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Sofware in Review → Emulation/migration → Linux migration →

Linspire and Versora make Windows migration easy

By Jem Matzan

I first demoed Versora Progression Desktop at LinuxWorld Boston in February of 2005, and was impressed by what it could do. Basically it takes all of your essential data and program settings (and even some decidedly nonessential settings) and transfers them to GNU/Linux. I hadn't heard much from the company since then -- until Linspire announced a partnership with them recently. The deal is, Progression Desktop will move you from Windows to Linspire without any hassle. Read on for the full review.

Versora overview

Versora specializes in migration software. You can migrate databases, servers, and other programs from Microsoft-centric platforms to GNU/Linux-based solutions. Progression Desktop is their consumer-grade product. It's usually priced at US $30, but if you get it through Linspire it's half that price, or a quarter the price if you're a Click N Run Gold member.

So what does Progression Desktop do? Basically it moves all of the superficial settings and user data from a Windows system to GNU/Linux. This includes desktop theme, wallpaper, desktop icons, screen saver, keyboard and mouse settings, sound scheme, email, contacts, Web bookmarks, default home page, and documents that you've created with various programs.

Linspire overview

Linspire (formerly known as LindowsOS) is an easy to install and easy to use Debian-based GNU/Linux distribution (click here for my review of version 5.0). It's kind of like the America Online of GNU/Linux; while it's perfect for beginners, it's expensive compared to other competing solutions and you can grow out of it quickly if you have a mind for more advanced systems.

Linspire includes an unusual number of proprietary extras: ATI and Nvidia video drivers, the Java Runtime Environment, Flash and PDF browser plugins, and the capability of legally adding DVD playback capabilities. It's a tight, polished, well-designed desktop operating system package. The only downside is, to achieve full functionality you have to buy a software subscription. The base operating system cost is US $50 -- and that includes many programs right off the bat -- but if you want access to the Linspire Click N Run (CNR) database, you have to pay another $20 (or $50 for a Gold membership with more benefits) per year.

Putting it to the test

Click here for a screen shot of Versora Progresssion Desktop in action.

I downloaded the Versora Progression Desktop ISO that Linspire provides through CNR, and wrote it to a blank CD. The version I tested was 1.2.2, and I also downloaded the most recent Linspire release -- 5.0.59. I already had an updated and fully configured version of Windows XP Professional on its own hard drive, but just to make the utility work a little harder, I customized the desktop theme and menu. I also added Microsoft Outlook XP, 2.01, Corel WordPerfect Office 12, Mozilla Firefox, and I dumped a DVD full of articles (in HTML format), pictures, and various other projects (in WordPerfect, MS Word,, and plain text format) into the My Documents directory. In other words, it's like a normal Windows installation, complete with software and data. I also made sure that I had hundreds of email messages in Outlook, along with a few saved contacts and appointments. Internet Explorer and Firefox both had saved bookmarks in them.

I put in the Versora CD and installed Progression Desktop. The install took only a couple of minutes. Selecting data for migration was easy -- applicable programs were detected and data was correctly recognized. Progression Desktop heaped all of my data and settings into one 283MB file, which I put onto a CD-R disc. I wondered, though, what I would do if I'd had so much data that the file wouldn't fit onto a CD. I guess I'd have to move up to a DVD-R, or maybe transfer it to my laptop computer over the network. I could also have left it on the drive, since I was installing Linspire on a separate hard drive. So if you have a lot of data, be prepared for a large file and plan ahead for getting it to your new OS.

Screen shots: Linspire before importing settings and Linspire after.

On the Linspire side, I installed Progression Desktop through CNR after the operating system was installed and updated. I put the CD with the backup file and navigated to it through the Progression Desktop file dialogue. It was a little difficult to find the CD in the filesystem hierarchy; if I'd had no GNU/Linux experience, I could have spent an hour looking for the right location.

One the file was selected and loaded, I was given the option of selecting multiple valid migration options if I had several programs installed. I could selectively restore data in case I didn't want some of it, and I chose, for instance, to move all of my Outlook data to Evolution instead of putting all of my email in KMail and my contacts and calendar entries in some other program. I also chose Mozilla Firefox over Konqueror for my bookmarks and default homepage transfer.

Everything that I had elected to backup on Windows was properly restored on Linspire -- even Windows desktop icons for programs that I didn't have on Linspire. The only hassle I ran into was the default location for depositing documents saved from Windows. Progression Desktop saves them to your current user's home directory, but Linspire doesn't give direct access to that location through its My Computer desktop icon -- you have to navigate to it in a more roundabout fashion.

Conclusions and developer recommendations

Overall, the product worked exactly as advertised. Everything that means anything to me in Windows was transferred to Linspire with the least possible effort. The only complaint I have is that Progression Desktop should have built-in functionality for restoring the data file from a CD or DVD; the user shouldn't have to go on an expedition through the archaic Linspire directory hierarchy to find their optical drive.

Is this a good way to move from Windows to GNU/Linux? Absolutely -- in fact I'd say that Versora Progression Desktop is easily the quickest and best way to migrate to GNU/Linux, even if you're a total pro who knows where every file and setting is and how to export and import it.

Here's what I'd like to see in the next version of Progression Desktop on Linspire:

  • Better default destinations for files. Linspire has a unique way of managing the "My Computer" feature, and it doesn't match up with other GNU/Linux distributions. While non-Linspire users will have no trouble navigating to their home directory, Linspire users will have a tough time finding their transferred files if they stay with Progression Desktop's default settings. This should be customized for Linspire, and implementing such changes should be extremely easy.
  • Make it easier to get to the CD/DVD drive. Why not have a button that automatically looks for the Progression Desktop backup file on the optical drive? Realistically this is the place where most people will be restoring their data and settings from, and it's not easy to find when navigating Linspire's filesystem by hand.
  • Integration with CrossOver Office. Some Linspire users have CrossOver Office installed. This program allows GNU/Linux users to run many Windows programs without needing a copy of Windows. Internet Explorer and MS Office are both capable of working with CrossOver Office, so there should be an option in Progression Desktop to restore Windows data to them.
Purpose Migration tool
Manufacturer Versora and Linspire
Architectures x86
License Proprietary
Market Desktop users migrating from Windows to GNU/Linux, especially those moving to Linspire
Price (retail) US $15 through Linspire, or $7 for Click N Run Gold members
Previous version N/A
Product Web site Click here