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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.

Welcome to Accidental IT, a series of technical how-tos for people whose job descriptions don't necessarily include tech support but who often find themselves doing just that for their co-workers.

So, the exciting day is here. The new PC has arrived, and your employee or coworker is eager to unpack it, boot it up, and get all the benefits from the latest and greatest hardware and software. But if you're the one that's been saddled with the responsibility to help switch over to the new system, you might be feeling intimidated. After all, 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. Still, there are some concrete steps you can take that will make the move less bumpy.

When migrating data to a new PC, you have the choice of two approaches: either use a commercial product like Norton Ghost to move all installed applications, Windows settings, Internet Favorites, and the like; or use the seemingly sweet WindowsXP Files and Settings Transfer Wizard to directly transfer all accumulated data directly to the new PC via a network connection, a direct serial cable connection, or indirectly by using floppies, Zip disks, or CD and DVD disks. Both options have their advantages. The Files and Settings Transfer Wizard is pretty flexible, but it is limited, as we will discuss in a moment. On the other hand, commercial products like Ghost are a bit more powerful, and sport a full suite of backup settings and more complete Registry tools--but you'll pay extra for that.

But before anything else is done, the first step is to prepare the current PC for the data migration. Here are the essentials.

Spring Cleaning Run a comprehensive virus scan on the old PC before you backup or move any data. If your office's anti-virus software is out of date, it's not going to do much good, so upgrade or update before you take any further steps. Norton Antivirus and McAfee VirusScan are both excellent. And keep in mind that even if the current PC has had virus monitoring turned on, that's no substitute for a comprehensive deep-system scan. Run one overnight, and come back the next day to a fully vaccinated system.

In addition, you--or the PC's user--should squash any spyware before migrating Windows settings, as many spyware programs reside in the Windows Registry and other dark corners. See Accidental IT: Spyware, Spyware, Everywhere for a complete guide to how to do this.

Once the current PC has been completely vaccinated, it's time to split the data into three parts: data to move, data to delete, and data to archive.

What To Save, What To Discard We'll deal with data to delete first. Even though hard drive space is cheap and plentiful these days, you'll be amazed at how much disk space you can free up, and subsequently lighten the data-hauling load to the new PC. When it comes to trashing data, there is one rule: be ruthless. Any files that haven't been used or looked at in a year should get trashed unless it's information essential to conducting your business--such as invoices, or e-mails to and from clients. Delete away!

The second step is to move all non-critical data to a CD archive. In many states, businesses are required to keep old business-related e-mail, and it's a good idea to have it just in case. You may want to include other business files in the archive such as older marketing materials, presentations, and the like. Often this data can be re-used in large part, saving time in the future. Make two copies (yes, two) of the data burned on different CDs, give them detailed and clear labels, and store them in a safe place, preferably in two separate places, for safety's sake.

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