Moving from one version of the Windows operating system to another has never been the easiest task. There is always an inherent fear to any sort of upgrade. Will the process go smoothly, will my programs and peripherals all work, will I lose any of my settings? All the usual questions that haunt a user or IT department before migrating. Now with the release of Windows 7, we are seeing a huge influx of migration tools in the marketplace. Are they really necessary, and do they actually work? These are good questions to consider when plotting a Windows 7 migration.
First off, why now? There are a bunch of good reasons why these tools have become so popular and frankly so important. In the transition from Windows XP to Windows Vista, Microsoft made a lot of wholesale changes. The most obvious and disruptive was around the user profile settings, and how that information is stored on your local computer. So why didn't all these tools get so popular back when Vista was released? Easy-nobody migrated! Especially in the corporate and enterprise space, everyone pretty much stuck with Windows XP. If you did want to migrate, technically the built-in update worked-it wasn't perfect but it worked. Clearly with a relatively small demand, the popularity of automated tools was not going to flourish.
There are two differences with Windows 7. The most obvious is that companies are making the switch. Windows 7 has had a very robust acceptance rate at all levels (individual users all the way to the enterprise), so there is a real demand for migration tools. Adding to this is that there is no built-in upgrade option. You cannot go directly from Windows XP to Windows 7 with the standard installation. You would need to reformat a reinstall-a prospect most companies want no part of.
So that's the technical impetus behind the need, but what about the business case? End-user computing has gotten more and more personalized over the years. Most companies fail to lock down systems to a standard configuration and let users pretty much customize the look and feel of the desktop. Of course, the argument for this is that users want to work the way they feel comfortable. Whether you agree or disagree with this is at this point pretty much irrelevant. Any company would be hard pressed to force users into a box once they have given them freedom. So, you really have no choice. Either you need to rebuild these systems from scratch and risk tons of help desk calls and wasted productivity while users get adjusted, or you need to get them upgraded and keep things pretty much status quo. There really is no choice.
In terms of migation tools, there are tons of choices out there to work with. Everyone from the obvious players like Symantec and ScriptLogic to Laplink and Parallels, who you might not think of, have a solution available. Even Microsoft's own Deployment Toolkit and User State Migration Toolkit have gotten much more robust. The specific product you need depends on your environment and requirements, of course. One thing that is for certain, however, is that if you have a handful or thousands of existing users to migrate to Windows 7, you need the right tools to get the job done.