Practically every Windows user loathes the entire exercise of formatting and reinstalling Windows. The actual installation of the operating system is not a pain, in fact, it’s the breeziest part. It’s the part after the installation that takes colossal amount of time – reinstalling drivers and software, and generally configuring the computer to make it behave like it did before the user reinstalled Windows.
To reduce the time and effort I spent on this activity, I have found that using an old-pc to new-pc migration utility really helps. The one that I have been using ever since I moved to Windows 7 is Windows Easy Transfer, a free tool built right into Windows 7.
Windows Easy Transfer was originally designed to move files and settings from Windows XP to a more recent version of Windows such as Vista or 7, or from an old computer to a new computer. But Windows Easy Transfer can also effectively transfer user settings in between Windows installation. The only thing you need to do is plan ahead. Backup your files and settings using Windows Easy Transfer, before you format your disk. The Backup >Install > Restore process is the best way to get your old PC back in the shortest amount of time.
Windows Easy Transfer has helped me, on a number of occasions, to backup files and settings on my computer and then restore them back on a freshly installed Windows system. The entire process of backing up, reinstalling Windows and transferring the contents takes an hour. Usually, I have a completely usable system with all my old software and files within an hour and half or two hours, at most.
Using this tool is incredibly easy. Click on Windows 7 start button and in the search box type ‘easy transfer’. You should get the shortcut to Windows Easy Transfer at the top of the results. Launch the program and follow the steps to create a single backup file containing all your files and settings. Just remember to choose ‘This is my old computer’ when you backup files and later choose ‘This is my new computer’ when you restore the files.
You can select and customize what you want to backup. You can either opt for a complete backup of your Program files directory and your User directory, or select individual folders and programs. By default, Windows Easy Transfer does not back up the Program Files directory. You can choose to include them in your backup, but to really make sure that your programs retain all your old settings and customization here is what you should do.
Open Windows explorer or My Computer, and go to Folder settings (click on Organize button in the toolbar and then Folders and search option), and enable viewing of hidden files. Then open Users > username directory, right click on the hidden ‘App Data’ folder and select Properties. Uncheck the ‘Hidden’ option. Click OK, and when asked, select ‘Apply changes to this folder only’. Do the same for ‘c:\Programs Data’ directory.
Now on Windows Easy Transfer, where you customize your selection, both these folders will become visible. Backup these folders, because this is where most of the program settings are stored. Uncheck any other partition that you not going to format.
After you are done installing Windows, start Windows Easy Transfer again and choose ‘This is my new computer’. Then restore your backup from the single easy transfer backup file the utility had created.
There are other ways to minimize the time you spent on reconfiguring your PC. Windows Post-Install Wizard is one tool we discussed previously. I also showed how to use silent switches and a scripting program to automate software installation. There are also several Linux distribution-like Package Manager for windows.
To avoid the entire routine, some people prefer disk imaging where an image of the system partition is created and then restored on the new computer. The trouble with this process is that you have to create an image right after you have installed Windows and customized your PC – not something you can do the day before you decide to reinstall Windows. Because if you do, you will end up with the exact state your computer was in before the format.
Here are some steps you can take that will save your time in future.
- Don’t use your primary partition – the C drive – to store your files. The fewer the files you have to back and restore, the lesser the time it takes.
- Don’t use your primary partition to install programs. Again, you save time because you don’t have to reinstall them. Most programs are portable and works fine even though they were not installed in your current Windows instance. And if you’ve backup the ‘App Data’ and ‘Program data’ folder, like I instructed, most of your programs will continue to work like before.
- For other programs that require reinstallation, such as anti virus software, firewall and usually Microsoft programs, collect their installers and store them under a special folder or burn them into a disk. Do the same for hardware drivers. This way you don’t have to hunt for installers or shuffle disks.
- Slipstream service packs into installer disks, such as service packs for Windows and Microsoft Office.
How do you tackle the task of Windows installation and subsequent configuration? Do you know any tricks that will help users save time?