Don't blindly transfer data to new PC You're better off reinstalling software from original disks

IF YOU'VE been using your computer for a couple of years, chances are good that you've turned it into a cozy and comfortable place to work.

In fact, you've probably spent more hours than you care to recall installing software, organizing your files, setting up Internet connections and otherwise turning your PC into an extension of your home or office.


Sooner or later, however, you'll want to upgrade. Maybe it's time to buy a new computer, or just a bigger hard drive. And if my mailbox is any indication, the process isn't always easy.

"I presently have a computer and I have backed up all the files, programs, and applications I have on a magnetic Iomega Ditto tape," Chuck wrote.


"In a couple of weeks I'm getting a new 300 Mhz Pentium. I'd like to know whether it's feasible or plausible to take my backup tape and transfer all the data to my new computer. I do not want to download all the stuff from Netscape and IE browsers to my new computer when I already have them from the previous computer. Can you help?"

Well, Chuck, I'd like to be able to say a few magic words and make everything happen, but it's just not in the cards. In fact, if you blindly transfer all those files on tape from your old computer to the new one, you're likely to turn that beautiful new machine into a $3,000 paperweight.

The reason? Windows 95. It's a very sophisticated operating system, and the version you'll get on the new computer is likely to be substantially different from the old one. It's nothing you can see by looking at the screen -- and you can't buy the new version in stores.

But Microsoft has made significant changes in the system that manufacturers install on their new computers. While most tape backup and restore programs will warn you before they overwrite newer versions of critical system files with old ones, the chances are good that copying everything back from tape would result in some serious problems.

Windows 95 also keeps very careful track of the hardware and software installed on the system. Most of this information is in a hidden file called the Registry, and no two computers are alike in this regard unless they're identical machines that have just come off the same assembly line and have never been used. Replacing a new Registry with the file from your old computer would get the new PC so confused that it would refuse to boot up at all.

Now I don't mean to criticize you for making a tape backup. It's a great idea, but it's primarily a way to protect yourself against a serious hard disk crash. It's not a good way to turn a new computer into an operational clone of an old one.

Your best bet is to reinstall your existing software on the new computer from the original disks or CD-ROMs. This is a pain in the neck and will probably take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but it's the only safe way to do the job.

In fact, it may not be as hard as you think. Your new computer is likely to come with versions of Netscape, Internet Explorer or both, along with software for America Online and other services. The machine you're ordering also comes with Microsoft Office installed on the hard disk.


If you used Microsoft Word or Excel before, you won't have to reinstall them -- the new version will accept your existing files. On the down side, if you're using an Internet service provider, you will have to set up Windows 95 dial-up networking to make the connection. This can be a fairly grungy, technical job, but if you copy down the settings from your old computer, it will go much faster.

If you don't have your original software disks or dread downloading the humongous new versions of Netscape or Internet Explorer, you might want to consider investing in a program like Quarterdeck's Clean Sweep, which can safely move software from one computer to another. Just be prepared to use a lot of floppy disks.

Once your software is installed, you can use your tape backup to restore your important data files, including word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases or Netscape bookmarks. But be careful and choose only the files you really want.

Space for one more quickie from the mailbox: "Is it better to switch the computer and monitor on and off during the day during periods of inactivity?" Harry asks.

"I usually leave the computer on and turn off the monitor, but the monitor gives a loud grunt when starting up again, making me wonder if this shortens life. Is it better to let the screen saver take over and leave it warmed up?"

This has probably generated more debate over the years than any other computer question. It boils down to what causes more wear and tear -- constant running or constant recycling of the power.


My advice -- use common sense. If you're using the computer periodically during the day, let it run. If you're quitting for the night and won't use the PC till morning, turn it off. Screen savers can be entertaining, but they don't really save anything unless you use the one that blanks the screen completely.

Pub Date: 10/05/97