What to expect during an XP migration

Many companies aren't rushing to migrate to XP due to hurdles that have forced a few enterprises to give up halfway through. Here are some migration issues that may make you think twice before exploring XP, as well as a rare XP success story.

By Jeffrey Schwartz

Migrating client PCs to Windows XP this year will likely take longer, and cost more, than you’d expect. Like any major Windows upgrade, XP comes with its own unique set of headaches: Many tech shops find that applications don’t work or connect and that upgrade budgets are blown thanks to additional costs for storage, memory, and peripherals.

Yet, as other tech professionals attest, the migration effort can go smoothly and result in big returns on investment. Those that have upgraded successfully cite compelling reasons to take the plunge: XP is more stable and reliable than 2000 and earlier Windows versions; it features improved security and policy management; it offers valuable support for Microsoft’s .NET XML-based Web services; and it has extended remote access control.

Avoid these pitfalls when preparing for XP
The first step toward a successful XP implementation is using the right version: Windows XP Professional. IT and business leaders who try to cut corners and go with the Home Edition quickly discover that the Home version isn’t designed to network to domains, and so it isn’t a viable option.

Migration teams should know up front that the XP interface is substantially different than previous Windows versions and that the new GUI may be jarring to some. It’s a good idea to get familiar with the GUI before a crisis hits. Users do have the option, however, to revert to the classic Windows GUI mode for navigating systems and networks.

The costs of migrating to XP are essentially no different than any other Windows upgrade. But do plan on adding more memory—most techies agree that 256 MB is optimal these days and is the minimal acceptable configuration for today’s typical office worker.

Also keep in mind that while XP is designed to trick applications into "thinking" that they are running on the version of Windows for which they were originally designed, that feature doesn’t always work. While this feature may be improved over time, “this is a challenge for Microsoft,” says analyst Al Gillen of IDC, an IT industry research firm.

Few enterprises are rushing to migrate to XP, as the results of a recent TechRepublic poll point out.

Migrating is no easy feat at times
On the client side, the majority of enterprises moving to Windows XP are typically upgrading from Windows 95/98/NT rather than Windows 2000, according to Gillen. But no matter what the upgrade scenario, it seems that there are plenty of headaches for anyone migrating to XP.

Bill Dunklau, president of TransWeb, a Dallas-based Web site developer, says he experienced various compatibility issues after upgrading from 2000 to XP. For example, he couldn’t get his Palm desktop to synchronize under XP, even though it worked with 2000. After numerous support calls to Microsoft, Dunklau discovered the root of the problem: The XP system disconnected a com port and a USB port.

Although the migration troubles meant numerous weeks of discussions with Microsoft’s technical support center, Dunklau is still very happy to have XP in place.

“We really struggled for weeks, but I have to give the [Microsoft] technical support people glowing reports—they even called me back [to see how things were going],” he says.

Dunklau says the migration was worth the effort, as his system performs better with the upgraded client. “I actually found it a little faster when I upgraded to XP,” he says, adding, "and it’s a lot snappier than Windows 2000.”

Not worth the effort for some
Some users, however, do give up on an XP migration after hitting hurdles—especially when they can’t get XP to work on a network. Some have actually chosen to uninstall the new OS and revert back to the previous system. That’s exactly the path Steve Begley, president of media presentation and training firm Begley Consulting, took after attempting to migrate to XP.

“I gave up. I threw it out, reformatted the disk, and put in Windows 2000,” says Begley, who tried upgrading a PC on a small network of five Windows 98-based PCs.

Begley also attempted to upgrade an HP Pavilion running Windows Millennium Edition, which he says was working fine on the network prior to the upgrade. He notes that before installing the software, he ran the compatibility test to make sure his system and network could support Windows XP.

However, once he installed Windows XP, the PC could no longer see the other computer—despite picking names recommended by Microsoft. Begley insists the other PCs were all logged in to the network correctly.

“I couldn’t get on. I couldn’t use Internet Connection Sharing; then I went around with the disk and put the client side of Internet Connection Sharing on the other computers, and then it screwed them up as well,” he laments.

He tried replacing hardware, as well as working with Microsoft’s technical support staff to try different registry settings—all to no avail.

“I was really frustrated because I had done all the things that they had already suggested,” he says.

Other tech professionals report varying levels of success when attempting to connect to networks via XP. While many situations involved connecting peer-to-peer networks with multiple systems, even those trying to connect to file and database servers report big hurdles. One IT consultant says he had to map individual drives, folders, and specific files, and then bridge all the connections. Even then, the system behaved sporadically, the IT consultant reports.

Remote access an XP plus
Yet not every XP experience is a nightmare tale. Some XP converts are embracing the new OS features.

Remote access had always been “kluge” for Nova Scotia-based DDA Computer Consultants Ltd., but thanks to XP’s Remote Desktop, principal Patrick d'Entremont can now access his office system from home—and essentially from anywhere else—if he has the XP setup CD on hand.

To make a remote connection from home via XP, all d’Entremont needed, in addition to the XP OS, was a secure static IP address.

When d’Entremont isn’t at home, he can access his workstation from any other PC hooked to the Internet—even if it’s running an older version of Windows. All he has to do is put the XP setup CD into the non-XP machine, and instead of installing the OS, choose to create a remote desktop. In just about two minutes, he can then access his own PC via the Internet.

“I just take over my computer remotely, so I find that really works well,” d'Entremont says.

Where XP meets .NET
Those considering the XP migration should be forewarned that some situations may require upgrades to Microsoft’s new .NET server platform, due out later this year.

For example, if a company is using Windows 2000 server to apply group policies, there are components of XP that are not managed by Windows 2000 Active Directory Group policy objects, IDC analyst Gillen points out.

“For example, if you wanted to manage the personal firewalls included in XP, you can’t do it from Windows 2000 server,” Gillen explains, as the latter doesn’t support that function.

Likewise, if you wanted to block someone from running real-time video conferencing on demand, you can’t manage that from Windows 2000, either, he adds. As a result, “there’s no group policy object you can check off that says 'prevent instant messaging' or 'prevent someone from running a video conference,'” Gillen says. “The reason that’s important is an IT manager might want to prevent people from gobbling up corporate bandwidth.”

That complication is less likely to surface, Gillen says, for companies that are not in a Windows 2000 Server and Active Directory environment. “It’s easier because you don’t have to deal with these group policy issues at all,” Gillen said.

Jeffrey Schwartz is a longtime technology editor and writer who specializes in Microsoft coverage and technologies.

Wondering what XP really costs?
As part of our continual coverage of XP issues, we’ve pinned down exactly what the XP migration will cost and why you may want to buy now instead of later. Check out why time is money in XP migrations.


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