Microsoft may not have made it easy for Windows XP users to upgrade to the latest OS, Windows 7, but it has provided a number of tools to help you migrate.

However, you may not want to rely on those tools - whether that's because the abundance of choice makes it hard to narrow down which is best for you, or you find it complex to use the tools, or learn which order they should be used in.

If that's the case, there are a number of alternatives to choose from. We've taken a look at some of the apps out there.

Note: If you aren't aware of the bevy of migration help from Microsoft, check out my article 'Ready for Windows 7? Here's how to deploy it right', which covers tools like the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP 4.0) and the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT 5.5).

The latter includes tools such as the Standard User Analyser (SUA), the User State Migration Toolkit (USMT 4.0), the Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7, and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT 2010).

So what can you do to make this migration smoother for yourself? There are a handful of important factors to consider, including the following:

  • Can your existing hardware support Windows 7, or will you be moving to a new system completely?
  • How to handle the personality move (desktop background, personal files saved locally, settings) of the desktops?
  • What is the application support (or lack thereof) between XP and Windows 7?

I'm not endorsing one option over another here, as this isn't a side-by-side product comparison.

These are just a few tools and solutions that are worth investigating, and by no means an exhaustive list. With those caveats, here are non-Microsoft tools to consider in your Windows 7 migration that may be easier than Microsoft's options.

Zinstall XP7: The coexistence migrator

This one really intrigued me. The idea is simple: If your system can be upgraded to Windows 7, do the installation and let the upgrader create the Windows.old file (which is what happens when you try to upgrade XP to Windows 7).

Zinstall will then create a virtual XP on the Windows 7 system that mimics your old XP to the letter.

The entire system is transferred to the new one. Applications, files, background settings, and so on are all pulled into this alternate 'channel' to which you can switch back and forth with an icon in the system tray.

The two channels keep Windows 7 clean from potential harm from the old system's files and components that might otherwise cause system instability.

Users get a brand-new Windows 7 system (which folks love like the smell of a new car) but with the crutch of their XP systems virtually running all their comfort-zone apps, files, and so forth.

Using Group Policy, you can move over those XP apps that run under Windows 7 and leave in the XP channel the ones that aren't. Users can copy over their data when they are ready (it is a simple cut, or copy, and paste from XP to Windows 7).

If you wanted to migrate users to new hardware, you would use an in-house server on which you install the Zinstall server software and let it handle the migration of multiple systems.

Note: The engineer recommended migrating 100 systems at a time to ensure a smooth migration. Pricing starts at $89 (£53) per system and slides down with bulk purchasing.

Small business IT advice

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  1. We look at third-party alternatives to Microsoft's tools
  2. Laplink PCmover
  3. Kace Kbox