Move your entire Windows XP installation into Windows 7 with Zinstall XP7

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to use Zinstall XP7 to move your Windows XP installation onto Windows 7.

If you are still using Microsoft Windows XP but thinking of moving to Windows 7, you're probably feeling a bit apprehensive about the project. What if I told you that you could convert your entire Windows XP installation (data files and applications) into a virtual machine that you could then run inside Windows 7? Well, you can do just exactly that by using a unique product called Zinstall XP7.

Zinstall XP7 is a product designed to make it possible for Windows XP users to migrate/upgrade their existing systems to Windows 7. With Zinstall XP7, you can move your Windows XP installation, intact, from an older computer to a newer computer already running Windows 7 as well as revive your Windows XP installation after performing a Windows XP to Windows 7 Custom installation procedure on your existing computer. Zinstall calls this latter method an in-place migration, and it employs a truly unique process, which I'll describe in detail.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use Zinstall XP7 to move your Windows XP installation into Windows 7. As I do, I'll focus on the single computer, in-place migration procedure.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

What is Zinstall XP7?

Zinstall XP7 is one of a family of products designed to make it easy to migrate your existing Windows XP installation into Windows 7 where it will essentially run as a virtual computer. If you plan to migrate a few Windows XP systems into Windows 7, you'll want to use Zinstall XP7.

Zinstall XP7 sells for $89 and can be obtained on the Zinstall site. If you will be migrating 100 or more systems, you should investigate the Zinstall Enterprise Server edition. The server edition sells for $1,799 and includes 11 migration licenses. Additional migration license packs (10 and 25) are also available.

While the Zinstall XP7 product carries the XP moniker in its name, Zinstall XP7 also supports Windows Vista and Windows 7, from the Basic edition to the Ultimate edition, and also works for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. (For example, you can use Zinstall XP7 to migrate from Windows XP Professional 32-bit to Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.) Furthermore, each operating system is supported as migration source or as migration target.


In order to ensure a successful migration, there are several tasks that you'll want to perform on your Windows XP system in preparation for the operation. Let's take a closer look.

  • Hardware Compatibility: In order to perform the migration operation on a single computer, the hardware of the Windows XP system must be able to support Windows 7. If you are not sure if your hardware is on par with Windows 7's requirements, you can download and run Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.
  • Backup: You'll want to back up your system using Windows XP's Backup Utility or a third-party disk imaging tool, such as EASEUS Todo Backup, which is a free package that I used for my test configuration. (You can read a review and download Todo Backup on the CNET site.) That way if anything goes awry, you can restore your Windows XP system and get right back to work. Just to be on the safe side, you may also want to back up all your data on CD/DVD or on an external hard disk. While it may sound like overkill, having an extra backup of your data will give you peace of mind.
  • Optimization: You'll want to make sure that your Windows XP system and hard disk is in tip-top shape by running Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter. Doing so will help make the operation run quickly and smoothly. By running Disk Cleanup, all unnecessary files will be removed, such as trash in the Recycle Bin and Temporary Internet Files. By running Disk Defragmenter, your hard disk will be ready for optimal performance.
  • Windows Update: You'll want to run Windows Update on your Windows XP system and make absolutely sure that all current updates are downloaded and installed.
  • Security Software: The folks at Zinstall have noted that many antivirus and firewall products can interfere with Zinstall during the actual migration procedure. As such, you should disable any antivirus and firewall products on your Windows XP system before you begin. Keep in mind that if the migration procedure fails, you are given the opportunity to send a diagnostic report to the Zinstall Support Team, who will then offer to provide a live, remote support session to fix the problem. (I found the folks at the Zinstall Support Team to be prompt, courteous, and knowledgeable.)

Window XP to Windows 7 upgrade

As you may know, when you insert a Windows 7 Upgrade DVD into a Windows XP system, you will be performing what Microsoft calls a Custom installation. A Custom installation is not designed to migrate your programs, data files, or settings into Windows 7, and as such it is also referred to as a clean installation for that reason. However, a Custom installation does in fact save your entire Windows XP configuration in a folder on your hard disk called Windows.old.

