The New Adventures of Christine's Old PC

The New Adventures of Christine's Old PC

Summary: Windows XP virtualized within Vista SP1 using VMWare Player. Some of you may be aware that I have another identity besides professional technologist and tech/computer industry blogger -- I'm also passionate about restaurants, cooking, and eating (albeit with a healthier focus these days) on my other blog, Off The Broiler.



Windows XP virtualized within Vista SP1 using VMWare Player.

Some of you may be aware that I have another identity besides professional technologist and tech/computer industry blogger -- I'm also passionate about restaurants, cooking, and eating (albeit with a healthier focus these days) on my other blog, Off The Broiler.

Anyone who has been a reader of OTB for any length of time will undoubtedly come across posts about Christine Nunn, the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who owns a local catering business here in Northern New Jersey, Picnic Caterers. Christine has been a valued partner in crime in some of my most infamous cooking experiments, such as the quest in creating the Ultimate Hamburger and Ultimate BLT.

While Christine is a close friend of my wife and I,  and we have known her for years, up until very recently I've had little or no involvement in her computing lifestyle whatsoever. This is unusual because I typically end up having to advise my friends on the use of or fixing their computer at some point in our relationship, because everybody knows what I actually do for a living.

A few weeks ago Christine calls me on the phone, out of the blue. "Jason, I have computer problems. the machine is really old and is slow. My mom wants to get me a new PC for my birthday. What should I get?"

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

I didn't give it any thought whatsoever -- I had recently bought a Dell Inspiron 530, a Quad Core, 4GB RAM system with a 500GB hard disk for $599.00 at COSTCO. (note, this exact model is no  longer on sale, but you can get a similar one here with a 320GB hard disk, faster network card and an additional PCI-E slot for the same price) I had also recommended the same machine to my dad, and he was going great guns with it. So I told Christine to go do the same, and in a few days, she got her new computer as well as a brand new 22" Samsung LCD monitor. Of course, I was asked to come by, hook it up, and move over her old data. While I wouldn't consider Christine to be completely helpless with PCs, I wouldn't call a Windows XP to Vista migration a trivial task either, so I was happy to help.

With huge USB hard disks, thumb drives and the usual bag of tricks in tow, I arrived at the house at 7PM. Normally, I like to do these kinds of PC migrations early in the day, because all kinds of things can go wrong and you never know what you are dealing with until you get on site.

What I found was absolutely horrifying -- a circa-2003 Pentium 4 Gateway eMachine with a whole 256MB of RAM and Windows XP SP2, that had never been patched since the day it was bought, with no anti-spyware software installed and with a Norton Antivirus 2003 install that expired in 2004, as well as 5 years worth of Outlook emails (some 2,500 messages worth) and gigabytes of digital photos, Office documents and iPod music. I knew this was going to be a LONG night, and a long weekend to follow.

For starters, I knew there was absolutely no way I was going to get everything I wanted migrated off the system that evening, because the second I tried to hook up my USB disks or keychains, the messed up XP install refused to recognize it. It was going to take hours of work to get her existing system in any condition where data could be exported natively.  My original plan was to use the free VMWare Converter software to do a P2V conversion of her entire system with all her applications and data, and run it as a VM within VMWare Player on the new computer so she could gracefully migrate off what she needed as she got used to Vista and the new apps, and on a system which had plenty of ample resources to pull it off.  A VM with a single virtual processor with 512MB of RAM and 25GB of space for the .VMDK file will barely make a Quad core 4GB machine with a 500GB disk drive break a sweat. The problem however, was that in order to P2V the existing system, the patient had to be stabilized. I wasn't going to export some flaky spyware and virus ridden system to a VM, and given the state of the system the P2V process would probably fail anyway.

Priority #1 -- get the Outlook email, Office documents, and digital photos off the system. After exporting her mailbox to an 800MB .PST file, I rebooted with the free Linux-based System Rescue CD, because it was the only way I could attach my USB disks and copy the information off. It took about two hours to copy the balance of the data because the eMachine only had a USB 1.1 port.

After cleaning up the computer desk and removing all the old wires and cords, we set up the new PC.  I was able to copy the data from the USB drive to the new Vista SP1 system, and import the Outlook 2003 .PST file to Outlook 2007. The import process itself crashed several times, due to the fact that the crapware trial McAffee virus software which came pre-installed with the Dell that plugged itself into Outlook wanted to scan each email one by one,  but I eventually was able to get a complete import by un-installing the eval McAffee suite, doing the import sans virus scanner with a whole bunch of other services disabled, and then installing the free Avast! Home Edition to re-scan all the other copied information.

