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Issue #138: March 14, 2010

Q: Do you have any recommendations on how to best transfer my files/programs from my old computer to a new one?  Also, new computers have a lot of garbage that I’ll want to get rid of.  Should I do it before or after file transfer or does it matter?

– Ed K.
Wright, Fla

A:  What a great question, Ed.  This is the type of issue I like to address in the column, because the answer will help so many different people.  Let’s talk first about “files”.  When I talk about transferring “files” I want to be sure you understand we’re not talking about your programs.  Programs almost always have to be installed and cannot simply be copied from one machine to another.  What we’re talking about are the data files that programs create: the pictures, the music, the text files, etcetera – basically, all the files you that you purchase, download, or save.  These can all be moved pretty easily, and there are several ways to choose from.  One way is with a removable storage device you simply plug into the old computer, copy files to it, then disconnect it and connect it to the new computer and reverse the process.  If you don’t have a lot of files, you can use one of the USB memory sticks that have become ubiquitous fixtures on the desk of the home computer user.   If you have lots, you can either do them in sections with a memory stick, or you can use a USB hard drive.  The advantage to the latter is that you can use the drive later on as an external storage device, to move files between other systems, or as external storage, for example, for backup space.  Another way to move the files is to connect the computers together and copy the files between them.  The easiest way to do that is to hook them up to a network, which is also rapidly becoming a standard fixture in the home.  Once the computers are on the same network, it is relatively easy to use one to access the other, and copy the desired files over.  Network setup may be a little intimidating for some, and is definitely beyond the scope of this column.  There are also commercial products you can purchase, such as LapLink, that are specifically designed to connect two computers together and copy files.  You might also try simply removing the hard drive from the old computer, and installing it in the new one, or in an external USB housing.  This gives you the best of the new and the old together in the new computer.  This too is not for the newbie, and requires some basic hardware skills to accomplish.

One thing to consider is that your vision of moving things from one computer to another shouldn’t necessarily end at your data files, Ed.  Wouldn’t it be nice to move all your customizations as well?  That is to say, user account names and passwords, e-mail accounts, Internet and Windows settings, and all the stuff that puts the PERSONAL in Personal Computer.  Microsoft realizes that people move from one computer to another, and that they have a lot of baggage to take with them when they do.  So good old Bill has provided us with a tool specifically designed to do exactly what you’re I’ve been talking about.  In Windows 7 it’s called Windows Easy Transfer, and it will move everything I mentioned above, plus a few other things.  You can read about it on Microsoft’s web site at

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