Tips for Effective Windows XP Migration

A collective groan was heard across IT departments worldwide when Microsoft announced it would end official support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014.

Although XP is more than 12 years old — a lifetime in technology years — it continues to be a darling among IT departments for its stability and ease of use. With no official support after April 2014, however, the only option for customers is to migrate to another version of Windows.

This article will help you make the right choices for Windows XP migration. We’ll survey the available options (Windows 7 and 8) and discuss the key issues you must keep in mind when making the switch.

Windows 7 or Windows 8?

Before undergoing a Windows XP migration, you must choose between Windows 7 and Windows 8. This is not as straightforward as it appears; the newest version of Windows isn’t always the best one (we’re looking at you, Windows Vista). Windows 7 and Windows 8 each have their respective pros and cons.

Consider Switching to Windows 7 if you:

  • Work mostly with desktops and use another OS — Android or iOS — on your mobile and tablet devices.
  • Want the familiar Windows UI with minimum clutter.
  • Value stability over future-readiness.

Consider Switching to Windows 8 if you:

  • Want a computing experience that translates equally well across desktop and tablet devices.
  • Want a future-proof OS that will be supported for many more years.
  • Use SkyDrive and Office 365 extensively.

Key Issues With Windows XP Migration

Regardless of whether you choose Windows 7 or 8, there are a few common issues you’ll run into during every Windows XP migration:

  • Clean install: It’s not possible to “upgrade” (i.e., keep existing files and settings) from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8. You can only do a “clean install,” which will remove all existing data on the primary disk drive. Note that Windows XP users with SP3 can still upgrade to Windows 8 but can keep only their personal files.
  • Hardware requirements: Both Windows 7 and 8 demand more hardware resources than XP. For example, Windows XP requires just 64MB of RAM; Windows 7 demands at least 1GB of RAM.
  • Software incompatibility: Windows XP could easily run 16-bit Windows applications or MS-DOS programs (which can still be found in many IT departments). Windows 7 and 8, however, do not offer native support for these applications. Instead, they utilize a virtual machine running Windows XP (called Windows XP Mode), which can affect application performance.
  • IE6 support: There is no official support for IE6 in either Windows 7 or 8. This means you’ll have to update your IE6-dependent applications to work on IE7 and up.

Tips for Effective Windows XP Migration

Follow these tips for a smoother Windows XP migration experience:

  • Perform a hardware and software audit to identify potential incompatibilities. Microsoft offers an Application Compatibility Toolkit to streamline this process. You can also download the Microsoft Upgrade Assistant to test your hardware when undergoing a Windows XP migration to Windows 8.
  • Carefully consider the Windows 7 and Windows 8 upgrade paths and identify any potential issues.
  • Automate the Windows XP migration by using tools such as Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. This can help administrators bundle together updates, drivers and settings in a single image for faster deployment.
  • Reduce application dependencies by simplifying the desktop environment. If possible, consider deploying virtual desktop environments across the organization. This might be more expensive initially but will result in higher savings over time by facilitating future migrations.
  • Last, but not least, create training plans to familiarize users with the new Windows 7/8 UI and features.

With no official support in six months, Windows XP migration is a necessary, if painful, task. The only way to ease the burden is to take advantage of robust Windows XP migration plans and automation tools across the organization.

Share your Windows XP migration tips (or horror stories) in the comments.