(EDIT: It appears that I might have been able to save some time by just doing a "File: Open" of the PST file from within Outlook 2007 instead of doing an "Import" and having Outlook re-create the database and re-index. However, if you're using Outlook Express and want to convert to Outlook 2007 or another mail program, you'll have to jump through a LOT more hoops. See an article I wrote several years ago on a migration I did from Windows to Linux for a friend of mine.)

After configuring Christine's ISP email accounts, and instructing her on the use of the system, and showing her where all her copied data was, I brought her old system back to my house, where I connected it up to my lab network and did all the heavy lifting.

First, was uninstalling all the software which was no longer required in a virtual machine, such as driver and application software for a long deceased EPSON inket printer and other stuff cluttering up the system that she hadn't actually used in years.  This took several hours on early Saturday morning as the computer was performing extremely slowly and was memory constrained -- this in addition to being heavily fragmented and probably riddled with spyware and viruses. I assumed the registry was a complete mess, so I installed CCLeaner to resolve several hundred outstanding problems and clean off about 5GB of cache and uninstaller data and turn off a bunch of Startup applications such as ITunes and other garbage and cruft that was eating up memory and destabilizing the system. After CCleaner gave a clean bill of health, I sweeped the system with Spybot Search and Destroy, finding and removing about a hundred spyware hijackers, and then cleaned off about 50 trojans and viruses with Avast! Home. After a couple of reboots and several hours later, I installed Windows XP Service Pack 3 and a few months of post-SP3 fixes, and ran the VMWare Converter on an attached 500GB USB drive, which completed successfully. I ran out for several hours to do some errands and get my hair cut, so I have no idea how long it actually took. If you have to do something like this yourself, think about ordering pizza and a pay-per-view movie and kicking back with a six pack of your favorite brand of suds.

After tweaking the VMWare .vmx file to increase the base memory of the virtual XP system to 512MB, I booted the newly migrated VM on my own Dell Inspiron running on Vista using VMWare Player,  What I found was a bit of a surprise. As it turns out, after you migrate a Windows XP SP3 machine, Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage stuff kicks in because it thinks you're running on a pirated copy of Windows and Office, and you need to re-enter your CD-Key codes for Windows XP and Office 2003. If you plan to use your XP VM for any length of time on Vista and aren't going to use it just as a temporary crutch as you gradually move data and settings off the old system, make sure you have all your original installation materials or valid software keys handy. I know Christine has hers, but for those of you looking to do something similar, just keep this in mind.

I plan to return to Christine's house with her freshly cleaned VM sometime this week. Do you plan to P2V your old XP system and have it continue life on your brand new Vista, Linux or Mac system? Has virtualization finally become a computing tool for the masses? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Collaboration, Hardware, Microsoft, Security, Software, VMware, Windows


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Horror

    A horrible experience..... I sympathize. I can remember vividly how I used to suffer myself, from performing endless maintenance tasks on terminally ill computers of my friends and relatives.

    However, I've solved this problem once and for all: I don't do Windows maintenance anymore. Only Linux. When someone asks me to help with Windows, I reply that my knowledge of W. is outdated and fading, so I suggest he looks elsewhere for help. Instead I offer to install and configure Ubuntu on his machine.

    This has proven to be remarkably effective: those that have accepted my offer to provide them with a neatly installed and configured Ubuntu, are mostly very satisfied: it works and keeps working, no maintenance required, except for processing updates.

    Those that have turned down my offer, have looked elsewhere for help with their Windows troubles. No bother for me anymore... :-)

    Greeting, Pjotr.
    • .....

      Same tactic I have started to use! And it does work. ]:)
      Linux User 147560
    • PC Tech advice on craigslist:
      • Or, as we like to call it, spam.

        Sleeper Service
        • Your opinion

          But I see it as a realistic service being provided for the beleaguered Windows users out there. ]:)
          Linux User 147560
          • Sure...

            ...I'll bet all the people who aren't capable enough to keep their machines in order are going to love Linux and its command line structure.

            Or not.
            Sleeper Service
          • .....

