Scott Hanselman

Step-By-Step: How To "Upgrade" from Windows XP to Windows 7

August 04, 2009 Comment on this post [32] Posted in Reviews | Tools | Win7
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image You've likely heard that you can't straight upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. You can upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7, but not from XP to 7. Some folks who apparently have a pile of operating systems discs have proposed that one could upgrade from XP to Vista, then from Vista to Windows 7, but I think that's insane. Most PC experts will recommend you start fresh and "pave" your machine anyway. I think this is a hassle, but in the case of XP to 7, it's necessary.

I was asked to "upgrade" a relative's machine from Windows XP to Windows 7, so I figured this was a good time to write-up the experience in case it helps others.

This is a screenshot heavy post, so bear with me, this is a tale best told with pictures.

Disclaimer: I do work for Microsoft, but I don't work with the Win7 team so this is just one dude's opinion. If this walkthrough paralyzes your hamster or causes you any emotional distress, we never spoke and I don't know you. You found it on the intertubes for free, so what do you expect. Good luck.

My relative has a nice basic Dell desktop with a gig of RAM and a 100 gig HD. The machine is 3-4 years old, so I didn't think a Windows 7 install would be unreasonable.

First, I put my Windows 7 disc into the Windows XP machine and got this screen:


4 Personally, I wish that there was a "migrate your settings from Windows XP" button or something on this page. It's a great feature and it's not advertised enough.

I clicked "What to know before installing Windows."

The problem here, and with most OS installs regardless of vendor is that, at some point, reading and comprehension is required. Unless you're lucky enough to just click "next, next, next, finish," you need to read.

The instructions that show up at this point (shown at right) have a section on "Upgrading from Windows XP." In that section there's a link to which is the one-stop-shopping center for Upgrade Info.

Specifically, the section on Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 is what I needed.

The "Windows Easy Transfer" application is on the Windows 7 DVD in:


They probably named it migsetup.exe to make sure it wasn't named setup.exe and save some trouble with confused folks, but still, it was a smidge counter-intuitive.

Windows Easy Transfer

Here's the Windows XP machine running Windows Easy Transfer.



I've never see an "Easy Transfer cable" in the real world, but apparently they do exist on Amazon. Fortunately I had a small external hard drive, so I just used that since both the "old" and "new" computer were the same machine.

I was then asked this very tricky question, for which there is only one answer. ;)


Why yes, Windows Easy Transfer, this IS my old computer.

Next it found the 3 accounts on this XP machine as well as Shared Items and started tallying them up.

It spends some time (15 minutes or so in my case) estimating just how much non-Program data is on the machine.


In our case, it was about 15 gigs of Photos and general crap. It shows you what user has what stuff.


It also has a nice, but subtle, customize link under each name you should click on. You can be very specific as to the folders and settings you care about.

Hit next and wait a while. I waited about an hour, but it was telling me what was up the whole time.


It made a giant archive ".MIG" file on my portable hard drive.


Installing Windows 7

Next, I actually installed Windows 7. I decided to let Windows 7 format the hard drive so I could start from scratch. I could have just installed 7 over the top, but the hard drive was a bit untidy, so I just took the opportunity to start fresh.

I installed Windows 7 the regular way and created a single Administrator user to start with.

Next, I ran Easy Transfer from the Windows 7 Start Menu. At this point, remember that nothing has been transferred and I have a fresh Windows 7 machine.

Select that this is your new computer and pick the migration file from the external hard drive.


When you see the list of names in the migration file, click Customize. This allows you to map the old names to potentially new names/users on the new machine, or exclude names completely.

You'll have to wait a while again, I waited about an hour. After the process is done, you get the option for very detailed report. It shows not only what was transferred in detail but also a list of applications "you might want to install."


This was very helpful as it reminded me of the different apps I needed to get on this machine to make it ready for my relative.


It's true that this isn't an "upgrade" as it's a "migration" but an hour or so later I was all set and my relative had a machine with all the things they were used to exactly where they expected them to be. Documents, Photos, Accounts, all brought over cleanly. It even remembered that their daughter wasn't an admin and brought over the Parental Controls settings.

