The official word from Microsoft is you can’t upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7; you need a clean install. But in fact you can upgrade, including moving your data, applications, and settings. Here are some tips to help.
With Microsoft having abandoned Windows XP SP2, late-adopting companies still using XP are being pushed to make the upgrade to Windows 7. Windows XP is a dying breed. It’s time to upgrade. Microsoft says only Windows Vista systems are eligible to upgrade, while Windows XP users need to make a clean install of the new operating system:
Thankfully, you can avoid the need to wipe the disk of each PC and clean-install Windows 7 manually. Some tricks are more effective than others. Let’s look at some of these upgrade options, the DO’s and DON’Ts, and pick the slickest (and cheapest) and method.
#1: Don’t migrate from Windows XP to Windows Vista to Windows 7
Some IT departments are so desperate to avoid clean-installing Windows 7 that they “upgrade the upgrade.”
The workaround involves performing an in-place upgrade from Windows XP SP3 to Vista SP2 (which is possible), then an upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 using Setup.exe (which is also possible, of course). This is a bad idea because it requires paying for Windows Vista licenses. There are other reasons why no company should even consider going that route.
The reason Microsoft doesn’t recommend upgrading from XP to Windows 7 is that there are too many changes to PC configurations (such as applets, hardware support, and the driver model) to carry it all forward, according to Microsoft’s Engineering 7 blog. A clean install is better.
The driver and legacy applications problem could be solved if your IT department puts enough time into it. But also, PCs become unstable. After years of installing programs, collecting temporary files, crashing dozens of times and sometimes fighting malware, most old Windows XP systems have become messy. Performance is just not on par with a clean install; neither is stability.
#2: Clean-Install and Rely on Windows Easy Transfer
Small businesses and home users may be fine with a clean install and moving files from the old Windows XP to the new Windows 7 installation. Windows Easy Transfer is a nice little helper here. It collects user data (such as video, music, and documents), some basic Windows settings, and a handful of supported programs. Easy Transfer saves that information to an off-client location. However, this process involves moving data off of Windows XP, installing Windows 7 and then using WET again to migrate the data back. It’s too much hassle for a larger enterprise.
Also, Windows Easy Transfer is limited. It doesn’t migrate applications, only application settings. Furthermore, only settings from a handful of selected programs (such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Office, iTunes and the Windows Live Suite) can be transferred. WET doesn’t save network settings, such as permissions for shared folders and firewall policies.
So while WET is a handy tool for individual or a small businesses with only a few PCs to migrate, it’s just too much work and too limited for enterprise users. You’ll suffer the “Click Next” syndrome after the first few PCs.
#3: Don’t Clone The Hard Drive
Here we have a quite a sneaky upgrade method: You create a reference Windows 7 install on a PC with all the applications your clients need. You clone this Windows 7 install and – using diskpart and other tools – copy the image to all your XP clients. It’s quite easy to duplicate a hard drive.
User data migration might take hours, depending on how much data is involved. Also, cloning only works in infrastructures with absolutely identical hardware; you can’t easily clone a Windows 7 image between two systems with different hardware configurations and expect it to work instantly. You may require several hard disk images, depending on how your company’s PCs and notebooks are equipped. Creating them takes time, and you have to pay the cost of storage to keep larger image sizes.
#4: Use User State Migration Tool 4.0 only
USMT is sort of a “very pro” version of Windows Easy Transfer, and it’s my semi-recommendation. Like WET, USMT collects user accounts, files, Windows settings, and application settings from one system and migrates them over. Using XML files, you can control exactly which files and settings are being captured. Check this MS TechNet article for a complete list of what information and settings USMT copies.
USMT supports two scenarios:
- Computer Update: Migrate the user state from Windows XP to a central migration server, installing Windows 7, migrating the entire user state back to Windows 7.
- Computer Replacement: Migrate the user state from a Windows XP PC to a migration server and restoring the user state on a new Windows 7 machine.
The advantage: Using MS System Center Configuration Manager, an administrator can use the LoadState and SaveState tools (included in USMT) to capture user data for dozens or hundreds of machines simultaneously and roll them out. The problem with this, again, is the manual handling of programs, user data, and many settings.
#5: Automate migration with programs, updates, and drivers
By far, the most streamlined solution is to use MDT 2010, which lets administrators create a fully automated Windows 7 install image in which they include updates, drivers, many programs, and settings – even language packs can be included. Using simple wizards, you can deploy a custom Windows 7 installation that lets you do a “click and forget” package.
While you still have to deal with some settings, it’s the most automated and hassle-free solution for your company. In a separate article, we’ll show how this is done step-by-step, including installing Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, importing the right drivers, creating silent application packages, building a task sequence, capturing the user state and all data of a Windows XP system, and rolling out the custom Windows 7 image to your clients. In the meantime, the link above should help you learn the basics of this Microsoft tool.