            LOL, what version are you using buddy? Sorry but I use modern Linux distros and drop to CLI because I [B]WANT[/B] too. Otherwise I have no need to as the regular users out there wouldn't either.

            So either come up with something faction or STFU. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Two words

            Ubuntu and Netgear.

            Try again, chief.
            Sleeper Service
          • re: sure

            The command line opens up the real power of linux, but with modern distros like Ubuntu, Dreamlinux, etc, the majority of average computer users can be easily taught to do the most common tasks they will ever need to use their computers for- such as internet, email, and multimedia, and without ever even knowing what the terminal is, or where to find it!
            And windows is especially prone to crap infections, just because most crap is written for windows...
          • Sorry... They're right

            You don't need the command line and you don't even need to be a root or super user anymore. Also, if you want to run Windows you can virtualize it and run it in a sandbox.
  • Its not that easy

    On an ideal machine that is well organized, I would say your approach is valid. However, this machine was full of stuff in a hundred different directories and I couldn't be sure I was grabbing everything she needed with the System Rescue CD. She had all these special URL links to administer her website plus all kinds of software that she didn't have the original installation media for that she still used. Rather than try to make a judgement call of what I thought was all her critical data, it was easier to P2V the entire patched and cleaned up original OS and run it on the new box until she got used to all the new stuff.
    • Why not just offload to an external hard drive?

      You can remove everything and let her transfer it in. And do any scans on the hard drive on any machine.

      Admittedly, there'd be a problem with software she'd need to run and for which she didn't have the installation media. And which she hadn't updated. But part of setting the new machine up is updating the applications, especially now that newer versions can run effectively.

      It might take a follow-up in extreme circumstances - a discontinued program with no preserved version anywhere on the web - but for the most part aren't you better off getting it right before she starts installing and running the obsolete and vulnerable stuff?

      And YourUninstaller, even if you use trial only, is valuable for crapware on both the old and new machine. Which you'll recognize at your first Cannot read install.log error.
      Anton Philidor
      • I did BOTH

        I offloaded plus I VMed the machine for these specific reasons:

        "Admittedly, there'd be a problem with software she'd need to run and for which she didn't have the installation media. And which she hadn't updated."
        • Okay.

          But rarely would she encounter the rest of the problem definition: an application which has disappeared from the web. Given the security improvements over time and the greater efficiency sometimes available, making sure she updates is a priority.

          You also don't have a follow-up problem when she finds out later that the data won't import. It's good not to have too many visits to a friend damaged by having to pay attention to the computer.

          I also like knowing the stored material can't be started up. Because it can include malware despite all your efforts.
          Anton Philidor
        • Migration programs

          Why not use one of the many migration programs that are available out there. I did this with my mom's computer when she got a new laptop...Granted, hers wasn't as bad as the one you worked with, but it had its problems...After I got her old (PIII-650 w/128mb) stable and removed the crapware on the new machine, I installed the migration software on both machines, plugged up the USB and told it to go. The software copied over all of her security information so that her login was the same as on the previous machine, it performed an uninstall of the software on the old machine and reinstalled it on the new machine (for that software that was installable on Vista) and copied over all her files. There were a few things that it didn't do such as her password and some old applications, but we had work arounds...The really cool thing is that all the websites that she used that had logins associated with them were also copied over to the new machine...
          It took about 6 hours but the new machine runs fine and it was no bother...simple! And I didn't need to get my hands dirty with linux!
          web/gadget guru
          • Migration program

            What migration program did YOU use? I seriously doubt that they're created equal. :-)
    • Why didn't you copy the VM file through the network?

      It would have been a lot faster than copying through a USB 1.1 port.
      • Reliability

        I didn't want to risk that a 100Mbps connection to one of my servers was going to take a dump when running the conversion. I've seen VMWare converter blow up on slow machines using network file shares to dump large VMDK files. The USB connection was the safest and the most convenient. And since the computer was at my house, and not Christine's, and I was going out for a while, I wasn't so much concerned about how long it took in as much as it completing successfully.
        • Networks are very reliable.

          I find it difficult to believe you were concerned about their reliability.
          • Wow,

            "I find it difficult to believe you were concerned about their reliability."

            What do you suppose his ulterior motives were then?

            Also, networks aren't always that reliable Ye. I see them drop in and out almost daily sometimes.
            Kid Icarus-21097050858087920245213802267493