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Windows 8 upgrade: how to migrate to Microsoft's new OS

Migrating to Windows 8
Installing Windows 8 is easy, but how do you transfer your files and programs?
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Windows 8 has been around for a few weeks now and has had a generally positive reception.

If you weren't one of the early adopters who rushed out to buy it on launch day, you might now be starting to think about an upgrade or considering buying a new PC with Windows 8 pre-installed.

But what about all of your programs and data? Does the thought of having to reinstall and transfer everything put you off making the switch?

Well fear not; migrating to Windows 8 needn't be as difficult as you think.

Read on and we'll take you through the various options that are available, whether you're upgrading an existing system or moving everything across to a new PC.

Windows 8 upgrades for existing systems

If you have a PC running Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Windows Vista or Windows 7 then you should be able to upgrade.

To find out if you can, go to (opens in new tab) and download the free Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. This will analyse your system and tell you whether it's suitable. If it is, then the Assistant will take you through the process of purchasing and installing the new OS.

As a first step in the process the Assistant looks at all your existing software and will check if it's compatible with Windows 8.

You'll be alerted to any possible problems before continuing.

What happens next varies a little depending on your old version of Windows.

On Windows 7 systems everything should be transferred intact so that you end up with a system that's ready to go as soon as the upgrade is complete.

If you're running XP or Vista, your files will be copied over but you'll need to reinstall all of your applications.

Make sure you have the necessary installation media and licence keys before you start.

On pre-SP3 XP or older systems, you can still install Windows 8 – if the hardware is up to it – in which case your documents, photos, etc, are saved to a Windows.old folder.

You can retrieve them from there once the upgrade is complete. This also applies on any system if you select the 'keep nothing' option during the upgrade; as long as you don't format the disk your files will still be saved in a Windows.old folder.

Migrating to Windows 8

Download the Upgrade Assistant from the Microsoft website to see if your PC is compatible with Windows 8

Using Windows Easy Transfer to move to Windows 8

If you've decided to make a fresh start and do a clean installation there will doubtless still be some files that you want to retain.

Fortunately, there are tools for earlier versions of Windows that can help you with this process.

On Windows 7 systems you can use Windows Easy Transfer, which is supplied as part of the OS to copy your data to an external drive or network location.

XP and Vista users can visit to download an appropriate version of Windows Easy Transfer for their systems.

Once you've saved the data you want with Easy Transfer you can go ahead and install Windows 8.

When the installation is complete, open the Search charm and type 'transfer' to find Windows Easy Transfer on the Windows 8 system.

You can then connect the drive or network where you saved the data and import it to the new system.

The disadvantage of Easy Transfer is that it only handles files, so be sure you have copies of any software you need to reinstall after the upgrade; in particular you'll need the installers for any programs you've bought as downloads.

Migrating to Windows 8

Windows Easy Transfer is supplied with Windows 7 and 8 and can be downloaded for earlier versions

Transfer via backup

If you already have a backup program, then provided it's compatible with Windows 8 you can simply install it and restore your data from the latest backup copy.

It's a good idea to make a fresh backup to an external drive or DVDs before you start the upgrade, and verify that you can access the media before you proceed. There's nothing worse than finding your backup is unreadable.