Small Business Software: Upgrade from XP to Windows 7

by Joseph Moran

In this small business software review, we look at how the Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7 utility helps SMBs move from XP to Windows 7.

Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7; small business software
If you're not upgrading an existing system, PDUW7 lets you transfer via an external hard disk, network connection, or specialized USB cable.
(Click for larger image)

As Windows 7 approaches its first anniversary, it's built a reputation as a solid operating system and (finally) a worthy successor to XP. So why do so many small businesses continue to muddle through with the now nearly decade-old XP?

If the cost of buying Windows 7 or new computers with the OS installed isn't the primary obstacle -- we don't have to tell you that money can be tight these days -- the major deterrent is probably the hassle that's sure to be involved with making the switch.

After all, you technically can't "upgrade" from XP to Windows 7. Rather, you have to do a fresh install, which also means re-installing of all your applications -- a laborious and time-consuming process if there ever was one. Plus, do you even know where you put all your software discs and license keys? Then there's the issue of whether your existing programs will even work properly with Windows 7.

Parallels, a maker of virtualization products that let you run multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single computer, hopes to streamline the process of moving from XP to Windows 7 with its Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7. The utility promises to automatically migrate an entire an XP system -- files, settings and programs -- to Windows 7, and should any of your existing programs prove unhappy with the move, it will continue to run them in a native XP environment courtesy of virtualization.

We found that the $39.99 software ($49.99 with a specialized USB transfer cable) really does remove much of the pain from an XP-to-Windows 7 migration. But when all is said and done, it may also leave you in violation of Microsoft's convoluted operating system licensing rules. We'll explain that in more detail a bit later, but for now let's delve into how well Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7 (PDUW7) actually works.

Laying the Migration Groundwork

PDUW7 offers lots of hand-holding during the Windows 7 upgrade, courtesy of fellow named Sayid, who appears in a series of videos describing each step of the upgrade wizard as you encounter it. PDUW7 offers two basic modes of operation -- you can conduct an in-place upgrade to Windows 7 on your existing system, or perform a transfer upgrade to a new Windows 7 system using an external hard disk, a network connection or the aforementioned transfer cable as the conduit for your data.

Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7; small business software
PDUW7 will prompt you for your Windows 7 disc and license key, after which you can get lost for a while as the upgrade proceeds.
(Click for larger image)

We began our testing with an in-place upgrade to Windows 7 Professional of a well-worn XP Professional-based Dell Optiplex test system (2.8 GHz Pentium 4, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB hard drive). Although PDUW7's virtualization technology can mitigate older software's lack of compatibility with Windows 7, it can't do anything to ensure compatibility of system components and peripherals such as graphics cards and printers. Therefore, before performing this kind of upgrade you'll want to run Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to check whether your hardware has the necessary driver support.

It's also highly advisable to perform a system backup prior to any OS upgrade; PDUW7 doesn't do one for you, but does remind you up front to perform or verify that you possess a current backup (and if you decline, politely urges you to reconsider). The software also provides a link to a 90-day trial version of Acronis Online Backup, though the 2 GB storage cap isn't nearly enough for a comprehensive backup of a typical system.

Before beginning the transfer, PDUW7 gives you the option to migrate all of your installed programs or just pick specific ones from your Add/Remove Programs list. The latter option is handy if you only need a handful of key applications and would like to limit the amount of detritus that moves over from XP to Windows 7.

PDUW7 also prompts you to insert the Windows 7 disc and Windows 7 license key long before you actually need either of them, which then allows you to leave the system so you don't have to babysit it during the rather lengthy upgrade process.

On our test system didn't require user input again until about two hours later, when it needed a Windows login in order to put the finishing touches on the virtual machine configuration and complete the upgrade.

The Migration Aftermath

Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7; small business software
If any of your transferred programs don't work properly under Windows 7, you can configure them to run under virtualized XP via the Program Switcher.
(Click for larger image)

When the PDUW7 upgrade wizard finishes, Sayid's videos return with a brief (but helpful for Windows 7 neophytes) tour of the new Windows 7 landscape, as well as a primer on how the Parallels Desktop virtualization software works.

A close examination of our post-upgrade test system indicated that the migration was a success. Data files from the original XP installation were located in their appropriate folders (including the myriad files and folders residing on the cluttered desktop) in Windows 7, and all programs were present and accounted for in the Start menu.