If you've got an XP machine and you're looking to go Windows 7, I recommend you at least give this built-in tool a look. It saved me a few hours of setup at least and brought over settings that I'd have had to recreate. Even usernames and passwords for iTunes and Zune and MSN Messenger came along.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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August 04, 2009 4:39
Any reason you didn't consider creating a new OS partition out of the free space, installing on that and then moving files over?
August 04, 2009 4:53
Nice post and it's good to get another perspective beyond the two obvious paths to upgrade, namely the pave my machine or upgrade twice via Vista options.

I had considered moving many more machines to Windows 7 until I read there is no way to upgrade from the release candidate to the final version. I can understand having no upgrade path from XP to Windows 7, but I don't understand why I can't just type in a license key when the final version is released? Needless to say I'll be holding off wasting time installing the OS until it's finally baked...

According to the latest reports, upgrades will run on your Windows 7 RC machine, but move your OS and files to a folder called windows.old, where they can be accessed by the clean install of Windows 7. Essentially MS saves you the step of backing up your machine to DVD or external drive, but otherwise you're starting from scratch with an upgrade that is necessary by March 1st 2010 (see

August 04, 2009 4:55
Nice write up. Very useful considering I am going to need to do this very thing next weekend. Would this migration pose any issues you're aware of for when the full release version of Windows 7 becomes publicly available in the fall? Would you then just do and "over the top" install of 7 over the beta? Also, any issues running Visual Studio 2008 on Windows 7 that you know of?
August 04, 2009 5:06
I did this on the RTM version. No issues so far. No issues at all with VS2008.
August 04, 2009 5:16
What was the processor speed on your relative's computer? I installed Win7 RC on my old dev box (1 gig AMD64 proc with 1 gig of RAM) and it seemed a little pokey starting programs.

Granted, I did install 32bit Win7. But 32bit XP worked much faster.
August 04, 2009 5:21
Did something happen to your last sentence? I don't mean to be nit-picky, but I was just curious how you ended that thought.
August 04, 2009 6:30
Back when Vista was released we got a box of Vista promo material that had an easy transfer cable. It was pretty neat but it really only worked for XP -> Vista. I loaned it to a friend thinking it would be able to do an XP -> XP transfer but no dice.

Anyhow, it would have been cool if they had an option to turn your existing XP install into a .vhd image to run inside of Virtual XP Mode. But I can't recommend strongly enough that people *pave* when upgrading *any* OS.
August 04, 2009 6:44
I am glad you wrote this post. I won't be switching soon exactly, but it's intriuging to see that it's not going to be a complete nightmare.
August 04, 2009 6:45
Very nice. I too wrote a post regarding migerating to Win7 from XP. thought after teh fact of installation. :) Mught not be as great as yours but may problems and their solutions are listed. Windows 7, Visual Studio 2008 and Sql Server 2005/2008 are made for each other…. well almost.
August 04, 2009 7:19
Is it possible to transfer program installations? (Don\t know my question makes sense with two entirely different windows!)
August 04, 2009 8:34
Scott, what was the Dell model name/number? I have a Dell Latitude D610 - not a dual-core. Wondering how it would perform...
August 04, 2009 8:38
It's an old Dell Dimension 8100. I'm finding that any decent Pentium 4+ with a gig of RAM does fine.
August 04, 2009 9:53
It's a shame it still can't do Application transfer too. It's one of the things still missing from the Windows competitive tick-sheet.
August 04, 2009 12:18
Well, I have been known in some circles as "crazy" because my computer is something that started up as a DOS3.1 machine, then Windows3.11 got installed on it, then an upgrade to Win96OSR2 was performed, afterwards I was somewhat forced into upgrading to Win98 and I resisted change quite a while until I finally did the XP upgrade. I have NEVER formatted my harddrive and started from scratch. So I am glad this upgrade to Win7 is possible without major issues.
August 04, 2009 12:24
Yep, that's crazy. But congrats! :)
August 04, 2009 15:27
This doesn't migrate non-OS apps though, does it? Microsoft Office? Outlook? Visual Studio? If a reinstall of apps is needed, I wouldn't consider it an upgrade - just a user file migration. I haven't used the process myself yet though, so perhaps I'm mistaken? (Hopefully)
August 04, 2009 19:14
Thanks for the info:) Just out of curiosity, I have an XP machine with a c: and d: drive. The d: drive is my app repository that i want left alone in case i have to format the c: drive. Is it possible to install win 7 on my c: drive without having to format or mess with the d: drive?
August 04, 2009 20:11
It doesn't sound like it migrates any apps at all. I do believe there are some 3rd party apps out there to do that though. Hopefully they will be updated to work with Win7 when it hits the shelves. I think MS is hurting adoption somewhat by not providing some sort of straight upgrade capability. I think the migration process might be beyond the capabilities of many home users, or at least they will think it is.

