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Restoring an XP backup to a partition of Windows 7 running virtually on a Mac can be complicated. One way or the other, back up everything to start!

I have an iMac with Snow Leopard operating system. It's partitioned for Boot Camp and I use Windows XP almost exclusively over a Mac due to the software I have. The hard drive is being recalled and it needs to be replaced. Since I will probably have to redo Boot Camp, I assume, I was thinking of just installing Windows 7 Professional instead of reinstalling Windows XP. My question: will that cause a problem if I backup XP and then try to restore using Windows 7. I have a complete Windows 7; not an upgrade or an OEM.

In this excerpt from Answercast #77, I look at the ramifications of upgrading a virtual copy of XP which is running on a Mac computer.

Restoring XP backup to Windows 7

The unfortunate answer is that it really depends on exactly how you back up.

For example, if you take an image backup of that entire hard drive (which typically is my recommended way to back up), if you restore that image? Well, it's an image of Windows XP. So what you're doing is you're restoring Windows XP and everything that was on that partition - and overwriting whatever was there.

If you happen to install Windows 7 and then restore from this image, that means you're overwriting Windows 7 with Windows XP.

If you are backing up your data files, then of course you can back up your data files (it's usually just a copy operation; a copy from one place to another) and then reinstall the operating system (the new operating system) and copy your data files back from that other place to your Windows partition.

Windows backup

The other thing that could be going on here is if you're using Windows own included backup software. This is where it gets kind of scary because the Windows backup software has changed fairly dramatically over the years.

To be honest, the backup software that came with Windows XP didn't really work very well. The backup software that comes with Windows 7 is better. It's not great, which is why I continue to recommend something else, but it's at least workable.

The real problem that you'd be facing is if you backed it up using the Windows XP backup software, I don't believe you could restore using the Windows 7 backup software. Anything that did restore a complete image, regardless of how you backed it up, would give you that same problem that I started with: that you'd be overwriting your Windows 7 installation with Windows XP.

Upgrading to Windows 7

If you want to upgrade, the right way to do this unfortunately is to:

  • Backup that Windows XP partition.

  • Then, after you've got your new hard drive, reinstall Windows.

  • Reinstall all of your applications from scratch.

  • Then use that backup as a place to get the data files that you care about and copy them back to the Windows partition.

The complete backup is taken, not for the operating system, not for the applications - but to make sure you've got absolutely everything that you might possibly need later.

So that's the approach that I would take. I think that's the approach that you're faced with. The alternative of course is just to restore the Windows XP partition and keep using Windows XP.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6118 - December 10, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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