Ok ... after much thought, I resigned myself to a fresh install rather than running out and buying the ultimate version of Windows 7 to perform an upgrade on my machine. Several factors, but the key one was that I like to refresh my machines now and again and this is a good reason to do it.
So ... step 1 ... how to install? Turns out that a dual boot configuration was the most sensible technique. That way, I could run either OS until I was sure that I had recovered everything of interest on Windows 7.
To do this, one must either install a new disk (no SATA ports left) or partition the main disk into two. I have a 1TB main drive, so this sounded feasible. And since I was coming from Vista, it's a piece of cake because Vista has the necessary disk management tools built in.
To partition, one simply shrinks the main disk partition in the disk manager and then creates a new partition and formats it NTFS. It did not take long at all. Then, boot the CD and choose a fresh install, *not* an upgrade.
I did that in about an hour.
Step 2 is copying one's user account and settings, along with key data folders over to the new partition. This is truly simple, since Vista and Windows 7 both have the Windows Easy Transfer tool built in. This tool can migrate all your stuff over a USB cable or using a USB drive or CD/DVD. What they don't make clear is that you can simply drop the migration file into any folder on the original partition and then directly read it on the new one. Piece of cake.
I selected my main user account and and email, which required no intervention by me. Then I manually selected my iTunes library and several key folders, including my entire Documents folder, which holds everything I have accumulated since buying my first PC in the early 80s. The transfer file was 100GB and took 90 minutes to generate. It took almost that long to import to the other side, but when it was done I was staring at an identical desktop with every file intact. All of my pointers from the desktop to files in my main data folders worked just fine. Wow ...
One more thing ... I came back upstairs this evening after watching some tube (Con Air ... fun movie) and found dead silence. This was quite forboding since the last time this happened, my power supply had blown. When I switched it back on, it booted straight to a login screen .... it had been asleep! Vista was *never* able to successfully resume from sleep ... but Windows 7 had no trouble at all. Awesome!