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Migrating Data To A New PC

Moving a co-worker or employee and his or her data to a new computer can be a road fraught with New York City-sized potholes. Here are some concrete steps you can take that will make the move less bumpy.
Commercial Solutions. There are a lot of caveats in the automated Transfer Wizard, however, Microsoft has made this process as simple and straightforward as possible. If you want a more powerful solution, then a third-party software package may be the ticket. Each commercial product is different, so we'll talk in general terms.

Norton Ghost, and other products like it, can archive specific files while maintaining directory structures and other settings, and can even make an exact image of a specified drive. Software like this is mainly intended for use as a backup-and-recovery package, but you can use it to migrate data to a new PC as well. To do this, you'll most likely have to install the software on both PCs. One benefit of using a backup package is that you can move the entireRegistry and keep all of the programs installed, so you won't have to do a lot of manual labor. The potential downside is that you'll probably move completely useless Registry entries, and there could be some potential conflicts on the new PC, particularly if the hardware is different, as it will almost certainly be. To minimize potential glitches, you'll need to make two separate Registry backups: one "full" backup in case anything goes awry, and the second "bare-bones" Registry that you will migrate.

First, uninstall any software that won't be used on the new PC, and backup the "full" Registry. Then, uninstall hardware like video cards, printers, etc. and use standard Windows drivers for them. Next, run a thorough Registry scrubbing with a program like Registry Mechanic to remove any extraneous entries, and then backup your "bare-bones" Registry, Windows settings, and any data to be moved. Now run the restore option on the new PC.

Sound like more trouble than it's worth? If you don't mind doing a couple of backflips to move user data wholesale, then it may be worth your while. On the other hand, depending on the specific software and the user's PC, you could run into trouble.

A Fresh Start The Files And Settings Transfer Wizard can save a bit of work, but a human will still have to do most of the heavy lifting to make data migration to a new PC happen. Commercial solutions like Norton Ghost can ease the burden even more with their comprehensive feature sets, but there is a "third way" that you should seriously consider: the "fresh start" approach. It may take slightly longer to get the new PC fully up and running, but you'll eliminate any of the hidden and in-your-face gremlins residing on the current PC.

In the Fresh Start option, you'll only move a minimum of data files--no settings or program files. Why? First, there's the law of entropy. Over time, the Registry and other critical system files have become bloated with unused entries, and in many cases some necessary files have gone AWOL. You'll also avoid any potential conflicts if you move the Registry wholesale. In addition, even if a computer has been carefully safeguarded against viruses, worms, spyware, and the like, there's still a chance that the protection scheme has let a couple of malicious programs slip by undetected. A fresh start is a good feeling, and the new PC will thank you by running much more smoothly.

Some bumps in the road are inevitable when you're moving data to a new computer, but by working closely with the person your helping to move, you'll save a lot of headache. Proceed slowly, step by step. Whether you use a commercial program, the built-in Windows XP Wizard, or simply go with a fresh start, by following these steps, you won't spill your coffee on the commute to your new office PC.


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