Utility Spotlight: Windows Easy Transfer for Windows 7

This utility helps you transfer old files and settings like user accounts, browser settings and application settings when migrating users from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Lance Whitney

Of all the challenges facing you as you prepare to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7, a big one is applications, files and settings. Microsoft doesn’t offer in-place upgrades for this type of move the way it does for moving from Windows Vista to Windows 7.

So when making the switch from Windows XP, you typically have to install Windows 7 from scratch, reinstall all the applications, and then copy your user’s documents, settings and other customizations. Microsoft might not offer a direct upgrade path, but it does have a tool that can help with the last step.

Upgrades Made Easy

The free Windows Easy Transfer for Windows 7 utility lets you migrate files and settings from a user’s old Windows XP computer to a new Windows 7 machine. It copies user accounts, documents, browser favorites, e-mail and application settings, among other types of files.

The Windows Easy Transfer tool is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP (as well as 32-bit and 64-bit Windows Vista). It’s included with Windows 7, so there’s no need to install it on the new machine. Windows Easy Transfer has been around for a few years, but the latest version adds a couple of new features that make it more user-friendly than its predecessors.

To download the tool onto the Windows XP computer, surf to the Microsoft Windows Easy Transfer download page and choose the version based on your current OS. Run the downloaded file to install the program and launch it from the Windows Easy Transfer for Windows 7 shortcut off the Start menu.

The Welcome screen starts by explaining the type of information you can transfer. You then decide how you want to transfer the files and settings by choosing one of three different modes (see Figure 1).

You can use an Easy Transfer cable, which you connect directly between two PCs; the network, which requires that both PCs are visible on the same network (wired or wireless); or an external hard drive or USB flash drive, which creates an Easy Transfer file you can apply to the new computer. After you choose one of the options, confirm that the files and settings you wish to transfer are on your current PC.

Figure 1 Windows Easy Transfer offers three ways to transfer items

Figure 1 Windows Easy Transfer offers three ways to transfer items.

The next steps vary depending on the mode of transfer you selected. If you opted to create a file on an external disk, the tool will immediately begin scanning your computer for the files to copy.

If you picked the cable option, you’ll need to connect an Easy Transfer cable to each PC, open Windows Easy Transfer on the new Windows 7 computer, and then choose the cable option. (You’ll find the program’s shortcut under All Programs | Accessories | System Tools.) If Windows Easy Transfer isn’t already running, plugging in the cable will either open it or prompt you to open it. The connection should quickly establish itself and start scanning for the files to copy.

If you chose the network option, a key number will display on the Windows XP computer. Then you’ll have to launch Windows Easy Transfer on the new Windows 7 machine. Open the program and choose the network option. After you enter the key number, the new machine will look for the old PC on the network and flash a message when the two have discovered each other and begin scanning.

At the completion of any of those three scenarios, once the utility has completed scanning your old Windows XP computer, it will display the user accounts that contain the files and settings to be included in the transfer. Under the external drive option, you’ll continue to run the tool on the old computer; under the cable and network scenarios, you’ll run Windows Easy Transfer on the new computer.

You can view and even modify the selection of the specific files by clicking on a Customize link. Windows Easy Transfer displays a file manager (see Figure 2) in which you can see all the folders and files on your PC with the items to be included already selected. You can then select or deselect any item to include or exclude specific folders and files. The program tries to be thorough in choosing what content to copy, but you should review the files from the file manager so you can better control what’s actually transferred.

Figure 2 A file manager lets you view and modify the selection of files included in the transfer

Figure 2 A file manager lets you view and modify the selection of files included in the transfer.

From here, the process will again vary depending on the transfer mode. For the External media option, after you’ve chosen and verified all of the files to be transferred, click on the Next button where you can choose to password protect the file. The tool will prompt you for a name and location for the transfer file. Although this option is meant for removable media, you can also store the Easy Transfer file on a network share if you don’t want to connect an external disk to the PC.

After completing this type of transfer, apply the Easy Transfer file to the new Windows 7 PC. To do this on the new machine, open Windows Easy Transfer and choose the external hard disk or USB flash drive option. Then pick the option to transfer files and settings to this computer. Answer Yes to the question of whether the tool has already saved your files. You then browse to the external media or network share where you saved the transfer file to select it.

For the cable and network options, after choosing the files and settings to transfer, click on the Transfer button to trigger the process. After the transfer is complete, you can view a report on the new PC to learn which items were transferred, which applications native to Windows XP aren’t included with Windows 7, and which third-party programs are installed on the old PC, but not yet on the new one. You can also view those reports by clicking on the shortcut for Windows Easy Transfer Reports under All Programs | Accessories | System Tools.

Windows Easy Transfer should be one of the last processes you run when migrating from a Windows XP computer to a Windows 7 machine. For the program to be effective, you’ll want to be sure that the applications on the Windows 7 PC mimic those on the Windows XP computer. I think you’ll find that Windows Easy Transfer can save you a fair amount of time and work as you migrate your users to the new world of Windows 7.

Lance Whitneyis a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.