By Joseph Moran

Windows Easy Transfer can take some of the pain out of setting up a new system. If you’re been thinking about replacing your trusty old PC with a shiny new Windows-Vista-based system and haven’t quite pulled the trigger yet, could it be because you’re dreading the thought of having to transfer years of accumulated data over to it?

Getting a new system up and running with all your stuff can be a lot of work, but fear not: Vista has a built-in utility called Windows Easy Transfer (WET) that makes the process more manageable by doing much of the heavy lifting for you. With WET you can automatically transfer things like your Windows account info, e-mail, browser and operating system settings, and files and folders from your existing system to a new one.

WET supports several ways to transfer data, such as through a special USB cable made by Belkin or via removable media like a writable CD or DVD, an external hard disk or a Flash memory drive. WET also runs over a network connection, which is perhaps the best method for most people; there’s no $40 cable to buy, and it provides a direct transfer without the intermediate step of saving data somewhere before it can be copied it to the new system.

For the purposes of this article, our scenario is using WET to move data from an XP system to one running Vista. However, the process works much the same way even if both systems are running Vista.


Before using WET it’s important to be aware of a few limitations. First, it can’t transfer installed applications, so you must reinstall them on your new system, preferably in advance. Second, WET’s browser and e-mail transfers work only with Microsoft versions of those programs, such as IE, Outlook or Outlook Express. If you’re using something like Firefox or Thunderbird, you’ll need to transfer your mail, contacts, favorites and so forth manually. Third, WET transfers only files stored within My Documents and its subfolders by default; if you keep any files in other folders, you must choose WET’s Custom option (described later) to tag those locations for transfer.

To get ready for the transfer process, connect both systems to your network. While WET will work over a wireless connection, it’s a good idea to do the transfer over a wired one as it will generally provide a more reliable — and usually faster — link. If either of your systems is running a software firewall, be sure it’s configured to allow file and print sharing, or temporarily disable the firewall while you do the transfer. You may also need to create a firewall exception for the WET program (the filename is migwiz.exe).

You’ll also want to create a folder on your new system and share it so it can be accessed from the old one. (For a description of how to share a folder, see and scroll down to the heading Sharing a Folder or Printer in Vista).

If the transfer involves any notebooks, be sure they’re running on AC power — the process can take hours if you’ve got lots of stuff, so the utility will not run if it detects a system running on a battery (you wouldn’t want the lights to go out in the middle of a transfer, after all). Finally, close down any running applications on both systems before beginning the transfer process. If you don’t, WET will display a warning and offer to close them for you.

Getting Started

Start the WET process on your new system. First, type “Easy” (no quotes) into the Start menu’s search box, and launch Windows Easy Transfer when it appears. Click Next, and then Start a New Transfer. When asked which computer you’re using, choose My New Computer. Choose No, Show Me More Options, since we’re not using the Easy Transfer Cable. For the next step choose No, I Need to Install It Now to indicate you want to install WET on your old system. When asked how to do the installation, choose External Hard Disk or Shared Network Folder, and then use the Browse button to find the shared folder you want to use or create a new one. When you click Next, a subfolder called MagWiz will be created within your specified folder so you can access it from the older system.

Now, click Yes, I’ll Transfer Files and Settings Over the Network, and then No, I Need a Key. The next screen will display your eight-digit key, which you’ll need to initiate the transfer on the old computer. (This is basically to prevent another system on the same network from grabbing your data without your permission.)

By the way, if you haven’t shared the folder containing MagWiz or you’d prefer not to bother, you can simply copy the contents of the MigWiz folder to removable storage and run it on your old computer. You’ll still be able to do the actual data transfer over the network.

Transfer Time

Now head over to your old computer and run the MigWiz utility; don’t choose the similar-looking MigSetup. When the Windows Easy Transfer wizard appears, click Transfer Directly, Using a Network Connection, then Use a Network Connection, then Yes, I Have a Key. Enter the key and click Next.

Now it’s time to decide what you want to transfer. You can choose to migrate files and settings for all user accounts, just yours, or specific account info and data (by choosing Custom). Once you’ve made your choices the wizard will report how much data is about to be transferred, and you’ll be able to review and customize the transfer list.

After you click the Transfer button, you can choose a name for the transferred account on the new system. You can type the original account name or a new one. If the account already exists on the new system, you can select it from a list. When you click Next, the transfer will begin, and you’ll see progress indicators on both systems.

Your new system will indicate when the transfer is complete, and it will show a tally of how many and what kinds of items have been transferred. For a more detailed report click Show Me Everything That Was Transferred. When you click the Close button on the new system you’ll be prompted to log off, and when you log in again you’ll find your data and settings in their new home.

Note that Windows Easy Transfer leaves your old system intact after the transfer, so it’s a good idea to give your old system a once-over to make sure everything was transferred as intended. The fact that your original data isn’t erased is also worth keeping in mind before repurposing or even storing your old system. If you plan to sell or give it away, be sure to erase the entire hard drive with a special disk-wipe utility to ensure your data can’t be recovered.

Joseph Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.


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