Moving Your Stuff

by Bob Seidel

It's a busy time of year for Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC. Many old and new clients call or email about what new PC features they should get for a gift (or themselves!). And when the new PCs arrive (or Santa drops them off under the tree), I get many calls to move the contents from their old PCs. So, perhaps a little primer on moving files and software is in order.

There are a couple of things to know. Number One: you can only move data - you must reinstall your programs from the original CD. Many people do not understand the difference between programs and data - programs are the things that make your computer work, like Microsoft Word or WinDVD or Quicken or Outlook Express. Your data is files that get created on your hard drive when you use these programs. For example, your Word documents are data, your email (sent and received) is data, you address book is data.

Why can't you copy programs from your old PC? The simple answer is that Microsoft doesn't want you to! They are so fearful of illegal program copying that they invented a way to make it very difficult. They do it by keeping all of the program's stuff in an area of your PC called the Registry. The Registry is unique to every PC and cannot be copied. Since you can't copy the Registry, you can't copy the stuff within it. Also, programs may install differently on different versions of Windows - the installation of a program on Windows 98 may not work on Windows XP - you have to re-install it on Windows XP to make it work properly.

If you don't have the original CD, you may have to buy an updated version. If you copied the original program and didn't pay for it, this may be the time to do the right thing and buy it. You may also find that it is much more difficult to copy programs today - manufacturers have put in special tests for copied programs and the copied program may not work properly, if at all.

There are some people and some programs available that say that they CAN copy programs - don't believe 'em - you are only asking for trouble down the line. Microsoft does have something in Windows XP called the "Files and Settings Transfer Wizard", which is supposed to be able to copy your data, if you have one of the connections described above. But I have to confess that I have had poor success with it. It copies some things, but not others, and it can be very frustrating figuring out what was copied and what not.

How do you copy the data? You need first to know where the data is. Most people actually don't know that. Sometimes the data is easy to find: your Word documents are usually in My Documents, and your photos usually in My Pictures. But these folders are not where you think they are - they are inside a folder structure called "Documents and Settings". Your email is even more hidden than that. So, you have to know where your data files are. You might want to read my previous column titled "Where's Your Stuff" - it's available online at

Once you know, copying is not too difficult. If you have a router with available network connections in the back, you can set up what is called a "Local Area Network (LAN)" between your PCs and share the hard drives between them. Once shared, the data can be copied. Or, you can use an external USB device, such as a USB thumb drive or hard drive. Copy the data from your old PC to the temporary device, then plug the device into your new PC and copy them back.

Oh, there is one more thing: you need to know how to use the Windows Explorer program, and how to "drag and drop" to move the files.

The bottom line here is that you will probably need someone with a bit of experience to do the job. But you don't necessarily have to pay someone like me to do it - there are lots of people who have the necessary skill - ask around!

Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.