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No free Win 7 upgrade for most Netbooks -- a good reason to wait until October 22?

One important exception to the free Windows 7 upgrade fest deserves a closer look -- and that's anyone buying a Netbook with Windows XP (and judging from recent sales numbers, that's a lot of you).

We recently asked (and answered) the burning question: "Should I buy a new laptop now, or wait for Windows 7?" Much of our answer revolved around the fact that almost anyone buying a new laptop from June 26, 2009 through January 31, 2010 would qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 7. Those upgrades would be delivered via snail-mail sometime after Win 7's October release, and we provided handy brand-by-brand instructions and linksfor filling out all the required paperwork.

One important exception to the free upgrade fest deserves a closer look -- and that's anyone buying a Netbook with Windows XP (and judging from recent sales numbers, that's a lot of you). The shafting current Netbook buyers take is two-fold.

No easy upgrades for Netbooks
First, you don't get a free Windows 7 upgrade, even to the stripped-down Starter Edition. The only Netbook exceptions are a handful of systems, such as some versions of the Asus Eee PC 1101HA, that run Vista Home Premium.

Second, even if you pony up for a boxed copy of Windows 7, you can't do a direct upgrade (also called an "in-place upgrade") -- a clean install, wiping your hard drive and all its data, is required. That's usually a better way to install a new OS, but those who skipped Vista and its upgrade headaches will face some extra steps in moving their Netbooks up to Windows 7 (the in-place upgrade was an option for going from XP to Vista).

One positive note -- even if you're doing a clean install, you can still use the less-expensive "upgrade" version of Windows 7, rather than a full copy. The installer will check that there's an activated copy of Windows on your system and proceed from there.

Tips for migrating from XP to Win 7
However, Microsoft does offer some help for those who need to save their settings and data before wiping their Netbooks for a Windows 7 install. The User State Migration Tool is a software package that, "captures desktop, and application settings, as well as user accounts and users' files, and then migrates them to a new Windows installation."

That's intended more for IT managers migrating multiple systems, so there's also the more basic Windows Easy Transfer utility. Naturally, your mileage using these tools may vary, and if you get stuck, Microsoft has a handy User State Migration tutorial video here. There are also several third-party solutions available (such as Laplink), some of which are being specifically marketed for the tricky XP-to-Vista move.

Buy now, or wait?
Is this lockout fair to Netbook buyers, who in some ways are providing the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal retail buying environment? And should Microsoft extend more of a helping hand to those purchasing back-to-school Netbooks?

Put more bluntly -- if you're in the market for a Netbook, will you off until after Windows 7 Netbooks start shipping? Sound off in the comments section below.