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Bott on Upgrading XP to Win7

One of the big bugaboos of Windows 7 is its inability to directly upgrade systems from XP to Windows 7. Considering that 80% of business users who run Windows are still running Windows XP (source: Gartner Small Business Outlook for 2009) this is bound to irk IT professionals and end-users alike. In his 9/29 blog for ZDNet entitled “Can you upgrade an old XP PC to Windows 7? Should you?”, Ed Bott tackles this problem head-on. As usual, he unearths a few gems along the way.

He took a 2005 Sony VAIO VGN-TX651P as his subject machine (1.2 GHz Pentium M, 1 GB RAM, 60 GB HD, Intel 915 graphics chipset) and tried several approaches to performing the upgrade, all of which began with a clean (custom) install because the installer supports no direct upgrade path from XP to Windows 7. Here’s a quick summary of the two approaches he took:

  • Use Windows Easy Transfer to grab preferences, settings, and user files and store them on an external drive, then perform a clean install, restore the Easy Transfer files and settings, then reinstall applications.
  • Use Laplink PCMover to migrate everything from XP that still runs under Windows 7. It’s similar to Easy Transfer in that you must install PCMover, run an Upgrade Assistant on XP, perform a clean install of Windows 7 on that machine, restart, then run PCMover’s Upgrade Assistant on Windows 7. It’s actually smart enough to go into the Windows.old directory, grag program and data files, and add necessary registry edits for each program it migrates.

Bott also notes that it’s possible to do a direct upgrade from XP to Vista, and from Vista to Windows 7, but he chose to use a cheap-o version of Windows 7 Home Premium for his final resting point, and the Sony box came with XP Professional installed, so a two-step process wouldn’t work anyway (you can’t get from Professional to Home Premium, because it’s not a valid upgrade path).

During the various processes, which took 4 hours or more to complete, he observed that Windows 7 did a good to great job of recognizing hardware and installing drivers (this squares nicely with my own recent Windows 7 install experience on a handful of netbooks, plus half a dozen each notebooks and desktop PCs). We have both run into issues with proper recognition of memory card readers, and have both taken advantage of our ability to find drivers on vendor Websites to remedy such defects. We’ve also both observed the value and power of cleaning up the old environment (deleting old files, reducing the size of volume shadow stores, cleaning out old restore points, uninstalled unused or unwanted applications, and so forth) before installing the new OS. Fanatic that I am, I also usually run a industrial grade defrag (I use PerfectDisk and recommend it highly) on the old OS image before starting the clean install on that hard disk. And for extra protection, I usually also make an image backup of the old version just in case something goes wrong during the install process. Windows 7 install hasn’t bitten me yet, but who’s to say it can’t happen?

Bott also reports that Laplink was able to migrate most applications, but ran into some issues with Windows Live programs (which needed to be reinstalled) and hit a snag with an Adobe activation code for InDesign3 (I was able to migrate Adobe Premiere without any issues, but I came from Vista, not XP during that particular transition). He also rightly dings PCmover for installing the Ask toolbar and changing the home page and default search provider, where the former is disguised as a EULA and the latter is done by default. Given prior warning, most users will choose to avoid such things, and Laplink falls short in providing same, according to what he reports. Shame on them!

Other than some minor gotchas, and the aforementioned sneakware attack, Laplink does make it much easier to migrate from XP to Windows 7 and also shaves at least an hour off the total time required. The company plans to charge $30 for a Windows 7 only version of PCmover and, according to Bott, will offer that program for a mere $15 between October 1 and October 22 (the latter is the Windows 7 GA date) directly from their Website. It is indeed a heck of a deal, and will cheerfully permit users to migrate from XP or Vista versions to Windows 7 versions that Microsoft doesn’t itself permit or support.

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