It's been almost a decade since I evaluated a PC migration solution aimed at moving installed applications from one Windows PC to another. Products such as PCmover Pro and Enterprise let you move a Windows XP installation to Windows 7, but is that the best upgrade path? I'd have to answer an unequivocal no.
Prior to my recent review of LapLink's
PCmover Professional and Enterprise, it had been almost a decade since I
evaluated a PC migration solution aimed at moving installed applications from
one Windows PC to another. Given my poor memories of how those solutions
performed way back in the Win 98 to Win 2000 days, I must admit I was pretty
surprised with PCmover's ability to help me move a well-used 32-bit XP
installation to 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate, even though the transfer was
far from perfect.
Lost amidst my surprise at the product's performance, however, was the more
important question of whether application migration to a new PC running Windows
7 is a good idea, even if it is technically feasible. And to that
question, I'd have to answer an unequivocal no.
Over time, Windows gets messy. As the system gets used and applications
come and go, the Windows Registry and file system gets gummed up with keys,
settings and files that aren't properly cleaned up upon upgrades or
removals. This syndrome a fact of life Windows users and administrators
have dealt with over the years and across the different versions of Windows.
We've even come up with cute names for the syndrome, such as "Windows rot."
Such migration tools make it easy for users not to make hard decisions when
moving to a new system. It's kind of like hiring movers to pack your stuff and
move it to your new house-instead of culling as you go, you end up with a bunch
of stuff you could have tossed out and that doesn't quite fit in your new
place. Migrating applications will likely do the same-it will bring some
of that rot to your new PC along with things you probably don't need and won't
use, but weren't prepared to drop the ax on.
In my tests of PCmover, the applications I wanted to transfer showed up, but
some were broken-missing licensing information, services or critical .CAB
files. And applications I didn't transfer left residue such as unneeded
shortcuts or registry keys.
No tool is ever going to get applications completely right in a migration
unless it has a digital signature for the entire footprint of every application
it transfers-and even that would work only for applications fresh out the
box. Nor can such tools account for the way transferred applications
operate within the Windows 7 security model, which was first introduced as part
of Windows Vista. Are migrated legacy applications going to work in a
UAC-protected environment? PCmover doesn't even bother to check. Instead, I had
to consult Microsoft's Upgrade Advisor for guidance.
Migration tools also won't help users or administrators deal with support
calls generated because of faulty third-party applications after a
transfer. Think a third-party ISV will
support an application once the app has been moved from XP to Windows
7? Will Microsoft even support the OS at that point?
Microsoft knows all this. That's why it didn't even try to offer a
direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. Likely, it's also why
Microsoft torpedoed its own Windows Easy Transfer Companion beta, a project
borne of its 2006 acquisition of Apptimum and its Migrate DT and Alohabob PC
Locator technology (the same Alohabob product that was among those
disappointing me a decade ago). Migrating is just not a sound practice.
Ideally, corporate IT shouldn't even need such tools. A well-managed
network would already have tools to back up locally stored data to servers, to
centrally distribute applications and updates, or even to have roaming profiles
replicated to a server. A migration from XP would leverage the benefit of
these best practices, and require only that some data and settings be pulled
from existing systems at the time of upgrade to the new OS-perhaps via
Microsoft's Windows Easy Transfer or the more enterprise-friendly Microsoft
User State Migration Tool (now part of the Automated Installation
For most corporations, third-party personality migration tools shouldn't
even enter into the thought process. On the other hand, I understand why some
consumers would want to make such a migration. They want the latest and
greatest operating system and hardware, and they want it to work like
the last system without any fuss or muss-for productivity's sake.
I tried it myself, and after two days I found myself starting over
from scratch. Ultimately, an afternoon's worth of rebuild and
reinstallation sounded a lot better to me than the possibility of 18 to 24
months of problems and errors.
Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at email@example.com.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.