Reacting to criticism from customers that upgrading from Windows XP was "impossible," Microsoft today announced it would give away a limited migration tool to help people move to a newer operating system.
The tool, PCmover Express for Windows XP, is one of several migration utilities from Laplink, a Bellevue, Wash. company whose offices are near those of Microsoft.
Microsoft will also begin nagging XP users to upgrade through an on-screen message that will appear starting Saturday.
PCmover Express, which normally costs $29.95, will be available for download free of charge starting later this week. Laplink is also discounting its more advanced PCmover Professional for Windows XP by 60%, effective Monday, cutting the price from the usual $59.95 to $23.95.
Windows XP will receive its final security updates on April 8. After that users will face an uncertain future, as cyber criminals are expected to take advantage of the lack of patches to hijack defenseless PCs.
Microsoft cast the offer as another way to help customers ditch XP.
"As the end of support for Windows XP on April 8 nears we're continuing to focus on ensuring customers are aware of the deadline and helping them to migrate to a modern operating system such as Windows 8.1," said Brandon LeBlanc, a Microsoft marketing communications manager, in a blog post Monday.
More to the point, the move was a response to scathing criticism customers leveled at Microsoft after LeBlanc proposed four weeks ago that they help others upgrade from XP or assist them in picking out a new PC running Windows 8.1. Those users pointed out that what Microsoft called an "upgrade" required people to back up the hard drive before wiping it clean, then restore their data and settings, and reinstall all their applications. "There is a major problem with [Microsoft's] suggestion. You (Microsoft) have made Windows 8 and 8.1 incapable of upgrading from Windows XP," noted someone identified as "nephilim" in a comment added to LeBlanc's Feb. 7 plea for help. "I simply can't upgrade anyone, including myself, to Windows 8. It's impossible."
PCmover Express transfers files and users settings from an XP PC to one running Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1. It will also migrate up to three applications -- Office counts as one, said Laplink -- to the new device.
Meanwhile, PCmover Professional will transfer an unlimited number of applications from the old PC to the new machine. Several caveats apply: "Antivirus and Anti-Spyware programs will not be moved to your new PC," noted Laplink as one.
LeBlanc also said that starting March 8, customers running Windows XP will begin seeing an on-screen nag that reminds them of the retirement deadline. "The notification will reoccur on the 8th of every month unless disabled by the user," said LeBlanc.
One expert was less than impressed with Microsoft's free PCmover Express offer.
"That might be a good short-term move," said Gene Grabowski, an executive vice president at Levick, a Washington, D.C. firm that specializes in crisis public relations and corporate reputation messaging. "But they should have spent some money building their own. That they didn't tells me that strategically, they had no plan. [And] that sends a bad message to their customers."
An English language version of free PCmover Express will be available for download from Microsoft's website later this week. Versions in French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish will hit that URL later this month, said LeBlanc, with others -- Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Russian -- at a later, undefined date.
To migrate files, settings and applications with PCmover, users will need a bidirectional USB cable or some kind of storage device, such as a USB flash drive or external hard drive.
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