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Software Review: Parallels Desktop for Upgrading to Windows 7

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With Windows 7 upon us, many of you are probably seeking a way to make the leap to the new Microsoft OS, but don’t want to sacrifice all your settings, data, shortcuts, and familiar functions.  Parallels has provided a tool called simply what it does — Upgrade to Windows 7 — to alleviate your worries, and can move your XP or Vista system into the realm of Windows 7 on the same machine, or replicate your settings to another machine already running 7.

The software install is pretty straightforward, and checks for updates as soon as you fire it up.  If you choose to download the updates, it will take at least a few minutes for it to retrieve and install the updated content.  From there, the process continues seamlessly.  In fact, UtW7 monopolizes your screen from then on, blocking out the taskbar and any other windows you have open, presumably to prevent you from starting up other tasks that will conflict or otherwise draw out the process more than it already is.

Yes, moving your entire system to Windows 7 will take a good amount of time and hard drive space.  One thing I didn’t like was the nebulous “Come back later to check the progress” notifications with nothing like a progress bar, countdown, or any other indicator of how close it was to completing that particular step (of several).  While a great deal of the conversion is automated, there are many of these steps that rely on user input, but don’t give you any idea of how long they’re going to take.

On top of that, the amount of available hard drive space you’ll need to complete the upgrade can vary greatly.  When porting from one machine running XP or Vista to one with Win7 already installed (via network or special USB direct-connect cable), it can be minimal.  If you opt to do a self-contained upgrade on an existing machine, you may only need a dozen gigabytes free.  Moving upgrade data to an external device to deploy to another system (or the same system with a different C: drive) can require expansive amounts of drive space.  To migrate two HDDs totalling 640GB of space, UtW7 would not proceed until I could point it to an external drive with over 1.2TB of free space.

This poses another occasional issue.  The program doesn’t (and really can’t) check for all pre-requisites up front, so you might sink an hour or so into the upgrade process, only to find out that you need more drive space or the OS you’re transferring to isn’t compatible; the latter is mainly the case of upgrading from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit one.  The upgrade can still take place, but at that point you have to back up to an external device rather than do a direct upgrade, you have to store the update data, then install Windows 7 on your machine, install Parallels, and import the stored data.  Should anything happen to your external device in the meantime, well, there are no guarantees in life.

Once you’ve chosen your upgrade method, what programs/features you want to migrate (all or select from an auto-generated list), and give it the ample time required to move things over, surely you’re wondering about the overarching issue of compatibility.  Surely some of your legacy Windows programs don’t stand a chance of working natively in Windows 7, right?  Parallels has tackled this issue, virtually.  The software can identify compatibility issues automatically and, entirely transparently, opens the program in a virtual machine rather than burdening you with error messages and troubleshooting.  The transparency element is key for less tech savvy users, as they’ll never know it’s even there.  Things run in what’s called Cohesion Mode, which essentially hides the virtuality of it from the naked eye.  Those who want to configure or otherwise mess around the the VM’s settings can certainly do so, and program specific keystrokes to reveal or hide the VM.  It’s all well integrated, and I haven’t had any issues working with programs either in Win7 natively or VM.

The more complicated your setup, the more likely you are to encounter the occasional glitch.  For instance, I tested the upgrade on a PC I use at work in an environment with particular security settings, domain rights and group policy settings, encryption, and so on, and the export to an external storage device simply would not complete despite several attempts on different drives.  Also, when upgrading an existing system to Win7, make certain you enter your serial key precisely and that it is valid, as non-genuine copies of the OS could cause the upgrade to fail.

Overall, it’s a pretty tight package and can save users a great deal of time and tinkering.  For families sending kids off to college and the everyday user (gamers, your save files and settings will move over intact as well!), it’s a no-brainer to check out a program like this as a tool to simplify a daunting task.  It’s considerably more affordable than hiring someone to do it for you, as well.  The more knowledgeable user may balk at the simplicity of it all or the lack of options — it is, after all, designed to be a pretty straightforward, dunce-proof process with narrated video guidance throughout and a tutorial on Win7 afterward — but it is reasonably priced ($40 for software only) and gets the job done.  Should you run into any snags, they have a vast online knowledge base and support options available as well.  They’re actively updating the software and resolving new issues as they emerge, so make sure if/when you use it, you grab any updates it suggests.

If you’re on the fence about whether to make the leap to Windows 7, Parallels Desktop for Upgrading to Windows 7 is a solid choice for making the job easier.  Want proof?  I’m writing to you today on my newly upgraded Windows 7 desktop computer, with all shortcuts, programs, bookmarks, and settings intact.

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About Mark Buckingham

  • mike

    I do not recommend Parallels. The product fails in to major ways – 1) All the features do not work as intended. I have had problems with the coherence mode which the support team cannot fix. Also, upgrading to a new release does not work. You have to completely uninstall and reinstall the product to get the new release. 2) Support is a disaster. I tried to have them fix the coherence issue and it took over 10 tries and was never resolved! I finally gave up when they wanted me to remove the mac from with windows operating system!!! Not only that, you would write in to get some help and someone would send you a suggestion. When that did not work, I would write them back and would get someone totally different working on my issue and they would have to review it and then they would ask me to do the same thing that the previous tech support would ask me to do. Tech support is in India. Lastly, I bought a windows to mac Parallels product which cost me $100 at the Apple store. Approximately 7 days after I purchased my product they came out with a new version and I missed the cutoff for automatic upgrade by just a few days and they would not give me the new release free of charge even though their current version was not working for me. I was pretty upset that missing their deadline by a few days and my product wasn’t working upper level support still would not give me the product that might work for me. I do not recommend you buy Parallels and go through what I did!