Mar 28, 2009 (03:03 AM EDT)
Windows XP's Final Days: A Practical Guide
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Windows XP's days have been numbered for a long time now. A long, long time. Just when it seemed like the end was in sight for Microsoft's flagship OS, it's had its lifespan granted one extension after another -- first due to popular demand, then due to the rise of the netbook (where XP turned out to be a far better fit than Vista).
Now, with Windows 7 well on the way, riding a cresting wave of positive feedback, XP looks like it's finally on its way out.
That doesn't mean everyone still using XP now is instantly going to toss it and grab up a copy of Windows 7. Historically, most people upgrade to a new version of Windows by buying a new PC, and not by picking up Windows in an off-the-shelf package.
And despite Microsoft's April 14th deadline for providing free support for Windows XP, companies still using XP will continue to do so for a while to come, especially if they have no immediate incentive to upgrade (e.g., their current PC works fine, thank you).
So what to do in the time between now and the eventual-and-probably-inevitable move to Windows 7? Protect your existing PC investment, prepare for what's next, and don't let anything derail you along the way.
Protect Your Existing PC
The first thing to do is protect your existing Windows XP installation -- keep it in top shape so that between then and now, you have as little as possible to worry about.
1. Clean up the worst of the mess. If you've been wrestling with spyware, viruses, or other annoyances, now's the time to get rid of as much of it as possible in one swoop. Depending on the level of confidence you have with doing such things, you might want to simply opt for a full system restore. Once you create a solid baseline to work from, then you can also elect to create a full-system backup as an additional safety measure.
2. Get rid of everything you really don't need. This wouldn't be a bad time to take a stroll through your installed programs and re-evaluate what you use and what you don't. Many of us -- me included! -- have a bad habit of littering our PCs with things we've installed, tried out, lost interest in, and completely forgotten about. Most of these things applications are harmless, but a few of them leave behind device drivers or other oddities that can sap performance or spur unexpected behaviors. Case in point: commercial CD/DVD burning suites, many of which are horribly overblown and install loads of (generally unneeded) device drivers.
3. Don't install anything that doesn't need to be there. Once you get things stabilized, don't jeopardize what you have. If you have to add programs to the system for whatever reason, consider using apps that don't require a formal installation to run properly, (as opposed to apps you just unpack into a directory and run). This minimizes the chances that something else will get messed up (e.g., a damaged Registry, conflicting system settings, etc.)
4. Protect against future damage. In XP, the best way to do this is to limit the ways malware can get a toehold. Create a regular-user account for daily work and use the admin account for changing system settings only. You can also use a program like sudowin to allow incremental administrative access on the order of Vista's UAC.
5. Make sure you have your system-restore discs. The exact format for the system-restore discs may vary. Some companies (Alienware is one) typically include an actual Windows XP installation CD; others (Sony) include a utility that builds restore discs from a hidden partition on the PC; and so on. If you received a manufactured disc with the PC and it went missing on you, call the PC makers and ask them to send you a replacement. Do this as soon as possible, as many of these folks are not replenishing their stock of such discs (which are manufactured items, not CD-Rs).
Aside from letting you perform a complete reinstall of XP, system-restore discs also allow you to perform an in-place repair of the OS. In the event the OS is damaged, you can repair it without having to reinstall everything and lose your applications and data in the process.
6. Make a full-system image backup. If you don't have your restore discs -- or if you do have them and just want to save yourself the trouble of reinstalling everything if you have to wipe and reload -- then a full-system image is pretty hard to beat. I wrote about some tools that can do this here. Note that to make a full system image you'll typically need a second hard drive with plenty of space on it. An externally attached drive should do the job, but a secondary internal drive will also work nicely.
No Direct Path To 7
Once you've taken action to keep your existing XP system solid, the next logical step is to plan for the eventual upgrade. If you're thinking about a direct upgrade from XP to Windows 7 -- i.e., installing Windows 7 on top of XP -- you'll need to think again. An XP machine cannot be upgraded directly to Windows 7, period: it has to be upgraded first to Vista, and then to Windows 7, a process that most people are likely to shy away from.
