How To: Transfer Your Data from XP to Vista

Like many PC users, you’ve probably been looking at Windows Vista since its January release and wondering whether you want to take the jump and buy it. Assuming your computer can handle its demands, and your wallet or plastic can stretch to the price, it’s tempting. But there’s one vital question – can you easily migrate your data to Vista without spending days tearing out your hair? The answer, happily, is yes.

What can you transfer? In brief, everything. Your files and folders, pictures, music and videos, programs and user settings, e-mail messages and settings, even your Internet settings, including favourites, can all be sent over.

There are two scenarios you might encounter when transferring data. You could be upgrading to Vista on a computer that’s currently running XP (except XP Pro 64-bit), or you’ve bought a new machine with Vista and want to transfer your data from another computer. If it’s the former, you’ll obviously need the right version of Vista (XP Home can upgrade to any version you’ve bought, while XP Professional and Tablet can only go to Business or Ultimate and Media Center Edition only to Home Premium or Ultimate).

Migrating to Microsoft Vista
Microsoft Windows Vista Migration Screenshot

1. Upgrading

As you may have read, the installation of Vista is quite different; your existing XP installation isn’t merged with the new Vista installation. Instead, after everything has been copied, XP is simply deleted. In theory (and seemingly in practice) that gives two big advantages. Not only do you upgrade, you also shouldn’t be encountering any of those horrific DLL problems.

However, as we all know Murphy’s Law exists for a reason, and before you start to install Vista, you should back up your data. It doesn’t matter whether you copy it to network sharing, a CD or an external hard drive, but make sure you back it up. That can’t be stressed too much.

If you’re upgrading on the same computer, then everything should be accomplished automatically, with all your files, settings and applications migrating directly over to Vista. Of course, you can not migrate any of your data and perform a clean install. This can offer some advantages, but one glaringly obvious shortcoming. However, you can store your data on another computer or removable media and transfer it later.

To transfer all your data and settings is actually a simple and quick operation. You have three options – using an easy transfer cable, a network, or removable media (such as CDs, external hard drive or flash drive).

2. What To Do First

Whichever route you choose, the first thing you’ll need to do is put Windows Easy Transfer on your old XP computer. That’s quickly accomplished by putting the Vista DVD in the computer and selecting the “Transfer files and settings from another computer.” If you don’t have autorun enabled, you’ll need to open the DVD and double-click on the setup.exe program.

3. Transfer With Removable Data

It’s advisable to use the removable media method only if you’re moving a small amount of data. Start Windows Easy Transfer on your XP machine and click through the screens until you’re asked how you want to transfer the data. Select “Use a CD, DVD, or other removable media,” and you’ll arrive at another screen showing your options. Highlight the one you want, and you’ll be prompted for the name of the drive with the media. Select that, click “Next” and the transfer to the media will begin. When it’s complete, another screen will tell you to remove the data and put it in your new computer.

Do that, then open Easy Transfer on the Vista machine. Click through the screens until you’re asked whether this is a new or continuing transfer. Choose “Continuing Transfer.” When asked what type of transfer, select “Removable Media.” After giving the name of the drive with the media, hit “Next” and, bingo, the transfer will complete.

4. Transfer With A Network

If you’re using a network, then you have the simplest job of all. First, install Windows Easy Transfer on your old computer (see above). Then on your new Vista machine, click Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Windows Easy Transfer>Next. That will bring you to the screen asking if you’re continuing a transfer or beginning a new one. Hit new, and when asked which computer you’re on, press “My New Computer.” When asked for the transfer method, you won’t immediately see network, so go for “Show Me More Options.” When asked if you’ve installed Easy Transfer on your older machine, answer yes. After that, when you’re asked if you want to transfer via network or removable media, select network.

Now comes the only tricky part. The transfer requires a security key. Vista will ask if you have one already. As you probably won’t, it can create one (click “No, I Need A Key”). Write this down (and check to be sure you’ve copied it correctly).

At this point you have to move to your old computer. Click through to Windows Easy Transfer>Next. When prompted, select “Transfer directly, using a network connection,” followed by the option “Use a network connection.” Now you’ll be asked if you have a key; you do, so answer yes. At the next screen, enter it in the box. After this, you’ll be asked about the data you wish to transfer. Go for “All user accounts, files, and settings (Recommended).”

From here you’ll go to a new screen showing everything that will be transferred. If that’s fine, hit “Transfer.” You’ll also be given the option to customize the transfer. If you choose to do that, you can decide what goes across, adding or subtracting files and folders. When you’re satisfied, click next.

Transfer or next will bring you to yet another fresh screen, asking whether you want the data to go to an existing account on your Vista machine, or if you wish to set up a new account for the data. If you pick an existing account, you’ll need to select it from the drop down menu. For a new account, just enter the login name you want (note that your old password isn’t transferred – when you log into the account on your Vista computer, you’ll have to create a new password).

Now the data transfer will begin. When it’s done, click close and exit. Go back to the Vista computer. You’ll see a screen summarizing the data that’s been transferred, but you also have the option “Show me everything that was transferred.” If you’re happy, hit “Close.” You’ll need to log off in order to complete the transfer. Log back in and all your data and settings should be there.

5. Transfer By Cable

The remaining option for transferring your data is to buy a Vista Easy Transfer cable. This will come with a CD, allowing you to put the transfer program on your old computer (or, of course, you can use the Vista disc as described above). Do this, then exit the program. However, don’t hook up the cable between the two computers yet.

On your new machine, click through to “Start a new transfer,” then “My New Computer.” A new screen will appear, asking if you have a transfer cable; click on this.

Only at this point should you connect the USB transfer cable between the two computers. If you have 2.0 ports on both computers, use them, as everything will go much faster. Plugging in the computer will bring up a screen on your old computer asking if you want to transfer the data now. Don’t agree. Instead, you should select “Take no action,” followed by “OK.”

Instead, open the transfer program on your old machine and go through to the Windows Easy Transfer window, followed by next. When the screen appears, you be asked if you want to make the transfer with a cable. Select this.

With this, the computers should communicate with each other, and the transfer can begin. You’ll see a screen when they’re connected, and be prompted to select what data you wish to transfer. Unless you have other needs, pick “All user accounts, files and settings (recommended).” From there you’ll see a screen summarizing the data to go. If you’re happy, hit transfer. You do also have the option to customize the data you send (as above). As before, in either case you’ll be asked if the data should go to an existing Vista account, or if you wish to create a new one.

Once that’s complete, the cable data transfer will start. When it’s complete, a screen will inform you, and you can see a summary of what’s been moved. You’ll need to log out and log back in for all your settings and files to show.

All of this is fine for people at home, with just two or three computers. For offices and organizations, where you’re working with a number of computers, you’ll need to use Microsoft Windows User State Migration Tool (USMT) 3.0, although it’s not necessary for simple upgrades. USMT will transfer all facets of the user accounts, not only the files, but application settings and desktops. However, all this will be carried out by IT professionals.

If you wish, you can purchase software, such as EasySync Suite, which promises to “safely and securely moves all your files, application settings, mp3s, photos, videos, documents, Internet settings and more to your new Windows Vista environment,” using a wizard interface, whether upgrading or transferring data from another computer by cable, network or removable media. In other words, it simply does exactly what you can achieve from Vista itself, and for only an additional $29.99.

Vista promises a lot, and the design of the operating system gives it the chance to deliver. Obviously time will tell how good it really is. But one thing the designers have done properly is creating a system for you to transfer your data and settings properly, overcoming a perennial problem.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: