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8/25/2009
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Windows 7 Survival Guide: From 32- To 64-Bit

Your old hardware isn't doomed. Here's how to migrate 32-bit printers and scanners onto your 64-bit version of the Windows 7 operating system.




IrfanView running in XP Mode, sans desktop integration.
(click for image gallery)

The program has a few limitations. My biggest gripe: it doesn't yet perform descreening/moiré removal on acquired images, which means scanning printed material (e.g., archiving magazine clippings) won't give you the same quality results as, say, scanning an actual photo. It's also not a free program -- the trial version is fully functional, but watermarks any saved images. Still, for $40, it's cheaper than buying a new scanner.

Another solution is to use the same virtualization approach as described above for printers. If you still have another 32-bit Windows machine in the immediate vicinity, you can attach the scanner to that, use Remote Desktop or VLC to access the system, and save the results on a shared drive somewhere. Not perfect, but it does work.

I pulled a trick similar to this for several months, using 64-bit Vista on my main system and 32-bit XP on another machine. Later, after installing Windows 7, I was able to use XP Mode to run the application I used to talk to my scanner, IrfanView . It worked decently well in regular XP mode, but worked best when I set it up as an application to run in seamless mode directly on my Windows 7 desktop.

A third possibility is to use a Linux machine -- a standalone box, or a virtual machine -- with the scanner plugged into it, and access that remotely. Scanner support in Linux is fairly robust thanks to the SANE project; most any scanner you have on hand should work as-is.

And as with printers, both 32- and 64-bit editions of Linux support the same scanner hardware. I used VirtualBox for this trick, which can supply input from a USB device through a mechanism similar to the one used by Virtual PC for XP Mode.

The biggest limitation there is the results returned by the SANE driver: while it's broadly configurable, the interface is a bit of a mess. Also, if you use VirtualBox, note that it does not track the state of USB devices as accurately as XP Mode. Devices that are plugged in or unplugged while VM sessions are in progress may not show up, or may need to be reinitialized while the VM is turned off.

When it comes to 32- vs. 64-bit, we're in a transitional phase. It's something like the 16- to 32-bit transition that took place when Windows 95 gradually eclipsed Windows 3.1. Windows 95 was a hybrid of 16- and 32-bit technologies to allow the existing 16-bit world to migrate as gracefully as possible. But the differences between the 32- and 64-bit worlds are a good deal more profound.

The brunt of the changeover is being borne by users of legacy hardware; their choices amount to making do or ditching what they have. Until all that legacy hardware is out of service -- which may not be for a good long time to come -- the 32/64-bit divide will need to be spanned with ever-increasing creativity.

Virtual Event: Business Case For Windows 7 -- Join Microsoft's top Windows executives and InformationWeek's editors for a live, interactive Webcast that will dive into how enterprises large and small are evaluating the benefits -- and weighing the challenges -- of migrating to the new platform. Find out more and register.

For Further Reading

How To Upgrade To Windows 7 From Windows XP

Microsoft Windows 7 Under The Hood

Image Gallery:Windows 7 Revealed

Windows 7 Deep Dive

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