Windows Easy Transfer: New System, Meet Old Data

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.

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