If you are looking for in-place migration of XP desktops, you could use Laplink’s PC Mover. But if you want to be able to preserve your XP desktop and switch back to it when you need to run an application that doesn’t work on Windows 7, then you should consider Zinstall’s XP7. It creates an XP virtual machine with all of your old apps and files that is just a mouse click away.
This sounds a bit like what Microsoft supports with its XP mode for Windows 7, but not quite. The problem, as you can see from
this Web page on Microsof’s site is that XP mode is only supported with limited “V-chip” CPUs. You also need to reinstall an entire XP desktop on the virtual machine from scratch.
Zinstall works by taking the “windows-old” directory that the Windows 7 installer creates and uses it to rebuild your original XP desktop. It is a neat trick, and I really wanted it to work. But no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t get a stable machine from the product, and so I can’t recommend Zinstall until they do some additional quality control.
If you want to experiment, make sure you use a drive imaging tool (I use Acronis or Symantec’s Ghost) to create a backup copy of your XP desktop first. Next, you need to disable your firewalls and uninstall any anti-virus software. Now you install Windows 7, making sure to boot from the install CD and choose the custom in-place install option where it copies the Windows OS and all your applications to that “windows-old” directory.
Once that is done, you can start up Windows 7 and install the Zinstall software. Zinstall actually supports two different migration scenarios: besides the in-place one, the other is to migrate between two different computers. Choose the “only have this PC” and that you are doing an in-place migration and then hit the big GO button as you can see in the screen shot below.
The process will take several minutes to an hour to complete, depending on how large of a hard drive you have. Speaking of which, you want to make sure that you have plenty of extra room to install Windows 7 as well as the working copies of Zinstall’s files too. I would estimate a spare 30 or 40 GB should be enough. You can filter out particular files – like videos and mp3s — that you don’t want to migrate if you are tight on space.
Once this process is done, you can switch back and forth between XP and Windows 7 by clicking on an icon on the taskbar. Booting up your XP desktop will initially take some time – after all, you are loading a new VM here. But once that is done, switching between the OSs takes a second or two. If you have used VMware or something similar this will be very obvious. You leave your existing XP desktop unchanged, with its existing apps (that may not run under Windows 7). Everything on your old XP machine is still preserved, including files and applications. These aren’t migrated to Windows 7 – you have to install new apps now just as you would for any new OS install. This differs from PC Mover, where you give up your older XP machine and migrate it completely over to Win 7. You can even view and access the files on the other OS too, again by clicking on the taskbar icon.
Too bad this wasn’t quite my experience. I began this review trying to migrate the oldest PC that I had in my office, an old XP without any service packs. I couldn’t get the migration to complete without errors, and I wasn’t sure if it was because of my three drive partitions or unused video driver for a card that I no longer had in the PC or some other gremlin. Next I set up my Dell Dimension desktop with a virgin copy of XP with SP2, and got a fresh version of Windows 7 installed on top of it. The Zinstall setup worked just fine until I tried to reboot the PC, and then I somehow trashed the master boot record so all my efforts for the day were lost. After I jiggled my BIOS battery, I was able to get a working drive again and I could start taking complete breaths.