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Microsoft Offers Help on Windows XP to Windows 8.1 Migrations

Microsoft today offered a configuration "workaround" to its latest deployment toolkit that could help some organizations contemplating a jump from Windows XP to Windows 8.1.

It's possible to modify an installation of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2013 (MDT 2013) to enable migrations from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 using that toolkit, according to Microsoft. The detailed steps to make those modifications are described in this Microsoft blog post by Michael Niehaus. However, carrying out those steps is a bit complicated. The toolkit itself is just designed for use by IT professionals and original equipment manufacturers. Consumers should find another way to get off Windows XP, which will lose security patch support on April 8, 2014.

At this point, many organizations will be hard-pressed to get off the popular Windows XP operating system. However, analyst firms such as Gartner have consistently stressed that most organizations should move to Windows 7 first before contemplating any move to Windows 8.1.

Even some makers of third-party Windows 8 migration tools (see this article for a partial list) have suggested that organizations not try to make the jump to Windows 8.1 from Windows XP.

"For Windows XP users, upgrading to Windows 8 will be a nightmare and almost impossible," said Thomas Koll, CEO of Laplink, which makes desktop migration solutions.

MDT 2013 is a free Microsoft "solution accelerator" product that was released in October. It supports Microsoft's broader package of free tools called the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) for Windows 8.1. However, it turns out that "some of the tools released as part of the ADK for Windows 8.1 don't support Windows 8.1," according to Niehaus.

Niehaus specifically noted two tools in the ADK for Windows 8.1 that do not support migrations from Windows XP, namely, the User State Migration Tool and BOOTSECT.EXE. It's possible to create a "kludge" or workaround so that the MDT 2013 solution can be used to migrate Windows XP systems to Windows 8.1. That's done by using the older ADK for Windows 8 package in some cases. Niehaus' blog post provides a stomach-churning list of steps to carry out for those IT pros willing to go down that road.

For some reason, Microsoft's newest free toolkits were not rolled out with support for Windows XP migrations to Windows 8.1 directly out of the box. One possible reason is that Microsoft doesn't think that the underlying hardware will support such a jump. "Windows 8.1 isn't designed for installation on PCs running Windows Vista or Windows XP," Microsoft flatly states in its Windows 8.1 upgrade instructions. However, if anyone is going through with that process, Microsoft recommends performing a "clean install" of Windows 8.1 using installation media if the system previously ran Vista or Windows XP.

Windows XP still has a 29 percent market share, according to December data from Net Applications, which samples traffic from across the Internet. Most organizations just don't have the time, at this point, to perform all of the application testing and remediation steps to make the April 8 deadline, which is when Windows XP's product lifecycle will end. Microsoft has said that after that date, Windows XP will be subject to perpetual "zero day" threats. In other words, those XP systems will be subject to exploits that won't get patched. Organizations with "custom support" agreements in place will get reactive patch support from Microsoft, but that's a pricey option for most organizations.

More options for dealing with Windows XP migrations are listed in this summary article. Gartner also sells many Windows 8 migration reports at this page.

Microsoft has published its own Windows XP retirement page, which also promotes its Windows 8 products. The company lists steps for carrying out a migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 at this page.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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