Editors' take: One of the biggest frustrations for most people upgrading their systems to Windows 7 is that what Microsoft calls a "custom upgrade" is nothing less than a full system install. Some Windows Vista users won't have to reinstall their programs after upgrading, but many will and all Windows XP users will, too. Here's where LapLink's PCmover Windows 7 Upgrade Assistant steps in.
For $30, LapLink will pack up your programs, settings, and data, store them as you upgrade to Windows 7, and then reinstall them using its proprietary VAN file format. The process is simple, says LapLink: install and run the upgrade assistant, upgrade to Windows 7, then reinstall PCmover and restore your programs and settings.
While that's the gist of the process, it's not quite as simple. Reading LapLink's Quick Start PDF guide (PDF download) is a must. PCmover requires 200 MB of hard disk space in addition to the 16 GB that Windows 7 will need, and you'll probably have to reboot your computer. If you don't regularly run your antivirus program, you'll need to do that, and it's a good idea to run your defragger as well. Users will need to turn off their screensavers and power management options should all be set to Never. If the computer hibernates or goes to sleep during the upgrade, it will damage the process.
The guide recommends using the Windows Task Scheduler to make sure that all scheduled tasks and programs have been disabled, and warns that you should disable your security programs. If you're not comfortable performing this kind of maintenance on your computer, PCmover is definitely not for you. LapLink also advises that when you run the program, you should choose to not migrate your security app, your media jukebox, or your desktop search utility.
When you run PCmover, the first screen you'll see will ask you to check for updates. The next one will ask you to identify the computer as either Old, for XP or Vista, or New, for after you've installed Windows 7. The migration type should be Full, and then you'll be asked for the serial number. From here, subsequent screens let you choose which programs, settings, user account info, drives, and files you wish to migrate. There's a reasonable level of customization here, allowing you to choose specific folders, files, and file types to exclude.
The program will then create a "moving journal" followed by a "moving van," each requiring user prompting. The VAN creation process is lengthy, around 45 minutes on my computer, but unloading it takes even longer. If you don't memorize, print, or write down the instructions before upgrading, the first thing you'll need to do after installing Windows 7 is to install a PDF reader. It would've been simpler if LapLink had just HTMLified the PDF.
I used LapLink over the weekend to ease the upgrade process on a Lenovo 3000 N100 with a 500GB hard drive and 3GB of RAM from Windows XP Pro to Windows 7 Pro, and I found the process to be slow with some minor problems. Besides the security and media programs that you need to reinstall, I found that other programs that rely on processes that load at startup will also require fiddling. My backup program's scheduler broke, for example, as did my VPN client and a couple of Firefox extensions.
After installing Windows 7, you'll need to reinstall PCmover, and when you start it again you'll need to identify the computer as New and then point the program to the "moving van" file. This was all fairly simple, and here's where I encountered the biggest problem. The Estimated Time Remaining progress bar fluttered between four and nine minutes, and it did this for nearly three hours. Grossly inaccurate, the program nevertheless transferred most programs and data satisfactorily.
Despite the successful transfer, I'm hesitant to recommend PCmover to newer users or those who aren't familiar with involved program settings and adjustments. For large hard drives, it may be faster to save the $30 and the settings tweaking adventure in exchange for simply reinstalling your old programs and then using Ninite and the Windows Easy Transfer to restore your settings and files.
At the time of writing, LapLink was offering a 33 percent off deal on PCmover Windows 7 Upgrade Assistant, bringing the cost down to $20.