Moving tends to be stressful and migrating apps and files from a Windows XP PC to a Windows Vista system is no exception. Belkin's Easy Transfer Cable for Windows Vista ($79.95) and Laplink's PCmover for Windows Vista ($89) can do some (though not all) of the heavy lifting involved in transferring programs and data to a new PC, but their help varies in quality and quantity.
Belkin's bi-directional USB 2.0 cable works with the Easy Transfer software in Windows XP and Vista for moving documents and settings only. You must install the included driver on your old Windows XP PC (no installation is required for Vista) and then plug the cable into both systems. Easy Transfer takes over and starts the migration. (I didn't try the limited edition of PCmover - also for documents and settings only - that Belkin throws in.)
To move apps as well, you must install and run the beta of Easy Transfer Companion (a free download from Microsoft) and install it on both the old PC and the new one. Before beginning the transfer, the Belkin software creates a report identifying both the programs that it supports and the ones that may be problematic (iTunes, for example). By default, the software does not transfer any problem apps, but you can opt to have it try.
Both applications (Transfer and Transfer Companion) needed restarting before the transfers would commence. Using the two-step migration process to move 27GB of content from a notebook took about 3.5 hours. Some games and utilities got left behind, but at the end, all my major productivity apps (including Lotus Notes 7 and Adobe InCopy CS2) ran on the new machine. Another plus: the product can be used to perform as many migrations as you wish.
Lap of luxury?
By contrast, Laplink's PCmover (which also comes with a bi-directional USB 2.0 cable) can be used for only one fullblown migration (extra licenses sell for about $US38; the retail version is $89 and adds file-synchronisation software), and you must install it on both PCs. But PCmover justifies its price with a polished, easy-to-use interface that beats Windows Easy Transfer hands down.
The entire move is a one-step process; in my case, 27GB of data took the same 3.5 hours, but I didn't have to return midway through to start a different migration app. The setup screens let you work out potentially confusing specifics, such as whether the PC is the old or new system, thereby eliminating the repeated setup glitches I ran into with Belkin's kit. PCmover was not without flaws, however.
For some reason it didn't import Internet Explorer bookmarks but did manage to make the Vista Start menu look like the old XP version - an unexpected result. Like Easy Transfer Companion, it failed to move some applications, including a few that seemed to have transferred but didn't run when we tried to launch them. If your budget can handle it, pay the extra $10 for PCmover to minimise the hassle. Reasonably tech savvy users or those wanting to migrate several PCs and save a potentially significant amount of cash may find the clunky Belkin/Microsoft approach will suffice.
VERDICT: Belkin's Easy Transfer cable for Windows Vista is an unlimited yet clumsy Vista migration but at a good price. PCmover for Windows Vista is an easy-to-use migration software which handles only one XP-to-Vista move.