I don't blame them. An OS upgrade is a notoriously flaky procedure, especially if you're upgrading a whole raft of third-party drivers and software along with the OS itself. The idea of performing not just one but two upgrade installations on the same instance of the OS is difficult to swallow for IT pros and regular users alike.
If you install 7 on a machine currently running XP (as a replacement for XP) three options are available:
The first option is the most hassle, and may well not even be a requirement if you have enough space elsewhere on the system. If you do, then you can go with option #2 -- essentially, a dual-boot arrangement, with Windows 7's boot loader taking over for the XP boot loader but allowing you to boot either OS interchangeably. This option is the safest in terms of preserving your old setup, since it's still available and running.
Option #3 works best if you have the space on your native Windows drive for another OS install; the Windows 7 installer will tell you if there's enough room available to do this. Once 7 is set up, you can copy your user data and delete the Windows.old directory at your leisure.
Windows Easy Transfer
Most people moving from XP to Windows 7 won't buy a copy of the OS -- they'll be getting a whole new system with Windows 7 preinstalled on it, and migrating their data and apps. With each copy of Windows shipped is included a utility that streamlines the process of moving personal data from one PC to another: the Windows Easy Transfer tool, which is used on both the old and new machines to migrate your user data and documents.
A copy of Windows Easy Transfer is in the \support\migwiz directory on the Windows 7 installation DVD. Pop the DVD into your old PC, run migwiz.exe, and follow the prompts. The migration can be accomplished across a network (probably your best option), by using a USB Easy Transfer Cable (if you have one), or by using a hard drive or USB drive to store the data to be migrated.
Note that Easy Transfer can also be used if you're installing Windows 7 on the same machine -- you'd save the data to a disk first (either a hard drive or USB drive), install Windows 7, and then perform the data-restore operation on the same machine.
One thing Windows Easy Transfer does not handle is moving applications between instances of Windows. An app of the scope and size of, say, Microsoft Office can't be simply relocated to another computer by copying folders -- it has to be installed from the original discs, not to mention registered to that PC.
Take an inventory of what's installed so you'll know what to reinstall when you have your Windows 7 machine up and running. A quick way to do this is with NirSoft's MyUninstaller, a freeware utility which lets you dump out a complete list of all formally installed applications to a text, XML or HTML file. This gives you a manifest to follow when you want to reinstall what's needed. If you can't remember product keys for Office and the like, the same fellow's also written a tool to dump product keys for many common MS applications.
Another thing to keep in mind is applications that aren't formally installed, but are on the computer anyway -- like the PortableApps collection of programs. These can be moved by hand by simply copying folders, but probably won't show up in the above inventory, so be mindful of them when you do.
Finally, another thing that doesn't tend to get migrated automatically is fonts. If you're like me, you've probably built up quite a collection of free and for-pay fonts over the years, and the last thing you want is to have them disappear because you left them behind. Go into the Fonts folder on your XP installation and copy everything there to somewhere safe before doing the migration.
If you're migrating peripherals from your old Windows XP system, take the time to make sure they're still supported in Windows 7. Odds are they should be: just about any peripheral that works with XP should work in Windows 7 as-is, with little or no tweaking.
One thing to be wary of is 32/64-bit compatibility. Some devices that have 32-bit device drivers don't have a corresponding 64-bit driver, and won't work in the 64-bit edition of Windows. Printers and scanners (especially multifunction devices) are two of the most common culprits in this regard; hard drives or displays should be okay. If you're already running the 64-bit version of XP and everything works, then you can rest easy.
Conclusions: A Good Home For An Old PC
Once you're finished with your XP machine, what then? Don't put it out on the curb and let it go into a landfill, whatever you do. It may not be state-of-the-art anymore -- but for people with minimal needs, a computer is a computer.
If the existing hard drive is antiquated, replace it -- something you can typically accomplish for about $50 or so -- and you can generally boost the speed of the machine a fair amount. Throw in a collection of free applications, or replace Windows entirely with a Linux distribution if the recipient is inclined. XP may be on the way out, but that's no reason someone else can't make the most of it for a little while to come.