My new year's resolution is to finish the migration of my venerable ThinkPad T60 from Windows XP to Windows 7. I've been "working" on that for about 6 months and the fact that it's not a done deal says a great deal about the vitality and quality of Windows XP.
But I can't wait forever and neither can you. XP was finally, after several extraordinary delays, withdrawn from sale last fall. It will continue to receive security updates until mid-2014. If the math in your head tells you four years from now, you haven't reset your clock for 2011 - it's just three years away. Although that might seem like an eternity in computer industry time, the end of XP is much closer than it appears.
I recommend moving to Windows 7 as soon as it is practical for your business. My advice is to plan for this during the first half of this year, begin the migration in the second half of this year and through 2012, and close the books on Windows XP at the end of 2012. If you are 100% Win7 by then, you'll have an 18-month jump on XP's appointment with death on Monday, August 4, 2014.
There is a lot of good detail about how you should proceed with this transition. A superb starting point is Fred Langa's Windows XP: Looking back, looking forward article in the always excellent Windows Secrets newsletter. Fred incorporates several lists of links to relevant articles, many written by him. He also has some good advice on how to find material on the Web. I expect to hear more from Fred on this topic over the next couple of years, so I encourage you to subscribe to Windows Secrets for his coverage and so much more.
Meanwhile, here is my basic advice for handling the transition.
Get Microsoft's Advice
Microsoft has a good tool called the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. It is not 100% reliable in that it might complain too much about certain deficiencies in your hardware. One thing Win7 wants is more video horsepower, but it can run without the Aero interface if necessary and require less as a result. Laptops are most likely not to have enough oomph.
Consider Hardware Upgrades
Because hard disks are so cheap and the XP to Win7 transition requires a full install anyway, a new hard disk can give an older system new life. It also preseves the old environment in case you need to fall back and gives you a very easy way to copy data from old to new.
Upgrading RAM can be very helpful, especially if your PC's video card shares main memory. More RAM does great things for overall performance. All the 32-bit editions of Win7 except for Starter can handle a full 4GB; the 64-bit editions (excluding Starter) start at 8GB and go up from there.
I recommend upgrades to existing systems only when the total is less than half the cost of buying a new computer and when you expect to get about two more years of service out of the upgraded system.
Use Windows Easy Transfer
I won't claim it's perfect, but Microsoft's own transfer tool works very well. I was quite impressed with all the settings it captured from my old XP system and brought to my new Win7 system. It was a huge timesaver; I speak from the experience of having done many system migrations manually.
I used the mode that wrote a file, in my case to an external hard drive. Then I ran Easy Transfer on the Win7 system and had it read that file.
Easy Transfer can take some time, but it's all computer time. Once you've told it what to do, you can do something else, like go to bed.
I always recommend the Professional Edition of Windows (in Vista's case Vista Business Edition) for businesses, even small businesses. But if you are migrating a personal computer from XP to 7, Pro is an even better bet because of its additional XP compatibility mode. If you are using any software that might not be compatible with Windows 7, Win7 Pro is the way to deal with that problem.
It's too bad that Microsoft did not make the compatibility mode part of Home Premium. I think that was a mistake. Moving from XP Home Premium to Win7 Pro is more expensive than a Pro-to-Pro upgrade.
Don't fool around. If the PC can handle 64 bits, buy that version of Windows 7. If you need to test a PC to find out if it can handle 64 bits, use the free, excellent, simple and safe Securable program from Gibson Research Corporation.
Start with Windows Vista
If you already have some PCs running Windows Vista, start your migration with those. An in-place upgrade to Windows 7 is possible on such machines, which is much less complicated and time-consuming than the full install required otherwise (i.e., if the upgrade is from XP to 7). In addition, applications that run in Vista are much more likely to run in Win7 because they have already cleared the Vista compatibility hump; I have yet to hear of an app that runs in Vista that does not run in Win7.
Once you have Win7 running on those computers, you can test any applications running on your XP systems that you suspect may have problems in Win7.
Get Windows 7 with New PCs
The least expensive way to buy Windows is with a new PC.
If your business is like most, it replaces PCs on a three to five year cycle. That means in the next two years you will probably replace half or more of your existing systems. Knowing that, you can plan your Windows 7 migration so that the PCs that will not be replaced in the next two years get their Windows 7 upgrades in the next year or so. Then, by my deadline of January, 2013, you will have the entire house completely upgraded 18 months before XP goes away.