Even things like recently-used document lists in Microsoft Word and Excel 2003 made it through the transition intact and functional. (In the case of systems with multiple user accounts, PDUW7 does migrate all of the accounts, though each one must be logged in after the upgrade to complete the process for that specific user.)

At least one of the programs installed on our test system, Quickbooks 2005, proved incompatible with Windows 7, and thus required the Parallels Desktop virtual XP environment to function. Aside from an initial delay when launching QuickBooks, there was little indication of the program's virtual underpinnings.

Programs set to run in the virtual environment still appear in the Windows 7 Start menu, and thanks to Parallels "coherence view," virtualized applications appear as if they are running natively (i.e. not within a separate XP window). PDUW7 was smart enough not to migrate to XP apps that would be inherently incompatible with Windows 7, such as anti-virus utilities.

PDUW7 consults its own software database to determine which programs will automatically get the virtual treatment, but if a program unexpectedly has problems running natively under Windows 7, the Parallels Program Switcher lets you relegate it to the virtual environment with a few clicks. You're also free to run your entire previous XP environment (as it existed at the time of the upgrade) at any time you like.

An important caveat: when using PDUW7 to upgrade an existing system, be sure to take heed of the program's disk space requirements, because while it requires an amount of free space equal to the size of your Program Files folder plus 25 GB, it doesn't actually do an advance disk check to verify the necessary space is actually available.

As a result, our initial attempt at an in-place upgrade went down in flames with an error message toward the end of the process as the system's smallish hard drive (which happened to be just over 50 percent full) ran out of space -- turns out we were just short of the threshold. Luckily, our backup saved the day, allowing us to restore the system and successfully repeat the upgrade after removing some junk.

Disk space isn't likely to be a problem when doing a transfer upgrade involving an external hard disk and new Windows 7 PC with storage capacity greater than the original system, and we didn't have any problems when doing such upgrades.

Your License, Please

Finally, let's get back to the matter of licensing. The deal in a nutshell is that Microsoft's operating system licenses frequently place restrictions on how the product can be used, and most prohibit you from moving an OS from one system to another or running it in a virtual machine simultaneously with another copy of Windows. The problem, as it relates to PDUW7 and your original copy of XP, is that you may very well be doing the former, and you'll certainly be doing the latter.

Parallels' position is that PDUW7 users are responsible for remaining in compliance with software licensing -- a disclaimer to that effect is appears at the start of the upgrade process. Fair enough, but figuring out what your OS license does or doesn't allow is easier said than done (it often comes down to reading and trying to interpret the legalese contained in your EULA).

All we can tell you is that if your organization has corporate volume licensing for XP -- generally the least restrictive -- you may be in the clear, but OEM licenses (i.e. XP was pre-installed by the computer manufacturer), preclude continuing to use XP following a PDUW7 upgrade. Retail licenses (i.e. OS in a shrink-wrapped box) are more of a grey area. (If you're not sure of your status, you can try contacting Microsoft by phone or chat.)

The Bottom Line

There's no question that the capabilities of Parallels Desktop Upgrade for Windows 7 are head and shoulders beyond the transition tools that come "in the box" with Windows 7. For example, Microsoft's own Windows Easy Transfer program can move files and OS settings but not programs, and while Windows 7 Professional includes XP Mode for running older, incompatible programs in a virtual environment, you still need to reinstall those programs yourself, and you'll often need to install XP Mode too. (That said XP Mode has the considerable advantage of automatically including a license for your XP environment.)

Potential licensing headaches aside, if you're looking for the quickest and smoothest path from XP to Windows 7, Parallels Desktop Upgrade for Windows 7 is the one to take.

Price: $39.99, or $49.99 with a specialized USB transfer cable; businesses can get a modest 10 percent discount when purchasing 10 or more licenses. Call 425-282-6448 for a quote. 

Pros: Automatically transfers files, settings and programs from XP to Windows 7; runs apps in virtualized XP environment for compatibility if needed

Cons: Microsoft's licensing rules may preclude you from continuing to use XP post-upgrade; doesn't check for sufficient disk space when upgrading an existing system

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!
This article was originally published on Tuesday Jun 29th 2010
Mobile Site | Full Site