April 19, 2011

Switching PC? How to make data migration easier?

Every computer eventually reaches the point where it has to be replaced. When that happens, there's one primary question that needs to be answered: How do you get your data and programs onto the new computer?

Mac users can stop right here: Moving from one Apple computer to another is no harder than having the migration assistant 'slurp out' the old machine and feed it into the new one. PC users, by contrast, have more work ahead of them, although the exact amount depends on whether they are using the new Windows 7 or a previous version of Windows.

Microsoft does in fact offer utilities to make the move easier. Easy Transfer, for example, available in both Windows and Vista, is a tool that promises to 'automatically transfer files, photos, music, email, settings and other elements' to the new PC.
Several experts expressed scepticism about those claims. There are also alternatives to the no-cost Easy Transfer, although they can cost between $40 to 50. Examples include Parallels Desktop Upgrade and PCmover. Yet even here some manual work is needed as well.

The biggest problem with the third party utilities is that they provide little overview about which data and settings have been transferred and which haven't, says Gerald Himmelein of German computer magazine c't.

"Then you're stuck somewhere between halfway and fully finished and you have to do a bunch of tedious work each time of seeing what's already there and what isn't," Himmelein says. He therefore recommends taking the bitter medicine of making a complete fresh start, including new installation of all programs and manual copying of data.

That requires time and organization -- and an external hard drive. "The key thing is to make full backup copies of both the old and new system prior to the move," Himmelein says. That allows you to restore the data if something goes wrong.

One of the steps to take before the big move: compile a list of the serial numbers for all programmes, sparing the time of searching out that software activation data in the middle of the move. And don't hurry.

"Another no-no is the 'By hook or crook, I'm going to get through this today' attitude: It's easy to make errors at two in the morning," Himmelein says. Given how unpopular Windows Vista is among users, the most common scenario right now is a jump from XP to Windows 7. Users need to prepare themselves for a variety of changes, too. For example, the default directories have been renamed. What was formerly 'c:documents and settings' is now 'c:users.'

Another factor requiring a bit of adjustment for XP users is the User Account Control/UAC, although Vista users will already know what lies ahead. XP, by default, leaves the user with Administrator rights, but the UAC system asks for confirmation any time security-relevant operations are performed on the operating systems. The good news: The Windows 7 UAC system is much less intrusive than on Vista and it's simple to deactivate. It is nevertheless perceived as annoying by some users.

There's another important decision that you have to make when moving to a newer Windows operating system: 32 or 64-bit versions of Windows. The 64-bit flavour promises greater speed for a variety of different applications. It's also got a brighter future, since the upcoming version of Windows is expected to be 64-bit only.

But before making the jump to 64 bits, you need to check whether the programmes you use are available in a compatible version, says Dominik Hoferer from Germany's Chip magazine. Many older programmes have major problems working in a 64-bit environment. That can include the copyright protection on games, Himmelein adds.

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