The good news: You can upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. Several tools, from Microsoft and other sources, can make the transition easier. Now, the bad news: The upgrade process is not easy. In fact, chances are you’ll be much better off buying a new PC for Windows 7.
The first problem with trying to move a business PC from Windows XP to Windows 7 is that there’s no supported upgrade path. You can do an in-place upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7. But, since 72% of all desktops are running XP compared to 18.8% running Vista (according to Net Applications’ Market Share report), most of us don’t have that option.
So your business may be facing a major problem. With no easy way to transfer your existing programs from Windows XP to Windows 7, your company’s administrators need to do what Microsoft calls a “custom” install. “Custom” is what most administrators call a clean install; you end up deleting everything on the PC.
That can be a real headache. While a large corporation may have site licenses and installation images for the desktop software used on nearly every PC, such as Microsoft Office, plenty of departmental PCs have individually-chosen applications. Do you know where the package designer’s installation disk is for her CAD package? How about the marketing department’s image library tool? Do you really want to download and re-install not just Firefox, but each user’s half-dozen must-have Firefox extensions? That’s a real nuisance for an individual user, and it’s hours and hours of expensive time per PC in an office.
Microsoft does provide a tool, Windows Easy Transfer, suitable for small offices and home offices (SOHO) and small-to-medium businesses (SMBs). It can help migrate files, e-mail, pictures, and settings from Windows XP to Windows 7. If your users store a lot of files on your PC instead of file servers, this can be very handy.
Larger businesses with multiple identically-configured PCs will want to use Microsoft’s User State Migration Tool 4.0 (USMT) to automate the transfer of such files. Unlike Windows Easy Transfer, USMT supports “hard-link migration.” With this utility program, user accounts, files, and settings are saved on the hard drive of the PC being upgraded.
However, both USMT and Windows Easy Transfer still leave you with the far more cumbersome nuisance of transferring programs. One program that can help you with that is LapLink’s PCmover.
Keep in mind that while, as we’ll see, PCmover and similar programs can help you move some software from your existing XP set-up to your brand-new Windows 7 configuration, none of them can bring all your software over. For example, PCmover can’t handle the popular PC-search Google Desktop program. Still other software simply won’t run well on Windows 7. And, yet other programs, such as Windows’ old built-in e-mail client Outlook Express, simply doesn’t come in a Windows 7 version. To see if your existing software can live with Windows 7 check to see the status of your particular favorites at the Windows 7 Compatibility Center.
Also, your faithful Windows XP systems may not have the horsepower to manage Windows 7. Some older XP systems, such as those with 512MB of RAM, can’t be upgraded to Windows 7. In theory, a Windows 7-ready PC needs a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and a DirectX 9 graphics compatible device with a Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 1.0 or higher driver. In practice, you should double the RAM and processor requirements if you plan on running the business versions of Windows 7: Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate. If, for older Windows program compatibility, you plan to use Windows XP Mode, a built-in XP virtual machine, you’ll need an additional gigabyte of RAM.
If you’re in doubt about whether a specific computer can handle Windows 7, run Microsoft’s Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to get an idea as to how well your PC will handle 7. To run this you also need .NET Framework 2.0 or later installed.
The Upgrade Advisor tells you both if the PC is ready for Windows 7 and what resources (usually RAM) are needed before an upgrade. It also lets you know if you have components, such as a graphics card or printer, that need new drivers to run well with Windows 7.
Pay careful attention to these reports. Just as with Windows Vista in its early days, some devices aren’t supported; others may be supported on 32-bit Windows 7 but not on 64-bit Windows 7.
The hardware is up to the job? Okay, next you need to determine if you’re running 32- or 64-bit Windows. For example, in my tests, I used an older Dell Inspiron 530S. This PC uses Intel 2.2GHz E2200 processors. These are 64-bit CPUs, but the system was running 32-bit Windows XP.
The easiest way to determine the version of Windows XP is to click Start; then click Run; type in
sysdm.cpl. The General tab displays the OS. If you’re running 32-bit Windows XP, it will show
Windows XP (version). If you have 64-bit Windows XP, it will display
Windows XP (version) x64 Edition Version.
If you’re running 32-bit Windows XP, you can’t upgrade to 64-bits Windows 7 from within Windows. Your only upgrade path is to boot from the installation DVD. Even if you had used PCmover or USMT to save data on the hard drive, you’d still lose it. In that scenario, keep the data and program backups you made with Windows Easy Transfer, PCmover, or other back-up programs on an external or server drive.
Realistically, while PCmover and USMT both claim that you can use them for a true in-place upgrade, you’ll be safer saving your programs, settings, and files to an external drive. Yes, this will make transferring back all your Windows XP goodies to your new Windows 7 set-up slower-hours longer-but your data will be much safer.
In any case, keep a separate, complete back-up of the computer. Moving to Windows 7 is a one way trip, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t be a bumpy ride. Some Vista users, for example, have found themselves stuck in a vicious and endless reboot cycle.
If your equipment’s up to the job, the computer system has been cleaned of crud, and the back-ups are ready to go, start your update by running Windows Easy Transfer or USMT and PCmover. PCmover should bring everything over that the Microsoft programs import and more besides, but I’d rather be safe than sorry when it comes to important data.
In my experience, using a pair of Dell 530s, going from starting the installation to booting up in Windows 7 took an average of 8 hours per PC. USMT, Windows Easy Transfer, and PCmover all worked quite well. With PCmover I was able to transfer QuickBooks, Firefox, Office 2003 and Office 2007, and OpenOffice 3.1 without any trouble.
That said, PCmover comes with numerous caveats. For example, music files entangled with DRM (digital rights management) may not make the journey safely. In addition, you must be careful to follow PCmover’s instructions on how to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7 to the letter. If you don’t, you stand an excellent chance of losing applications and having to re-install them.
In some scenarios — say multiple identical PCs with the same software packages and all important files and settings already residing on a server — you can expect the upgrade time to be cut in half. But it’s a safe bet that the PCs will be out of service for a minimum of a business day. In the worst case? Well, as Chris Hernandez, a Microsoft staffer with the Windows Deployment team recently noted in the TechNet blog, the far easier upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 can take up to 20 hours per PC.
Taken all-in-all — the price of update software, the migration’s support costs, and user down time — it seems clear that the most economical way for the majority of businesses to move from Windows XP to Windows 7 is to buy new PCs. Make no doubt about it: most businesses can migrate their PCs from XP to Windows 7. The question you need to ask yourself and your IT support team is whether its cost, with the added consideration of how much more useful life is left in your legacy PCs, makes it a worthwhile investment.