Microsoft hasn't made it easy for consumers or corporate IT workers to move from Windows XP to Windows 7 without the potential for a significant loss of time and productivity.
While there are a few scenarios in which a Windows Vista PC can be upgraded to Windows 7 while retaining existing applications, data and settings, there are no similarly supported scenarios for moving from XP to Windows 7. Users or administrators must perform a clean installation of the new operating system, requiring applications to be reinstalled and desktops reconfigured.
Into the breach steps LapLink, maker of the PCmover line of personality transplant tools capable of moving applications and their configuration settings to a new operating system without requiring reinstallation or reconfiguration. PCmover also promises to move documents and settings from the old system to the new one, although Microsoft offers free tools that replicate some of this functionality.
To get a feel for LapLink's ability to move files, settings and applications from Windows XP to Windows 7, as well as for the enterprise policy controls needed for business usage, I tried both the consumer-oriented PCmover Professional ($70 with media) and the business-focused PCmover Enterprise ($27.50 per license for 500 user licenses).
To test PCmover Professional, I upgraded a well-used Windows XP Pro workstation running on a PC with an Athlon 64 X2 3800 and 4GB of RAM to 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate.
Aside from a ton of games, most of which I did not intend to migrate, the XP installation housed myriad applications-Office 2007 Home and Student, Skype Pidgin, various Adobe tools, Nero 8, Firefox, VLC, TiVo Desktop, iTunes plus an assortment of Apple network configuration tools, TurboTax and some other random programs. (Yes, this was my family PC.)
Because it was an in-place upgrade, I couldn't take advantage of PCmover's direct personality transplant capabilities. Instead, I had to utilize LapLink's built-in Windows 7 Upgrade Assistant, which walked me through defining the files, applications, settings and user accounts that I wanted to move to the new PC. PCmover bundled up that list of data into a "Moving Van" that was saved on the local hard drive.
After building the Moving Van, I performed a clean install of Windows 7 over the XP partition without first formatting the drive, thereby saving the old operating system (and the Moving Van) to a folder called c:\Windows.old. By running the Upgrade Assistant on the new OS, I could then map old users to users on the new operating system or create new user accounts when necessary.
Applications are copied or moved (the user decides, depending on how much free space is available on the hard drive) from Windows.old to the appropriate location in the new file system. In this way, the Moving Van won't necessarily get too large even if a lot of applications are migrated.
PCmover did not offer a lot of smarts or advice about which applications were safe for migration. It is therefore important to run Microsoft Upgrade prior to running PCmover. Microsoft Upgrade will identify troublesome apps and leave them off the migration roster when using PCmover. During tests, I was able to identify prior to migration that my anti-virus, video card and printer software would be a problem in Windows 7 x64, so I didn't include those in the Moving Van.
Once everything is migrated, PCmover Pro presents an applet called StartUp This. Basically, PCmover by default stops any program that auto-started in XP from doing the same in Windows 7 until the user is able to test and approve the application. I could individually approve applications to auto-start using the applet. I did find it odd that StartUp This listed applications that were not migrated to the new PC, indicating that PCmover doesn't do a good job cleaning up some parts of the Registry (like the Run key).
The Windows file system has a tendency to get cluttered over time, and PCmover offers some ways to avoid moving the clutter to the new OS instance. For instance, using the Upgrade Assistant, I was able to avoid moving temp files and folders by creating exclusion rules for extensions and some folder locations, as well as for certain types of temp files (such as the ones Office produces).
The migration went fairly quickly. Despite all the applications and settings I migrated, building the Moving Van took only about 4 minutes, and unpacking to the new OS took only about 12 minutes (although it may have taken longer if I had chosen to copy applications rather than move them).
As for content, things went better than I expected, although not everything worked after migration. For each of my local users, the desktop looked as it did before, bookmarks made it over for both Internet Explorer and Firefox, and the passwords were the same as before the upgrade. However, My Document folder redirections were not migrated, so I had to manually reset those settings.
For applications, it was a mixed bag.
Problems often seemed due to licensing or activation schemes employed by various pieces of third-party software. I was worried that Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student would want me to reactivate, but it worked fine after briefly popping up a dialog box. However, Nero 8 refused to work post-migration, requiring a complete clean reinstallation. Pidgin and Skype both worked post-migration, although Skype lost its saved account and password data. iTunes required a repair but not a reinstallation, while TiVo Desktop lost its media key and one of its underlying services (yet somehow worked). TurboTax 2008 couldn't find a necessary CAB file, so it failed to run (and I had lost the media).
PCmover Pro offers an undo function to remove the contents of the Moving Van from the new OS, in case something goes catastrophically wrong. When I tried the undo, I was presented with an explained error message, but the restore continued to work correctly otherwise.
Upon the next login, I received a few more errors during startup, but the errors were not fatal. Migrated applications were moved back into the c:\Windows.old folder, and settings were restored to default, leaving a fairly clean Windows 7 instance. Since the actual upgrade to Windows 7 is outside PCmover's purview, users would need to use a third-party disk cloning tool to go all the way back to Windows XP.