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Versora Progression Desktop 2.0 review

By Jem Matzan

Versora's Progression Desktop migration tool gets better with every release. Now on version 2.0, the developers have expanded the capabilities of the software and qualified it with many more operating systems. It's never been easier to transfer your settings from Windows to GNU/Linux.

Versora overview

Versora specializes in migration software. You can migrate databases, Web servers, and other programs from Microsoft-centric platforms to GNU/Linux-based solutions, or from one version or installation of Windows to another. Progression Desktop is Versora's consumer-grade product. Basically it moves all of the interface settings and user data from a Windows system to a variety of desktop GNU/Linux distributions. This includes the desktop theme, wallpaper, desktop icons, screen saver, keyboard and mouse settings, sound scheme, email, contacts, Web bookmarks, default home page, fonts, and documents that you've created with various programs. It's usually priced at US $30, but commercial distributions like Xandros and Linspire offer discounts for members of Xandros Networks and Click N Run.

Progression Desktop is delivered as either a retail box with a pressed CD and basic documentation, or as a ~100MB ISO image that you download and write to a CD yourself. Also available are two bundle packages: one with Codeweavers' CrossOver Office, which enables many Windows programs to run in GNU/Linux; and the other with Win4Lin, a virtual machine specially designed to run a complete Windows instance on top of GNU/Linux.

The software installs from the CD in about two minutes; how long it takes to collect data after that depends on how much information you have and what you want to transfer. For most people it'll take anywhere from a few minutes to almost an hour to collect and consolidate the desktop settings and program data you want to save. When Progression Desktop is finished, you're given a single compressed package to take with you to your new OS. After GNU/Linux is installed, you put the Progression Desktop CD back in to load the program -- it runs from the CD -- then give it the package you created in Windows. The settings and data that you elect to restore will be applied to the GNU/Linux programs that you choose. So your custom Microsoft Word spelling dictionary will be installed into, your email into your email client of choice, and your desktop settings into KDE or GNOME. Operationally and cosmetically, it'll be like you never left Windows.

What's new in 2.0

Progression Desktop is designed to be a one-time use tool (why would you need to migrate from Windows to GNU/Linux more than once?), so it doesn't make a lot of sense to "upgrade" if you've already purchased and used a previous edition. If you need to migrate more than one machine, the Versora license agreement says that you must buy another copy of the software, though there is no "copy protection" code to enforce this. If you were left undecided or unconvinced by previous releases, however, then perhaps you'll be swayed by these new features in version 2.0:

  • Command line programmability. This allows both the save and restore processes to be automated through shell or batch file scripting.
  • Windows font support. You can now move your Windows font files from C:\Windows\Fonts to
  • Internationalization support. Progression Desktop now displays in your local character set.

Putting it to the test

First let's take a look at compatibility. Versora Progression Desktop 2.0 is certified to work on Windows 98, NT, 2000, and XP as source operating systems. I'd list all of the GNU/Linux distributions it is supposed to work with, but there are many, and Versora claims that Progression Desktop will work with more distros than they list. So I tested Progression Desktop 2.0 on a Windows XP Professional origin, with SUSE Linux 10.1 for x86, Mandriva Linux 2006 PowerPack Edition for AMD64, and Gentoo Linux for AMD64 (with the "unstable" keyword enabled) as destination OSes. I'd tested the previous version of Progression Desktop as bundled with Linspire, and found that it worked wonderfully, but wasn't well-suited to Linspire's unusual home directory layout. For this review I tested the standard Versora release, not the Linspire-specific edition, so I can't say if that bug has been fixed in version 2.0.

On the Windows side, there are no unusual prerequisites -- you just install it and go. On GNU/Linux, however, Progression Desktop needs the following packages in order to run the import tool:

  • GNU gettext 0.14 or newer
  • Python 2.3 or newer
  • PyQt 3.1 or newer, or PyGTK 2.2 or newer (depending on whether you're using KDE or GNOME)
  • Mono 1.1 or newer
  • GTK# 2.0 or newer (including gconf-sharp)

Of these packages, I found Mono to be the biggest hurdle -- it isn't even available for 64-bit Mandriva 2006, and rather than spend an hour downloading and installing dozens of Mono-related RPMs for a different distro and hoping that everything would go well, I decided to skip further testing on Mandriva 2006 PowerPack Edition. Mandriva is listed as being qualified to run Progression Desktop, though I'm not sure that the 64-bit edition was tested as part of that qualification.

The Gentoo test machine didn't have most of the prerequisite packages installed, though Portage took care of that in short order. However, I'm kind of unhappy with the fact that I now have a half-dozen new packages to update regularly just for one program that was used once.

My Windows test machine has a relatively large number of diverse programs installed, most of which have their own settings and data. Progression Desktop 2.0 can recognize the fact that you may be saving data from two or more programs that perform the same function -- saving email account settings and messages from both Outlook Express and Thunderbird, for instance -- and transferring it to a single program on the destination OS. Upon recognizing that potential conflict, you're given a choice: you can either import data into separate programs (Outlook Express to KMail or Evolution, and Thunderbird to Thunderbird, for instance), or you can attempt to consolidate the data into one program. The software warns that the latter option could lead to trouble; I didn't have any problems importing bookmarks from both Firefox and Internet Explorer into Firefox on SUSE, but Internet Explorer's default home page won out over Firefox's.

Not only did all of my email transfer properly to Evolution, but the Outlook Express "new mail" sound transferred as well. It's amazing how important that small detail is -- the new mail notification sound is as familiar to many office workers as the distinctive ring of their cell phones or doorbells. Changing it could mean a delay in email response time.

