Mark G.'s winning answer


Well, Ben, there are several ways of transferring over your old files, but if you want to transfer your software, you're in for quite a challenge. Some utilities claim to transfer Windows-based programs from one machine to another, but in experimenting with several of them, I have found them to be unreliable at best and to work not at all most of the time. If you want to use your old programs on your new computer, your best bet would be to use the original discs and reinstall them fresh. If you happen to have DOS-based programs on your old machine, in most cases you can just copy the programs' folders to the new machine (like you would with data) and run it in a DOS window. This works about 90 percent of the time, but if there are newer Windows versions of that software, you'd be better off buying the new version whenever possible.

As far as transferring your data, there are several possibilities available which have their own pros and cons:

Floppy: The easiest way to transfer small files would be to copy them to floppy disks. If youre just trying to transfer a few text files or tax records or even quicken files, many times these would fit on a 1.44MB floppy or two and since most machines come with floppies, the transfer would be simple. The downfalls here are that they wont hold larger files and they are very slow. Plus, many manufacturers are not including floppy drives in the newer computers unless you add it when you order the new computer so if you fall into that category, youd have to have one added or invest in an external drive.

CD-RW: The most popular way to backup files these days is via CD-RW (or CD burner.) These are a lot faster and hold around 700MB of information and its relatively easy to do. Most CD-RW drives come with a program that lets you drag and drop the files that you want to backup into the program and then just burn the CD. Once the CD is made, you can copy the data to any machine with a CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM or DVD-RW drive (which is nearly every machine in the world these days.) The pitfall here is that if your old machine is too old, it may not have a CD-RW and youd have to install one for this to work. Not too much sense in that if youre getting rid of it! (note: If you happen to have a DVD-RW on the old machine, it would work the same way but allow you to store 4.7GB of data on a disc just as long as you have a DVD-ROM or DVD-RW on the new machine to read that disc.)

Network: A faster way to copy all your data over would be via a peer-to-peer network. You would need an Ethernet network interface card (NIC) installed in each system (preferably 10/100 cards for good speed) and a crossover cable long enough to plug in between the computers. This is a bit more involved as a mini network needs to be setup but there are site online that can give you instructions on how to set this up. Basically, youd need to make both machines members of the same workgroup and share the C: drives on each machine and once the machines see each other, you can transfer files between them. The setup is a pain for most novices but if you get it right, the transfer should be very simple and fairly fast. (note: There are also several serial, parallel and USB networks that use their own software and cables and can be used in a similar fashion.)

Hard Drive Transfer: One of the most popular ways to transfer files for a shop technician is to take the old hard drive out and put it in the new system as a slave drive. Most of the time this second hard drive will show up as D: and you can copy anything from D: (or whatever letter your PC assigns it) to your new hard drive C:

External Backup: There are many external devices that can be used to copy your files from one machine to another. The most popular of these devices include External Hard Drives, Zip Drives and Jaz drives but there are many others. The basic premise behind these drives are that you can copy your files to an external device or tape and then hook it up to another machine and just copy the data off. Just a word of warning on hooking up these devices as youll need the same connection on both computers so if (for example) you have a SCSI card in your old machine but not in your new one, you wouldnt want to buy a SCSI drive unless you planned on transplanting the SCSI card into the new system. Same goes for USB or firewire devices. Make sure that the connections that you want to use are on both systems and that the operating systems on both will support the device (IE: Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, etc.)

Now that you know how to get the data from one machine to another, what should we backup? For most users, the My Documents folder would contain the majority of documents, pictures and music that are stored on our machines but some programs save their files in their own specific folders. You should go into any program that youre not sure and check where it saves its data file when you select Save As in its menu. I usually copy the whole directory in cases like these in case I might miss something.

Some programs also save several data files that contain different kinds of data and hide them in odd places. Some of the more common ones are email programs, database programs, finance programs and Point-of-Sale programs.

A good example of this is Microsoft Outlook:

Outlook data is usually stored at the following paths:

C:\Documents and Settings\User Name\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\
C:\Documents and Settings\User Name\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\
C:\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\

Youd want to find and save at least the .pst files (Personal Folders) and the .pab file (Personal Address Book) and replace them in the new machine after Outlook is loaded. There are several other files like .ost, .rwz and .nick files but the most important ones are the first two.

If youre not sure what to backup for a certain program, just enter the program name and the word backup in Google and someone will have tips or even a utility to help in backing up files for your program.

Once I have all my files backed up or are ready to transfer to the new system, I like to make a folder on my desktop called old_data and copy all the files to that folder (if spaces allows it) and then put what I want, where I want, after. That way all the files are right there on my desktop and I am not relying on a drive, cable, or media disk for transferring anything anymore. I can take my time and put things where they belong.

I know this is quite an explanation but there are so many variables that I thought Id try to cover as many as I could. I hope that this is helpful.

Submitted by: Mark G.