Analysis: Upgrading From XP To Vista To Windows 7? Good Luck

That recommendation did not go unheeded as reviewers in the CRN Test Center set out to find the most efficient and easiest way to get Windows 7 deployed on XP clients.

But after a series of tests on older and newer hardware, a number of noteworthy issues emerged: Microsoft's statement that if hardware works with Windows Vista it will work with Windows 7 appears to be, at best, misleading; hardware that is older, but not near the end of most business life cycles, could be impossible to upgrade; and the addition of an extra step in the upgrade process does add complexity and more time not needed in previous upgrade cycles.

The Test Center came to this conclusion after an attempt at a simulated enterprise upgrade and other evaluations of the process on different pieces of PC hardware.

The initial plan: Create a master image on a PC running Windows XP, then upgrade that PC from XP to Vista Service Pack 1 to Windows 7 beta. Then use an imaging utility like Acronis' Snap Deploy to push the image out to other XP clients (all on the same hardware as the imaged machine) and overwrite the XP operating system on them with the Windows 7 image.

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While we were prepared to run into some problems with creating a Windows 7 image and pushing it out over a network, we did not foresee the headaches involved in upgrading a single PC from XP to Vista to Windows 7. And believe us, there were headaches.

Using a three-and-a-half-year-old ThinkPad T43 as the master image, the first step in the process—the transition from XP to Vista—was relatively smooth with just two notable issues: After the required reboot once Vista Service Pack 1 was installed, most of the pre-existing data and applications were intact. However, the AVG antimalware client installed would not fire up. Also, Windows Update would not run. We put those issues to the side and continued on.

The next step was to get Windows 7 installed. Since Vista upgraded with minimal issues, the anticipation was that the Windows 7 beta upgrade would be similar.

No such luck.

The installation, in and of itself, took place without incident. Before the actual installation began, running the compatibility report warned of issues with Infrared and Synaptic pointing devices on the ThinkPad. There also was a caution about two, third-party VPN clients that were installed.

No biggie, right? Wrong. After installation, the laptop would not fully boot into Windows 7. It booted fine in Safe Mode, yet the offending driver, file or service that caused the screen to go back, and caused the hard-drive activity to wind down to a barely discernible pulse, could not be identified after almost two days of troubleshooting.

Yes, this is an older, though not ancient, system we were trying to upgrade. Yet, it boggles the mind that the laptop upgraded fairly easy to Vista Service Pack 1 and then flat-lined with Windows 7. So much for the Microsoft mantra "If it works in Vista, it will work in Windows 7."

A second attempt to create a master image was made on another T43 laptop (to rule out any hardware issues). This time, Vista was upgraded to Service Pack 2 beta, and all drivers that had newer versions were upgraded.

After Windows 7 was installed, Windows forced the system back to Vista, citing that the version of Windows trying to be installed was not supported.

At least we were spared the work of rolling back.

A testing of XP to Vista to Windows 7 on a custom-built desktop, with newer components including an AMD quad-core Athlon and motherboard, went smoothly. Yet, how many businesses have the option in these economic times to purchase spanking-new hardware? Why could we upgrade to Vista and not to Windows 7? Further examination will continue.

Yes, the software is in beta. However, support for XP is ending soon. It's clear that VARs and IT professionals will need to do a considerable amount of planning and testing before tackling an upgrade to Windows 7.