The 1000+ fonts I had installed in Windows transferred to GNU/Linux without any trouble, and were available in after restarting the X server.

Backing up and restoring a large amount of data can take a long time -- almost an hour for a few gigabytes worth of My Documents files. With that amount of data, the resulting backup package is too large to fit onto removable media, so it must be transferred to another computer via a network connection, or stored on a USB hard drive.

Some things you won't want to restore in GNU/Linux, like desktop shortcuts for programs that don't exist in your new operating system. You might also find that you don't want to restore your desktop wallpaper or other cosmetic settings -- they're probably better in a modern desktop GNU/Linux distribution than they were in Windows XP. Fortunately you're able to pick and choose which parts of the backup package you want to integrate into GNU/Linux, and if you change your mind later, you can revisit Progression Desktop to restore settings you opted out of the first time through.

The documentation installed in Windows was old and inaccurate. While the product Web site claims that Progression Desktop will work with a variety of GNU/Linux distributions, the PDF documentation in Windows states that only Novell Linux Desktop 9 and Mepis 3.3 are supported. Furthermore, the screen shots show options and settings that are not available in the product as it was delivered. The copyright on the PDF was 2005, so I suspect it was designed for a previous version of the software. I did manage to find the correct PDF guide on the CD, however. An automation and scripting guide is also on the disc; it explains how to create an XML template to direct Progression Desktop without the GUI, and how to manipulate the program so that the entire save and restore process can be done unattended. This enables sysadmins to do fully automated migrations when the process is integrated with a GNU/Linux installation framework like YaST, Red Hat Network, or ZENworks.

I didn't have the chance to test Progression Desktop 2.0 on FreeBSD, but I believe it will work if the Linux compatibility layer and all of the above-mentioned prerequisites (as well as either KDE or GNOME) are installed. In other words, I didn't discover any "Linuxisms" in the migration process.

Conclusions and developer recommendations

Small details can turn into significant migration hurdles for the everyday office worker or home user. Transferring documents, music files, and pictures is easy enough that anyone can backup and restore them on his own. But when it comes to things like sound schemes, browser bookmarks, email account settings, and fonts, many people are hardly aware that such things can be transferred to GNU/Linux, let alone figure out how to do it. Then when they get to their new GNU/Linux desktop, they discover that while the software may be usable, too much of the customization and personalization they had done over the years in Windows is absent. Progression Desktop 2.0 takes all of the invisible details into account -- moreso than in previous versions -- and thus is by far the best tool available for Windows to GNU/Linux migration. There's still room for improvement, though. Here's what I'd like to see in the next version:

  • Update the documentation. As of this writing, Progression Desktop 2.0 is installing old, outdated documentation into Windows. That needs to change as soon as possible -- don't wait for the next version to correct this problem, Versora developers.
  • The ability to break up the backup package into pieces. Some people have eons worth of email and attachments, gigabytes of pictures, and other data that needs to be backed up and transferred. The resulting package file could be too big for a CD, and potentially too big to fit onto a DVD as well. It would be helpful to have the option of breaking up the larger file into 600MB segments to accommodate people who only have a CD writer to backup to. I read in a Versora press release that "file spanning" was a new feature in Progression Desktop 2.0, but there was no further mention of it in the documentation or on the Versora Web site, and the program itself doesn't have an obvious option for breaking up the PNP file, so I'm not sure how I am supposed to do it.
  • Better consolidation options. Lots of people have multiple Web browsers, word processors, and email programs set up on their computers. When consolidating the data and/or settings from these programs, there should be an option to selectively merge the data. For instance if I want to keep only my IE bookmarks but I want to transfer my Firefox homepage, or if I want to keep my Microsoft Word dictionary but I want to transfer my custom toolbar, I should be able to appropriately merge these settings through the Progression Desktop interface.
  • The ability to transfer Opera, Firefox, and Thunderbird themes and extensions. If Firefox and/or Thunderbird are installed on Windows, wouldn't it be nice to take the themes and extensions with you to GNU/Linux? I'm not sure that this is even possible, but if it is, I think this would be a valuable feature for Progression Desktop.
  • Expanded application support. Corel WordPerfect is totally ignored by Progression Desktop 2.0, as is a Windows installation of The GIMP. Both should be detected and supported by this product. Also, I know that such a suggestion will seem entirely too silly to some people, but here it is: game settings could also stand to be transferred to GNU/Linux -- Unreal Tournament 2003 and 2004, Quake 3, Doom 3, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein come to mind, but there are a few more that will work on both Windows and GNU/Linux. Since CrossOver Office is now supported and bundled with Progression Desktop, perhaps there can be a Cedega bundle option as well for Windows gamers moving to GNU/Linux.
  • Music player settings. If it's at all possible to transfer Internet radio stations and playlists from Windows Media Player to AmaroK or Rhythmbox, it would be helpful to have the ability to do it. Oddly, I saw an option for this in the outdated product manual, but in Progression Desktop 2.0 I didn't have any music player migration options at all.
Purpose Migration tool
Manufacturer Versora Inc.
Architectures x86
License Proprietary, restrictive in all the usual ways. There is an "enterprise source code license" for the product as well, which enables customers to request the full source code of Progression Desktop for use in limited ways.
Market Desktop users migrating from Windows to GNU/Linux; sysadmins performing corporate desktop Windows to GNU/Linux migrations.
Price (retail) U.S. $30
Previous version Progression Desktop 1.2.2
Product Web site Click here