8 Common Issues in Windows 7 Migrations

Don Jones

So you're ready to make the jump to the all-new Windows. While most users have reported fairly fast, straightforward migrations, there are some potential "gotchas" that you should be aware of before you pop that new DVD into your computer. And of course, in a business environment there are always a few post-migration issues that you need to watch out for. Here are some of the most common potential pitfalls, and how to avoid or mitigate them.

8: You Can't Migrate from Windows XP

That's not exactly true, but it's a misconception that's getting good play on the Web. What you can't do is an in-place upgrade of Windows 7 on a computer running Windows XP; you can migrate from a Windows XP computer to a Windows 7 one, with user data and preferences intact.

Many IT professionals prefer migrations over in-place upgrades, because it results in a cleaner, easier-to-support computer in the end, and it gives you a chance to filter out any bad practices -- like Elf Bowling games or an excessive number of screen savers -- that may have been followed on the old computer.

The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit can make an XP-to-7 migration fast and pretty painless (check out the video demonstration to see for yourself). It supports a hard-link migration, which allows an in-place migration from Windows XP to Windows 7. It's like an in-place upgrade, with the "fresh start" of a "from-scratch" install.

7: You Skipped Windows Vista

And now you may wish you hadn't. While Windows 7 has been praised for being a better performer with nicely evolved features, it's still based on Windows Vista. Those who have been using Windows Vista will find that most everything has stayed in the same place, with the same name and the same basic look -- so they'll feel comfortable finding their Control Panel, operating the new Start menu and so forth. Windows XP users will face a bigger transition as locations, looks and settings have moved. Help prepare them by grabbing a copy of Camtasia or another screen recorder, and making short, narrated videos like, "How to change your desktop wallpaper" and "How to customize the Task bar."

6: Incompatible Applications

It seems like every environment has some old 16-bit Windows application or MS-DOS application left over from the early 1990s. While Windows XP could be tweaked to run many of these applications, Windows 7 (like Windows Vista) tries to live more in the 21st century and may have problems natively running those applications. The keyword is natively, because Windows 7 can run a complete copy of Windows XP running in a virtual machine. Called Windows XP Mode, it allows those old applications to continue running on Windows XP, while your users enjoy the broader benefits of Windows 7. Download XP Mode and watch a video of it in action here. You can also use the Application Compatibility Toolkit 3.5 to evaluate and mitigate application-compatibility issues. Anything already running on Windows Vista should have no problems.

5: Incompatible Hardware

After the somewhat shaky launch of Windows Vista, a lot of IT pros are going to be concerned about the availability of device drivers and other essentials for running their existing hardware under Windows 7. They needn't worry. Windows 7 uses the same basic drivers as Windows Vista in most cases -- meaning hardware manufacturers have had years to migrate everything. True, some pre-Windows Vista hardware may not have drivers -- and that's something you want to figure out before you start your upgrade or migration. Check hardware vendor Web sites for drivers and compatibility information, and use the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit to inventory your computers for incompatible or problematic hardware.

4: Manual Labor

Seriously, nobody runs around the office installing copies of Windows from DVDs anymore. That kind of manual labor is not going to make your migration project a success. Instead, read up on the latest generation of Microsoft deployment tools. True, they come with more acronyms than a can of alphabet soup, but if you wade through all that you'll find mature, straightforward tools that can make even mass migrations much easier. The Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK) comes with the Deployment Image Servicing and Management Tool to help you manage your Windows 7 deployment images over the long term, and includes the User State Migration Tool to help migrate user data and preferences. Windows Deployment Services can dynamically provision device drivers, deploy virtual hard drive images and provide better support for x64-based hardware. Finally, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit helps you create images and automate OS and application installations as well as data migration and desktop configurations.

3: Missing Applications

Be aware that the Windows gallery applications -- Windows Mail, Messenger, Address Book, Photo Gallery and Movie Maker -- are not bundled in Windows 7. Note that they are available as a free download, called Windows Live Essentials. If you have users relying on those applications, now is a good time to start finding alternatives. For Personal Information Management, Microsoft Office Outlook is always an option.

2: Internet Explorer 8

Let's be clear: Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) should be hailed as an improvement, not an "issue." However, if you have poorly written intranet applications that depend on IE6-specific features and behavior, some of those may not operate 100 percent correctly with IE8. In general, IE8's compatibility mode will solve those problems, provided your users know when to turn it on (it's usually on by default for intranet addresses). However, IE8 really focuses on bringing IE into compliance with industry standards, so you may still run across an intranet app or two that doesn't behave quite right. Plan to test those intranet applications in advance so that you're not caught off-guard.

1: Volume Activation

This is the one that scares me the most. While Volume Activation is essentially unchanged from Windows Vista, a lot of folks skipped Vista, and hence never built a skill set around Volume Activation. Now's the time to do that, and you won't find it difficult. Many businesses will find themselves using Volume license keys rather than retail or multiple-activation keys -- and Volume keys offer better license management, so there's a benefit in using them. But they do require you to have a Volume Activation server up and running before you start Windows 7 installations.

Ready, Set, Deploy!

All in all, Windows 7 presents a fairly unchallenging upgrade -- even from Windows XP. You simply need to spend a little bit of time evaluating and planning so that you can avoid any nasty surprises. The Windows 7 Deployment FAQ and Step-by-Step Upgrade and Migration pages provide great information to help you avoid most of the pitfalls I've discussed. The product team blog provides some great insight on how and why Windows 7 came to be the way it is. And the TechNet Magazine article, "The 10 Things to do First for Windows 7," provides strategy and more tips designed to smooth migration to Windows7. Read up, plan and start your migration!

Don Jones, a co-founder of, where he writes regular technical content for IT professionals, and is a columnist for TechNet Magazine.