Product Review: Migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7 with Zinstall

If you are looking for in-place migration of Windows XP desktops, you could use Laplink’s PC Mover. But if you want to preserve your Windows 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 (VM) with all of your old applications and files just a mouse click away. “Consider” is the operative word, however. The product idea is sound; the implementation is lacking.

That description of Zinstall XP7 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 Microsoft’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 using the “windows-old” directory that the Windows 7 installer creates to rebuild your original Windows 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 VM 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 Windows XP desktop first. Next, 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 scenario lets you migrate between two computers. Choose the “only have this PC” to indicate that you are doing an in-place migration; then hit the big GO button as you can see in the screen shot below.

Zinstall will migrate your XP desktop and still keep the old XP running as a virtual machine under Windows 7.

The process takes several minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the size of your hard drive. Speaking of which: Make sure that you have plenty of extra room to install Windows 7 as well as the working copies of Zinstall’s files. I would estimate a spare 30-40 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 Windows XP and Windows 7 by clicking on an icon on the taskbar. Booting up your Windows XP desktop initially takes 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 Windows XP desktop unchanged, with its existing apps (that may not run under Windows 7). Everything on your old Windows XP system is 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 Windows XP system and migrate it completely over to the new operating system. You can even view and access the files on the other OS too, again by clicking on the taskbar icon.

Or so they promise. 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 Windows XP system [2.80 GHz Pentium with 2 GB of RAM without any service packs. I couldn’t get the migration to complete without errors. I wasn’t sure if it was because of my three drive partitions, an 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 Windows 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. 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. Two serious attempts to make it work; two failures. What if the user was a not-quite-so-journeyman IT support person?

I really wanted this software to work, because it is such an elegant solution that no one else can deliver on. If it worked, it would be the perfect way to move slowly into the modern era of Windows 7. But alas, I can’t recommend the product.

Source …

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