How to Copy Programs from Windows XP to Windows 8?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Eric H. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I recently purchased a new PC with Windows 8.1. My old PC has Windows XP on it, and I would like to copy over all my programs from Windows XP to Windows 8.1. How can I do that? After I'm done moving over all my programs, I want to wipe the old Windows XP PC clean and give it away. "

My response:

Unfortunately, migrating from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 is not as easy as 'copying' over files from one PC to another. In this case, I suggest you do one of the following:

1. Reinstall all (or some of) your programs manually on the new Windows 8.1 machine and re-import the user data per program, or

2. Convert the old XP machine into a virtual machine, then re-import data at a later date.

Option #1: Reinstall all your Programs Manually and Re-import User Data

To reinstall all programs you once used on the Windows XP machine onto Windows 8.1 manually, you would need to locate and acquire (download) all your program files (in setup.exe form), or use an install CD if you still have it. Once you finish reinstalling all your programs, you would then export your user data from the old machine and re-import it onto the new machine.

There are a few caveats if you go this route. First, the process of exporting user data for varies for each program. You will either need to use an 'export' feature inside each program to export the data, or manually copy over the program's user data via the AppData folder, or copy over the installed program file folder onto the new machine, and then reinstall the program over top of the same path.

That said, there is a very good chance that many of your old Windows XP programs you once used are no longer compatible with Windows 8.1. Also, Windows 8.1 does not have a 'Windows XP Mode' similar to Windows 7, so running Windows XP programs 'natively' in Windows 8.1 won't work.

In this case, you will need to find replacement program(s) that have similar functionality with the old program, and which are compatible with Windows 8.1. For example: Outlook Express is no longer present in Windows 8.1 and you could use Mozilla Thunderbird as a replacement email client.

Option #2: Virtualize the Old Windows XP Machine; Re-import Data Later

My recommended option, however, is to first convert your old Windows XP computer into a virtual machine, and then run the Windows XP virtual machine inside of the Windows 8.1 physical machine.

If you go this route, you can use your old Windows XP computer just as it was without having to reinstall anything on the new computer. The old XP machine would run inside the new computer in its own window -- just as if it were a separate machine. It's sort of like having a 'live backup' of your old system.

You could then eventually migrate all your program files and user data (as mentioned in Step #1) at a later date onto Windows 8.1 and stop using the Windows XP virtual machine entirely. Migrating over the data is highly recommended as Windows XP is extremely susceptible to malware infection, as it is no longer supported by Microsoft; as such, I don't recommend you run Windows XP at all unless it is an absolute necessity.

Of course, there are a few caveats if you decide to virtualize. First, the machine may or may not convert into a virtual machine depending on your Windows XP hardware. This has largely to do with compatibility with the hard drive controller configuration. Secondly, the new Windows 8.1 machine must have enough RAM and CPU to run a virtual machine. I suggest at least 8GB of RAM and a quad core processor to run a virtual machine.

Option #3: Additional Support from Dennis

Whatever you decide to do, and if you need additional help doing it, I can assist you with the export / transfer / virtualization using remote desktop support. Simply contact me using the contact form and we'll set up a time to meet and discuss your options.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question -- or even a computer problem that needs fixing -- please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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e5chultz_3890's picture

One important tool in p.s. version migration is Laplink. I used it to successfully transfer programs from a Win 98 desktop and a Vista (win 6) laptop to a Win 7 x64 Professional desktop. 44 of the 52 programs ended up running successfully on the new computer. The major program that didn't play well was, unsurprisingly MS Office 2001. You may have to tweak compatibility settings and reregister programs to get everything to work. Program was downloaded, installed & run with a minimum fuss.

morre's picture

Hey Dennis,

Thank you for the tutorial.
I was wondering if you have experience / can recommend one of the 3rd party migration tools?

There's a mention of Laplink in a previous comment, and I've once use Zinstall with good results. What's your take?