The general consensus seems to be that Microsoft has almost got it right with Windows 7, but one annoyance that remains is the inability to upgrade in-place from Windows XP or even some versions of Vista. In many cases a clean install is the only option, with all the hassle of reinstalling programs and moving data files. Windows XP Mode, free with some versions of Windows 7, gets around program incompatibilities, but still means reinstalling affected programs.
The clunkily-named Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7 not only gives you a way to upgrade an XP or Vista PC to any version of Windows 7, but using some clever trickery (Parallels incorporates some of Laplink’s technology from its PC Mover application) it will also migrate all your applications, even those that are completely incompatible with Windows 7. When finished, these programs happily run on a virtual clone of your original PC, using Parallels Desktop, the company’s virtual PC software. This is automatically added to your new Windows 7 installation.
It sounds confusing if you’ve never used virtual PCs before, but in reality it’s very straightforward. You can either upgrade in-place or transfer an existing OS to a new Windows 7 PC (note that a Windows 7 license is not included).
After installing on the XP PC and choosing the type of upgrade, a talking-head video guides you in detail through the procedure. After a while, you’re prompted to either insert the Windows 7 DVD, or install the Parallels software on the new Windows 7 PC. Everything is fully automated with little user input required apart from login details.
If moving to a new PC with Windows 7 already installed, there are several data transfer options. You can use an optional Parallels USB cable, a network connection or an external hard drive. It’s not a quick process; we did an in-place upgrade from a fairly spartan XP installation and it took well over three hours. The USB cable is the fastest method, although it costs an extra £5.
If using the ‘move to a new PC’ option, the program sets up Parallels Desktop with virtual versions of all the partitions and internal hard disks on the XP PC. In our case a dodgy multi-boot setup broke the program when trying this option, but Parallels’ support quickly identified the problem and is working on a fix.
After the upgrade is complete, another excellent video tutorial launches to explain exactly how to use the new setup. Programs identified as incompatible with Windows 7 run in a seamless virtual mode called Coherence; the only way you can tell is by the XP-like window borders. You can also run the virtual Windows XP PC in windowed mode, to install patches and updates, for example. All user files are available in the Windows 7 libraries and also via a shared link from within the virtual PC, and there’s a Program Switcher to let you manually choose which programs to virtualise.
It all works well, but check your Windows XP licence closely. Whichever method you use, the move to a virtual PC will almost certainly trigger a Windows XP re-activation, and for OEM licences this will either fail or be refused as the XP installation is now running on new, albeit virtual, hardware.