will want to debate that. It would be handier if you could instead help me out with a list of must-have PC software you think Willowrans will need.

Right now I'm thinking I need at least the following:

  • Skype
  • VLC
  • Gnu Typist
  • All of the Tux for Kids software
  • A free antivirus – probably Avast!
  • Flash plugin for IE – an abomination, yes, but a handy one
  • Silverlight but only because plenty of sporting video content in Australia uses it
  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • OpenOffice
  • The Gimp

If there's anything else you think is an essential Windows app for users, let me know in the comments. ®

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