Deploying Windows 7 from A to Z

Applies To: Windows 7

By Jeremy Chapman, senior product manager, Microsoft® Corporation


For a complete view of Windows 7 resources, articles, demos, and guidance, please visit the Springboard Series for Windows 7 on the Windows Client TechCenter.
For a downloadable version of this document, see the Deploying Windows 7 from A to Z in the Microsoft Download Center (

As the enterprise operating system deployment guy, I often get requests for a "one-page" article about performing enterprise-scale desktop deployment or how to migrate hundreds or thousands of computers running Windows® XP to Windows 7. Although I have seen full-length books printed on the head of a pen, I don't think it is possible to explain the entire set of desktop migration tasks when moving from one operating system version to another within one page. If you are upgrading one computer from Windows Vista®, or performing a clean installation on your personal computer (coming from any recent version of Windows), there is one-page guidance available on the Microsoft Web site: Installing and reinstalling Windows 7. But it probably won't satisfy you if you want to perform these tasks more than a few times.

Let's start by stating a few assumptions:

  1. You are an IT professional looking to move multiple computers or users from Windows XP or Windows Vista to Windows 7.

  2. The computers you are transitioning to Windows 7 have user data, settings, and applications that somehow (either partially or completely) need to be migrated to Windows 7.

  3. You don't want to manually transfer user files through file copy or use manually-operated consumer tools (such as Windows Easy Transfer) from the legacy computer to Windows 7.

  4. You would prefer to have applications be part of the customized operating system you install or automate application installation as part of the total deployment process.

  5. In the best case, you would prefer that the entire process is as automated as possible.

  6. You have some previous experience with operating system installation, deployment, or system imaging.

You might be thinking, “What about using the common processes of hard-drive cloning or sector-based imaging to duplicate a reference installation?”

The good news is that with advances in system imaging, you no longer need to spend hours saving user data off an old computer, cloning the hard drive of a reference computer, and then taking the time to restore the data you saved in the first step. Although the hard drive cloning process is probably the most common practice used, it has several disadvantages, including:

  • The time required to clone each system.

  • A proliferation of hard-drive images based on various hardware types.

  • Large image sizes and the corresponding storage space consumed.

  • The potential cost of hard-drive cloning software.

  • The excess time spent rebuilding and maintaining multiple images.

  • Manual processes for activating end user licenses.

You have a few options when migrating from Windows XP, and many of them depend on the size and complexity of your environment. We highlight four primary options for migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7 (or Windows Vista) in the Choosing a Deployment Strategy article on Microsoft TechNet. In fact, that article goes into greater detail than this document, and it does a great job of pointing to tools and resources.

I'm using quite a few terms interchangeably throughout this document. When I use the terms like "migrate from Windows XP" or "operating system deployment" or "transition from Windows XP", I am talking about the following major steps we cover in any operating system deployment:

  • Collecting existing user data and settings (if they exist)

  • Installing the operating system

  • Installing drivers and applications

  • Activating the operating system

  • Joining a domain (if necessary)

  • Restoring user data and settings

  • Providing the flexibility to customize which applications we install by user role, and applying language preference, locale, time zone, and so on based on user needs

I usually refer to this collective process across multiple computers as "deployment," and there are a few other terms we'll define before concluding this introduction. Subsequent sections will refer to installation scenarios, so let's define the main ones:

  1. Refresh Computer. This is when a user has a computer with files, settings, and applications. We will be installing the new operating system to that existing computer and assuming the same user keeps that computer. In this case, we try to keep user files and settings locally on that computer to save time, storage, and network bandwidth. Some refer to this as an "in-place wipe and load" (without actually wiping the user's data) or loosely as "upgrading" a computer.

  2. Replace Computer. This is when the user is getting a new computer or a computer is reassigned from another user and the user data and settings need to move off the old computer through some method and onto the new computer. This scenario tends to take the most time compared to Refresh Computer and New Computer. Some refer to this as "side-by-side" migration, but it isn't necessary for the computers to be physically near each other or otherwise connected in this scenario.

  3. New Computer. This is when there is no requirement to migrate pre-existing user data or settings. New Computer is used for a new hire or for a secondary computer, or if an old computer was lost or damaged and user data was not previously backed up. Some refer to this as "bare metal" deployment, but in most cases there is some OEM preinstalled operating system we will be replacing.

Now we have listed the assumptions for this document, listed a few reasons why you may want to look at your existing deployment process if it involves hard-drive cloning, roughly defined the all-up operating system deployment process, and defined the primary installation scenarios. So far, I've gone over a page in length, but this provides the backdrop for the upcoming sections. In the next section, I'll describe the options and recommendations for user data and settings migration when moving from Windows XP to Windows 7.