How to: migrate files and programs to Windows 7

by David Nield on August 19, 2010

Copy your existing files using Windows Easy Transfer before upgrading.

Whether you’re upgrading your existing PC to Windows 7, or moving data over from a different machine, there are tools and tricks available that enable you to bring your files and applications with you. If you’re installing Windows 7 on top of Vista, the setup program should leave your existing files and folders intact. However, it’s a good idea to back everything up beforehand just in case. If you’re moving from XP then the custom install will be necessary and you won’t have any choice but to back up first. The best method is via Windows Easy Transfer, a tool which takes the hassle out of migrating your old files to the new operating system. There are different versions for XP and Vista, and for 32-bit and 64-bit systems – click here to find the right version for your PC. Once installed, use the step-by-step guide to back up your files and settings.

Files can be transferred using several methods.

The custom installation of Windows 7 isn’t without its drawbacks. The fact that it’s going to wipe your drive means you’ll lose everything, including your programs. The Windows Easy Transfer tool will back up your data files but not applications – make sure you have all your installation discs to hand so you can reinstall programs afterwards. However, even if you’re able to reinstall your old programs there’s no guarantee they’ll work with Windows 7. The introduction of new operating systems often renders legacy programs useless. Fortunately, there’s a feature built into Windows 7 that can help you run these applications.

A simple wizard can help you get older programs working.

Compatibility Mode is the tool you want to find in Windows 7 if you’re having problems with older software. It enables you to run these programs in an artificial environment – for example, if you have a program that was originally designed for Windows XP you can use Compatibility Mode to mimic the system settings it needs to run. Exercise some caution with the types of applications you’re trying to run in Compatibility Mode – the tool shouldn’t be used for the likes of antivirus software or other critical applications.

Windows 7 can try and emulate previous versions of the OS.

If your programs are already installed on Windows 7, click on the Start button then type compatibility in the Search box. Click Run Programs Made For Previous Versions Of Windows to launch the relevant wizard – this tool will analyse your hard disk then list all of your installed programs. From the list, select the program that isn’t running correctly. Click on Next and you have two options – the first is to Try Recommended Settings, which does exactly what it says it will. If this doesn’t work, the other option is to use the Troubleshoot setting, which will take you step-by-step through the available options.

Windows XP Mode is a free download for Windows 7.

Don’t panic if your older programs still don’t work after you’ve tried Program Compatibility. You can use Windows XP Mode, an add-on that you can get from here. This free plug-in enables you to run a version of XP from within Windows 7 (in other words, a virtual PC). Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, go to the All Programs menu, click on the Windows Virtual PC link and then select Virtual Windows XP. You can even cut and paste documents between the emulated PC and your actual machine.

(For a full guide to Windows 7, order the Essential Windows 7 Handbook 3rd Edition, on sale now from newsagents and online.)

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