Using their years of accumulated knowledge in enterprise IT, virtualization, and computer forensics, the folks at Zinstall have figured out a way to use the data stored in the Windows.old folder to revive and recreate a virtual copy of your original Windows XP installation. With this in mind, let's begin with a look at the Windows 7 installation procedure.

Within the first couple of steps of the Windows 7 installation procedure, you'll see the Which Type of Installation Do You Want? prompt, Select the Custom option, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

When you insert Windows 7 Upgrade DVD into a Windows XP system, you must select the Custom option.
After you choose the Windows XP partition, you'll see the confirmation dialog box shown in Figure B. As you can see, the information displayed indicates that the Windows.old folder will be created. Once you click OK, the installation procedure will take off.

Figure B

This dialog box indicates that the Windows.old folder will be created.
While you don't actually need to do anything with the Windows.old folder, you may want to take a look at it after Windows 7 is installed just for curiosity sake. As you can see in Figure C, the Windows.old folder is located in the root folder of your hard disk. If you open the Windows.old folder and navigate around, you'll see that all your XP system and data files are intact inside the folder.

Figure C

You can find the Windows.old folder on your hard disk.

Running Zinstall XP7

Once you have the Zinstall XP7 executable file on your Windows 7 system, just double-click it and follow the straightforward steps to install and activate the software. You'll then see the Zinstall dialog box, which prompts you to select your migration scenario, as shown in Figure D. For this example, I am going to migrate by rebuilding from the Windows.old folder, so I'll select the I Only Have This PC option to continue.

Figure D

To perform the migration on a single system, you'll select the I Only Have This PC option.
You'll then be prompted to choose the hard drive that you are migrating from, as shown in Figure E. To continue, select the No, I Am Doing an In-Place Migration option.

Figure E

You'll then be prompted to choose the hard drive that you are migrating from.
You'll then see a Zinstall window that will begin searching for the Windows.old folder. It will show the Source and Target computers. When the Go button turns green, as shown in Figure F, you can click it to begin the migration procedure.

Figure F

When the Go button turns green, you can click it to begin the migration procedure.
The actual migration is a lengthy process involving multiple operations, as shown in Figure G, and can take several hours depending on the size of your Windows XP installation. For instance, my 120GB hard disk took a little over an hour to finish.

Figure G

The actual migration is a lengthy process that involves multiple operations.

Accessing Windows XP

Once you complete the migrations step, you'll see a Zinstall icon in the system tray. To access your Windows XP installation, you can just double-click on the Zinstall icon. You can also access your Windows XP installation by right-clicking on the Zinstall icon and selecting Switch to Old Desktop command, as shown in Figure H. Alternatively, you can select the Switch to Old Desktop command from the Start menu.

Figure H

You can access Windows XP by right-clicking on the Zinstall icon and selecting Switch to Old Desktop command.

When you switch, the entire desktop changes between Windows 7 and Windows XP -- you won't see Windows XP running in a window in Windows 7. When you are in the Windows XP environment, you can use the same technique to switch back to Windows 7.

Working with the two systems

To make working with the two systems as easy as working on one system, the Windows 7 and Windows XP environments are fully integrated. For example, you can copy files and text between the two systems just like you copy files and text between two different applications. To copy a file from the Windows 7 environment to the Windows XP environment, just right-click on the file, select Copy, switch to Windows XP, and paste the file.

For larger-scale file access operations, you can access files on either system by right-clicking the Zinstall icon and selecting the Show Old/New Desktop Files option. This will open a Windows Explorer window showing all the files available on the other system.

Network and Internet access is automatically enabled. If Windows 7 has access, so does Windows XP. This works with any kind of connection, wireless included.

Removable storage connected to the Windows 7 system is automatically available in the Windows XP environment. To access removable storage, use the Show New Desktop Files option in Windows XP.

What's your take?

Will you use this Zinstall XP7 to migrate your Windows XP system? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.