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Don't blow your Windows XP to Windows 10 migration

Moving from Windows XP to Windows 10? Microsoft doesn't support in-place or leapfrog upgrades, so you likely have hardware inventory, application compatibility testing and a clean install in your future.

Organizations that continue to run Windows XP should consider making an eventual transition to Windows 10, but migration won't be smooth for everyone. Microsoft doesn't support in-place migrations and leapfrogs are risky. Most shops' best option is to perform a clean install of Windows 10.

Windows XP reached the end of its extended support period in April 2014. The operating system continues to function, but Microsoft doesn't support it, and many hardware vendors no longer create Windows XP drivers. As a result, it's not in most IT administrators' best interest to keep their shop on Windows XP.

Transitioning from Windows XP to Windows 10 is a bigger undertaking than migrating from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to the new OS. One reason is that Microsoft doesn't offer Windows XP users free upgrades to Windows 10. More importantly, Microsoft does not support in-place upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 10.

In some situations, it is possible to perform a leapfrog upgrade from the 32-bit editions of Windows XP to Windows 10, but Microsoft doesn't support that process and it's impractical in most cases. A leapfrog migration first requires an upgrade from Windows XP to a comparable edition of Windows Vista. Admins must then upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7, and ultimately from Windows 7 to Windows 10. This process works, but it is filled with gotchas; any one of them can potentially bring the entire migration to a screeching halt. Only IT shops with no other alternatives should consider a leapfrog migration.

For XP shops that want to make the move to Windows 10, Microsoft recommends a clean installation of the new operating system, but that requires a lot of planning.

Upgrade planning 101

Start by performing a comprehensive hardware and software inventory of all the desktop computers in the organization to determine whether or not they meet the hardware requirements for Windows 10.

During the hardware inventory, remember Windows XP is an older operating system and it may run on older hardware. Some older PCs could meet the minimum requirements to run Windows 10, but they may lack the resources to run the OS efficiently. It is also relatively common for older computers to have hardware problems that do not manifest themselves until a major operation, such as a transition to a new operating system. Shops that plan to reuse existing desktop hardware should have some spare parts on hand just in case any problems show up during the migration process.

One of the problems with not being able to perform an in-place upgrade to Windows 10 is that IT must reinstall all desktop applications on the new operating system. Dealing with these applications is by far the most challenging part of the migration process. In preparing for a migration to Windows 10, there are four questions shops must be able to answer with regard to desktop applications:

  1. What applications do workers use?
  2. Are these applications compatible with Windows 10?
  3. Do we have the installation media, or some way of installing the applications?
  4. How will we prove the application migration works?

Determining which applications workers use is relatively easy. There are countless utilities available that can compile software inventories across desktop computers. Things get a little trickier when it comes to determining application compatibility for Windows 10.

Upgrade tools and tests

Microsoft's Assessment and Planning Toolkit is a free utility that can help analyze PCs and determine their level of readiness. The built-in inventory tool can show which applications workers use throughout the organization, but it also provides information on whether or not each application is Windows 10-compatible.

The Assessment and Planning Toolkit can help jumpstart Windows XP to Windows 10 migration planning, but ultimately there is no substitute for testing. The only way to know for sure whether the migration will be successful is to set up a pilot deployment program.

Pick some power users who have non-critical job functions and let them try out Windows 10. These users should be able to report back any issues they might find, which IT can address before rolling out Windows 10 to the entire organization.

Next Steps

Migrating from XP to Windows 7 and/or 8

How the death of XP affects virtual applications

Virtualization keeps Windows XP on ice

This was last published in January 2016

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Does the lack of support for leapfrog and in-place XP-to-10 migrations deter you from considering them?
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Software & app transfer fine. But data will not transfer & now lost. Great work Microsoft!
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