Migration Tools Are More Hassle Than They’re Worth


Products such as PCmover Pro and Enterprise let you move a Windows XP installation to Windows 7, but is that the best upgrade path? Andrew Garcia replies with an unequivocal no.

Prior to my recent review of LapLink’s PCmover Professional and Enterprise, it had been almost a decade since I evaluated a PC migration solution aimed at moving installed applications from one Windows PC to another. Given my poor memories of how those solutions performed way back in the Win 98 to Win 2000 days, I must admit I was pretty surprised with PCmover’s ability to help me move a well-used 32-bit XP installation to 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate, even though the transfer was far from perfect.

Lost amidst my surprise at the product’s performance, however, was the more important question of whether application migration to a new PC running Windows 7 is a good idea, even if it is technically feasible. And to that question, I’d have to answer an unequivocal no.

Over time, Windows gets messy. As the system gets used and applications come and go, the Windows Registry and file system gets gummed up with keys, settings and files that aren’t properly cleaned up upon upgrades or removals. This syndrome a fact of life Windows users and administrators have dealt with over the years and across the different versions of Windows. We’ve even come up with cute names for the syndrome, such as “Windows rot.”

Such migration tools make it easy for users not to make hard decisions when moving to a new system. It’s kind of like hiring movers to pack your stuff and move it to your new house – instead of culling as you go, you end up with a bunch of stuff you could have tossed out and that doesn’t quite fit in your new place. Migrating applications will likely do the same – it will bring some of that rot to your new PC along with things you probably don’t need and won’t use, but weren’t prepared to drop the axe on.

In my tests of PCmover, the applications I wanted to transfer showed up, but some were broken – missing licensing information, services or critical .CAB files. And applications I didn’t transfer left residue such as unneeded shortcuts or registry keys.

No tool is ever going to get applications completely right in a migration unless it has a digital signature for the entire footprint of every application it transfers – and even that would work only for applications fresh out the box. Nor can such tools account for the way transferred applications operate within the Windows 7 security model, which was first introduced as part of Windows Vista. Are migrated legacy applications going to work in a UAC-protected environment? PCmover doesn’t even bother to check. Instead, I had to consult Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor for guidance.

Migration tools also won’t help users or administrators deal with support calls generated because of faulty third-party applications after a transfer. Think a third-party ISV will support an application once the app has been moved from XP to Windows 7? Will Microsoft even support the OS at that point?

Microsoft knows all this. That’s why it didn’t even try to offer a direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. Likely, it’s also why Microsoft torpedoed its own Windows Easy Transfer Companion beta, a project borne of its 2006 acquisition of Apptimum and its Migrate DT and Alohabob PC Locator technology (the same Alohabob product that was among those disappointing me a decade ago). Migrating is just not a sound practice.

Ideally, corporate IT shouldn’t even need such tools. A well-managed network would already have tools to back up locally stored data to servers, to centrally distribute applications and updates, or even to have roaming profiles replicated to a server. A migration from XP would leverage the benefit of these best practices, and require only that some data and settings be pulled from existing systems at the time of upgrade to the new OS – perhaps via Microsoft’s Windows Easy Transfer or the more enterprise-friendly Microsoft User State Migration Tool (now part of the Automated Installation Kit). 

For most corporations, third-party personality migration tools shouldn’t even enter into the thought process. On the other hand, I understand why some consumers would want to make such a migration. They want the latest and greatest operating system and hardware, and they want it to work like the last system without any fuss or muss – for productivity’s sake.

I tried it myself, and after two days I found myself starting over from scratch. Ultimately, an afternoon’s worth of rebuild and reinstallation sounded a lot better to me than the possibility of 18 to 24 months of problems and errors.

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