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Easing the move to a new computer

Transferring data from your old computer to a new one doesn't have to be a struggle.

By JULES ALLEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000


Changing computers is a pain. If only there were a magical way to move the data from the old clunker to the shiny new machine, life would be so much better.

Every few years, I have to round up my important, ever-expanding data and march it from one system to a new one. Thankfully for pack rats like me, disks continue to get bigger, faster and cheaper, just like processors. But sometimes the data shuffle means moving operating systems, which can be as much fun as a root canal.

Before you decide what data you're going to keep, you have to decide how to transfer it. You've got three choices: network the computers, transfer the data disk by disk or restore it from a backup device, such as a Jaz disk, Zip disk or tape drive.

A network connection probably is the easiest way to transfer for similar computing platforms. Windows machines talk to other Windows machines with ease; ditto with Mac-to-Mac conversations.

The rise in popularity of cable modems and digital subscriber lines means most computers have Ethernet cards, which simplifies the task of networking. If your computers are on a local area network, simply drag and drop away.

To copy files on networked computers, you'll have to enable "file sharing," which you can click on from a Control Panel on either a Windows or Mac computer. By default, file sharing is disabled. After you've done your transfer magic, be sure to turn it back off because it can be a real security risk.

If you have network cards but are missing an Ethernet hub, a device for hooking Ethernet-enabled computers together, buy a "reverse" Ethernet cable from a Web store or at a local computer outlet. The cable joins the two boxes via their Ethernet cards, bypassing the need for Ethernet connection gear such as hubs or switches.

Another option for Windows PCs is software such as Carbon Copy, pcAnywhere and LapLink. And both Mac and Windows computers can use Netopia's Timbuktu software. Rather than using an Ethernet connection, they allow you to link the computers through serial, parallel or Universal Serial Bus ports to transfer data. It's slower than Ethernet but much easier to comprehend and install without the aid of a safety net.

If screwdrivers and the innards of a computer don't scare you, taking your old hard drive out of your old machine and putting it into your new one is an equally effective way of moving your data. Depending on the type of disk, you may have to fiddle with the drive's jumper settings or delve into your computer's BIOS if you have a PC. If you're not sure what jumpers are, how they're set or what a BIOS is, this is not something you should tackle. After a successful installation of the old computer's disk, drag and drop your data from the old disk to the new one.

The easiest way to transfer data is to back up the data on the old machine and restore it to the new one. You are making regular backups, right?

Depending on how organized you are in your computing life, moving your data files can be heaven or hell. If you fastidiously keep your data in one neatly organized folder, such as the "My Documents" folder in recent versions of Windows, that's what you need to move.

If you save your documents with careless abandon, you've got to search that old machine for each and every important file. The Mac's built-in Sherlock and Windows' search tools help in achieving this uphill task.

Just make sure you close all applications, such as Word and Quicken, before attempting to move data files via network or by backing them up. Open files could become corrupted during a copy or backup.

Each application you use should be smart enough to remember things you do on a regular basis, such as where you position windows when you open a program, These are known as preferences. Remember, I said "should be."

In the evolution of Windows, an application's preferences could be in many places. Older programs use files ending in .ini, which often are stored in the system folder or sometimes with the application files in the Program Files folder.

Current programs are supposed to use what's known as the Registry, a filing system that's hidden from regular users. You can attempt to move your .ini files to preserve your preferences from one machine to the next. But unless you're rubbing shoulders with Solutions columnist John Torro, attempting a registry dump and restore is right up there with rocket science.

Windows machines sprinkle the system folder and Program Files folder with support files ending with the extension .dll (dynamic link library). Trying to figure out which of them to move isn't worth the effort. Having an application reinstall fest with your new computer is probably in your future.

If you use Outlook Express for your mail, be sure to move your mail data. Look for a folder called Internet Mail. By default, it's stored in the Windows system folder. Don't forget your browser's bookmarks, either. Most browsers have the ability to import and export bookmarks. Consult your browser's online help for more information.

Smug Mac users can drag their applications and drop them on their new machines. Then drag and drop preference settings from the Preferences area in the system folder. In every case I can remember, this has restored my preferences without issue. Some Mac applications put files in the System Folder and those will have to be reinstalled on the new machine, just like in Windows.

If you can afford a second hard drive in your computer, save your data files on it. Then, when you upgrade, physically moving data disks is quite simple. If you don't have a second disk drive, be organized. Save your application data files in a hierarchy of folders in My Documents or create something with a similar name.

Free online services such as Yahoo's Companion can keep your bookmarks in one place if you have a Windows machine. A bonus of using a service like this is that you have the same bookmarks at work, school and home. Free e-mail services such as Hotmail offer the same convenience.

If your data files are small and your network connection is fast, online storage from places such as Xdrive or Apple Computer's iDisk offer inexpensive ways of storing files. And you've got an off-site backup of important stuff.

Changing platforms

If you use a Windows-based computer and a Macintosh, you have options for sharing data.

Many programs such as Microsoft's Office Suite, WordPerfect Office, Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Flash are cross-platform. If you work on a PC at the office, you can experience the joy of working at night with your Mac at home.

But life isn't always that clear-cut. Sometimes you need to use your Mac media on your PC. Companies such as DataViz can come to the rescue. It's MacOpener 2000 product allows Windows users to access Mac-formatted media. And its MacLinkPlus Deluxe and Conversions Plus products allow Macs to get at otherwise garbled PC documents.

Web sites for products mentioned in this article include:

Carbon Copy: http://www.compaq.com/services/carboncopy/

DataViz: http://www.dataviz.com

Hotmail: http://www.hotmail.com

iTools: http://www.apple.com/itools/

LapLink: http://www.laplink.com

pcAnywhere: http://www.symantec.com

Timbuktu: http://www.netopia.com

Xdrive http://www.xdrive.com

Yahoo: http://www.yahoo.com

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