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Migrating User State Information to XP

by Mitch Tulloch

Your company has just purchased new computers for its employees, and you're looking forward to retiring those old Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 workstations. Problem is, how do you make the migration smooth so that users maintain their desktop settings, network connections, application settings, documents, Favorites, cookies, and so on? In other words, how do you transfer the user state information from the old machines to the new ones?

One useful tool is the User State Migration Tool (USMT) from Microsoft, which can be found in the \Valueadd\Msft\Usmt folder on your Windows Server 2003 product CD. (Note that the version of the USMT on the CD is 2.5, but version 2.6 can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center.) The benefits of using this tool include less downtime, lower support costs, and smoother migrations. Additionally, the tool can be used in both wipe-and-clean (reformatting the drives on old machines and installing Windows XP on them) and side-by-side (replacing old machines with newer ones) scenarios. The only scenario it can't be used with is upgrades--but even then, it can be a lifesaver to store user state information on a network share, in the event the upgrade fails and you need to do a clean install instead.

Note: If you're already familiar as a home user with the Windows XP's Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, the USMT has basically the same functionality--plus the ability to customize things like migrating specific Registry settings.

What's Migrated

In its default configuration, the USMT migrates the following information from a user's machine:

  • Internet Explorer settings, including the Favorites and Cookies folders
  • Outlook and Outlook Express settings, including the mail store
  • Application settings for Microsoft Office components and common Office file types
  • The contents of the Desktop folder, including the My Documents and My Pictures folders
  • Network drives and printers
  • Fonts
  • Dial-up connections
  • Miscellaneous settings like phone and modem settings, accessibility settings, mouse and keyboard settings, regional options, sounds, and screensaver selections

These settings can be migrated from machines running Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows ME, Windows NT, or Windows 2000 Professional with Service Pack 4 installed. Settings can be migrated to machines running Windows XP Professional with any Service Pack level. You can even migrate settings from Windows XP, Windows XP Service Pack 1, or Windows XP Service Pack 2 to another Windows XP machine. That gives us another great use for the USMT: making backups of user state information on XP desktops and storing them on network shares. Then, if someone's machine fatally crashes, you can get them up and running fast by bringing online a clean-installed spare XP machine that's been waiting in the wings, transferring the user's settings to it, and plopping it on their desk--usually much faster than rebuilding a machine from scratch.

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How It Works

The USMT actually consists of two tools plus a bunch of INF files. The tools are:

  • ScanState.exe, which you run on the old machine to copy user state information to a network share
  • LoadState.exe, which you run on the new machine to restore the user state information from the network share

The main INF file to work with is Sysfiles.inf, which you can modify to determine which application settings, file types, folders, and files are transferred when the above tools are run. Other INF files, like Migapp.inf, Miguser.inf, and Migsys.inf, can also be customized to control how the migration process works. Be careful customizing these files, though, as they can modify the Registry on the target machine. Any changes you make to them should first be tested thoroughly so as to ensure that problems don't arise during the migration process.

What's also great about the USMT is that its executables can be scripted, so you can automate the process of moving user settings from old machines to new ones. For example, you could have users launch the script on their machines at the end of day Friday, and then replace their machines with fresh ones running XP on Saturday (or image XP onto their old machines, if they can handle it). You could also include a Scheduled Task on each machine that will run on Sunday to copy user settings from where they were temporarily stored. (Be sure to reserve at least 50MB for each desktop machine.) Then, when users come to work on Monday morning, they log on to their new machines, the remaining user settings are reset, and they can begin working--provided you've already given them some orientation training on using XP.


The USMT is a great tool for smoothing the migration process to Windows XP and avoiding downtime, and you can find lots of additional information on using it at the tool's main page on Microsoft TechNet.

Mitch Tulloch is the author of Windows 2000 Administration in a Nutshell, Windows Server 2003 in a Nutshell, and Windows Server Hacks.

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