Q: What’s the best way to get my data and programs from my old computer to my new Windows 7 computer? - Kevin
A: There are two critical data issues that everyone buying a new computer should always think about (preferably BEFORE buying the new computer); transferring the data from the old to the new computer and making sure that the old data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Let’s start by discussing options for transferring the old data to the new computer.
First and foremost, you must understand that computer ‘programs’ can not be transferred from the old computer to the new computer and function properly in the Windows world. This means you must locate the installation disks for any old programs that you want to work on the new computer.
If not, you will have to buy the current version or find a used copy of the old program on eBay or Craigslist in order to work with your old data files.
There are a number of companies that offer solutions that claim to bring programs and data for some (but not all) popular programs as well as printer drivers, network settings and other vital items via special software and cables (or across your home network).
While the propaganda on their websites and on the packaging make it sound like a dream program, my experience with these programs hasn’t been the greatest, so I can’t comfortably recommend any of them.
I ran into two problems with the ones I’ve tested; they can’t transfer everything and the new computer always seems to suffer quirky problems after the attempt. Since I understand the complexity of the Windows Registry, I can fully understand how these programs have to make a ‘best guess’ for inserting the necessary Registry entries into the new computer and how that can cause a myriad of stability issues.
Microsoft does offer a tool called Windows Easy Transfer that allows you to transfer profiles, files and settings only from older Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 systems to a new Windows 7 system. (Details on how to use it are posted at http://bit.ly/9Rl4DV)
My favorite option for getting the data from the old computer to the new computer also addresses the second concern of making sure your old info doesn’t end up in the wrong hands: remove the old hard drive and put it into an external USB enclosure.
If you aren’t comfortable removing the hard drive from your old computer, have the company that’s selling you the new computer to get this done for you.
Once you have your old hard drive in an external enclosure, you can simply plug it into any USB port on the new computer and start pulling the files you want over to the new computer. If you’re like everyone that I’ve ever helped with transferring old data, you won’t remember everything that you need right away and this solution allows you to easily access ‘forgotten data’ for an extended period of time.
As a safety procedure, I suggest that you leave the old hard drive alone for at least a couple of weeks, until you are absolutely certain that everything that you care about is on your new computer.
Once you’ve determined that, you can simply reformat the old hard drive and continue to use it as an external drive, a backup drive (if it isn’t too old or too small) or put the cleaned hard drive back in the old machine for reuse.
Another great time saver for anyone that’s trying to get their new computer setup for Internet life is a site called Ninite.com. Most folks don’t realize how many utilities and free Internet programs such as Adobe’s Reader & Flash, Firefox, iTunes, Skype, Picasa or dozens of other programs that they use or have added over the years.
This nifty little site will allow you to create a special download/install program that will automatically install all of the programs that you select at once (this saves you hours of searching and downloading of these essential tools) and it’s completely free.