One note about your upgrade process: I know they're not too common yet, but if the machine being upgraded contains a solid state disk drive, I would let Win7 delete the partition and re-create it, rather than just reformatting. This will ensure that the partition is aligned properly on the disk, which Win7 does but XP does not. Not aligning the partition can hinder performance on an SSD.

August 04, 2009 22:28
Brad - It doesn't migrate programs, but it does to all settings. So, after I reinstalled Office (15 minutes) all the settings were already present.

Pat - Yes, totally. Just don't tell Win7 about your D drive. You can format the C: or, if you like, just install on top of it.

Mike - Nope, it doesn't. It brings settings. And yes, Win7 is WAY smarter about SSDs, so I'd always defer to it.
August 04, 2009 23:12
Cool. More questions if you don't mind :)... does it only migrate settings for Microsoft products? And did it migrate product keys? So, it would "know" the Office Suite, VS, TweetDeck, etc... keys? Or do the products need to be reactivated? If they do need to be reactivated, I hope Microsoft accounts for this and enables the additional online activation to smooth that process.
August 05, 2009 10:06
So umm... your relative works for Microsoft? And if not, how did they get the Win7 RTM build? ;-)
August 05, 2009 10:57
Thanks for sharing that tip ;)

Windows 7 embeds II7 while Windows XP doesn't. I am thrill of joy :p that VS2008 works as expected, but what about II7 ? And II7 and MVC with that migration ?

Thanks in advance and. long life to Scott ;)
August 07, 2009 1:47
For those (like me) who've accumulated numerous apps, I strongly recommend running Belarc Advisor first. It does the best system inventory I've seen, and I find it really helpful for migrations. (Belarc Advisor is free and I have no connection to it except as a grateful fan.)
August 07, 2009 2:32
Wow - at first I thought I wish you had posted this one day earlier since I just did this on my wife's EEE PC last night. After reading this I am glad I did not even try this - what a royal pain. I found the same links, but could not locate the easy transfer utility (7" EEE screen wasn't helping) and decided to just wing it. I just ran the install and did not format or delete everything. Win7 just moves all the old data into a windows.old folder and I copied all her files and favorites out of there in 2 minutes after the Win7 install completed. Took about a quarter of the time. Unless you have some pretty complex stuff going on I would bypass this "ease" transfer tool.

August 07, 2009 3:27
Thanks, I just couldn't find the darn thing!
August 13, 2009 23:47
sorry for the thick headed slowness (surely your are used to it now) you are saying, migrate all settings and files then simply reinstall apps and the user environment will be back juiced on the goodness of win7? my xp harddrive from my old laptop is still in the bin. are you saying i can rescue it all?
August 14, 2009 1:40
I had considered moving many more machines to Windows 7 until I read there is no way to upgrade from the release candidate to the final version.

Yes you can. I did. Look here:
August 14, 2009 4:35
If you want to transfer applications, take a look at PCMover from as they're touting it as a full way to upgrade from XP to Windows 7. I've used PCMover to upgrade from XP to Vista and to transplant from an XP user on an old PC to the same Vista user on a new PC and all the applications came over without a hitch except for a few printer driver setups. Office, IE, Firefox, and other 3rd party progreams worked fine.
August 14, 2009 9:54
Jake: Yep...but you have to start up that old laptop drive and run the migration wizard from xp.
August 16, 2009 2:12
I take it this will not work when going from 32-bit (XP) to 64-bit (win7)?
September 21, 2009 14:19
Is there a way to virtualize my existing XP system, to be run as XP mode under win7?
October 06, 2009 17:09
OK here is another problem with this whole "reinstall everything" requirement, and why I will just stick with XP for now:

I have the Home Basic Office (Word, Excel, Outlook). It comes with a 3-machine license. I've used all of those installs on my 3 home computers - 2 running Vista, one running XP.

Now, if I do a fresh install of Windows 7 on my XP machine, the Office disks will refuse to install, saying that I have already used them on 3 machines. Why on earth, after the Vista debacle, would MS want to make it more difficult to get XP users to upgrade? This is clearly not thought out...

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.