Move settings and data to a new PC with Windows XP

Once you’ve used Windows for a while, you’ve likely have tweaked it to your liking to some extent; you’ll have lots of installed software, custom settings, mail files, address books and other such personal data.

Migrating these files and settings to a new computer was a very awkward and time-consuming manual process with earlier versions of Windows. Even though you can avoid hours of CD ROM-feeding and configuration during reinstallation with the help of disk images, this option isn’t always available or feasible with today’s huge hard disks, and hunting down which files and Registry keys contain the settings you want to save is no fun.

Right tools for the job

Luckily, Microsoft noticed, and has provided two excellent tools for moving data and settings between computers: the simpler GUI-driven File Settings Trans­-fer Wizard (FSTW) and the more capable, but slightly more complex, User State Migration Tool (USMT). See here for a screenshot example.

Both have similar functionality, but the USMT is aimed at system administrators who need to migrate files and settings to multiple users’ new systems. Unlike the FSTW, it can be scripted and customised extensively by editing the *.INF files used to control what gets migrated.

You will need to reinstall the applications (and any patches for them), but at least by using the FSTW or the USMT, you’ll save a lot of time by not having to reconfigure them.

Though less time-consuming than picking the files and settings to be transferred manually, both the FSTW and USMT take a while to run, as they search through the hard disk(s) of the source machine to create and populate the list needed to migrate everything.

Modern software and user data are counted in megabytes rather than kilobytes, so it follows that a migration to a new system using removable media will be tedious at the best (don’t even think about using floppies). Instead, do the migration over a network of some kind. The best and quickest way is to use two network adapters to connect the machines, either over a switch/hub or with a cross-over cable. In theory, you could use a parallel port cable (or even a null modem serial cable) but, in practice, shifting anything but small files would be painfully slow.

One alternative for users without a fast connection between computers is merely to migrate the settings for the applications, and not the associated data. If you select either the floppy drive or a removable medium like CD-R/DVD-R, you’ll be presented with a Wizard screen that allows you to select to move only the application and OS settings, or just the data files, or everything.

For most users, the GUI-driven FSTW (found under Start-Programs-Accessories-System Tools) suffices. It’s easy to use, and picks up all Microsoft applications and their data by default, plus a number of third-party vendors’ ones too. You can easily add to the list of apps and data to be shifted (although you can’t add settings that FSTW hasn’t already picked up), and remove unnecessary stuff which doesn’t need reconfiguration.

FSTW migrates the settings for Internet Explorer, Outlook/Outlook Express, network (including Dial-Up Networking), and OS customisations like screen-savers, folder options, regional settings, taskbar and sounds choices. Mail store files and address books are also migrated, as are the My Documents, My Pictures, Favourites, Cookies and My Network Places folders, plus the Desktop for the user. FSTW takes care of your Microsoft Office settings, including the custom dictionaries that many people create. One very neat use of FSTW is for transferring settings from an existing OS installation to a new Windows XP one — on the same computer. This is useful when you want to do a clean install of Windows XP on the same system, or add it to a multiboot machine.

Make sure you have plenty of hard disk space for this operation (Microsoft recommends at least 150MB free, but you will probably need more than that — check the size of your Special Folders like My Documents). Create a migration folder on the hard disk and select it through the “Other” option on the Select a Transfer Method page in FSTW, which you can start by inserting the Windows XP CD-ROM.

You’ll want to migrate the Special Folders (which are in a different location in Windows XP compared to older versions of Windows), so choose to migrate both files and settings, but tick the Let me select a custom list of files… box to deselect migration of file types in the next screen (click the File Types button, select all times, and click Remove).

Next, boot into Windows XP, start FSTW and pick the I don’t need the Wizard Disk. I have already collected my files and settings from my old computer option, click Next and in the screen that appears, pick Other and click Browse to go the migration folder you used earlier. Reboot, and your settings and files should have migrated to Windows XP.

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Juha Saarinen

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