Deploying Windows XP, Managing User State (Part 2)

The previous article of our series, presented general principles applicable to user state migration, including the identification of typical locations where user state and data are located and a description of some of the most common challenges involved in its implementation. We also summarized the most popular third-party tools that help automate it in larger environments. We continue looking at the role of user state in Windows XP migration with a focus on two tools from Microsoft: Files and Settings Transfer Wizard and User State Migration Tool.

This installment will focus on two tools offered by Microsoft:

  1. Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, which is intended primarily for individual use, is part of the Windows XP operating system. Although the original version suffered from some problems outlined in Microsoft Knowledge Base article KB307869, they were corrected in the Windows XP Service Pack 1.
  2. User State Migration Tool (USMT) is geared toward higher-volume migrations and is currently in version 2.6. It is downloadable from the Microsoft Download Center. Earlier versions of USMT were included on the Windows XP and Windows 2003 installation CDs.

Although both Microsoft products and third-party tools enable the simplification and automation of the user state migration process, a significant amount of preparations must still be done before the capabilities are fully realized.

First, you must identify users' settings, application, and data to be migrated. This can be a difficult task, depending on how consistent the environment is. Users' files may be scattered across local drives on their computers, which may also contain a number of nonstandard and nonapproved applications. Since users' data and settings must be temporarily copied from their regular location, extra disk space is a must. Again, it is up to you to evaluate how much storage will be needed — the outcome will vary depending on how complex and well known the environment is.

When determining how much space is needed, be sure to take into account the space user-specific files on local drives consume. This might include user configuration settings and preferences stored in registry and INI files as well as other sources (e.g., Internet Favorites), user documents, and archived e-mail. The most extreme approach involves copying the entire content of local disks and is likely to dramatically raise storage requirements. The SCANSTATE.EXE utility (part of USMT), offers some help with this process. It provides the estimated space requirements for storing settings and files copied during migration (when executed with /compress- /p switches).

The Files and Settings Transfer Wizard is accessible from the Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools menu on Windows XP Home or Professional editions, as well as from the "Transfer files and settings" option of the Windows XP installation CD (remember to use the copy slip-streamed with Service Pack 1 or 2, because of problems with its original version). The Wizard works well in scenarios where a home or small office user wants to copy settings from one computer (which can be running Windows 9x, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, or XP version) to another (running Windows XP). Settings and files from the old computer can be stored on a floppy disk (although this method tends to be inconvenient and time consuming), another type of removable media, a network share, or copied via a direct serial cable connection between two computers (an option that is useful when a network connection is not available).

While the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard suffices for individual and small-scale migrations, it is not suitable for larger or more complex deployments.

A Wizard-driven interface makes the operation really straightforward. First, you are prompted to indicate whether the Wizard is running on an old computer or a new computer. In the first case, you must specify the location where user state data can be stored (giving you all of the above-listed options to choose from). After the location is specified, you must decide what is to be transferred (Settings only, Files only, or Both files and settings). A set of predefined options, covering Windows' settings (e.g., accessibility, display, mouse and keyboard, and network and printer connections), components (e.g., Command Prompt or Taskbar), applications (e.g., Internet Explorer, Microsoft Messenger, Netmeeting, Office, Outlook and Outlook Express, Real Player, or Winzip — for the complete list refer to this Microsoft Knowledge Base article 304903), profile and shared folders, and most common file types (the Wizard also provides the ability to modify these options). This completes the collection phase.

Since the applications themselves are not transferred, make sure they are installed on a new computer before transferring their settings. Once this is done, you can launch the Wizard. This time, select the 'New computer' option on the second page. At that point, you are presented with four different selections. The first three apply to the scenario where user state information must be collected from the old computer (either create a floppy-based Wizard Disk, which is initiated by running a:\FASTWiz.exe, or run it directly from the initial menu of a Windows XP installation CD). The latter option assumes the files and settings have already been collected, and it is what our example describes.

In all cases, ensure that the user state data has been collected before you proceed with the next step of specifying location (unless a serial cable connection between two computers is present, in which case a direct transfer is possible). Once the user files and settings are made available to the Wizard, the transfer takes place, and the user is prompted to log off. (The new settings will not take effect until you log on again.)


This article was originally published on Feb 11, 2005
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