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New Computer? Bring Your Old Files Over
By Rob Levy

Getting a new computer can be like moving into a new house. Everything is clean and the possibilities are endless. But it's also a hassle because you miss your stuff being just where you expect it to be.

If you got the best present ever this year (a computer is the best present, right?), this Tech Tip can help you get your stuff from the old computer onto your new one. And you won't have to tip the movers.

First, I should mention that this Tech Tip is for people transferring files from Windows XP, Windows 2000, or Mac OS X. If you're transferring from an older operating system, check out our previous Tech Tip, Moving files.

For the rest of you, with relatively new OSs and about to get even newer ones, read on.

Windows XP or 2000 to Windows Vista

Vista uses a free program called Easy Transfer to bring your files over. There are three basic ways to use Easy Transfer, but no matter how you do it, it takes time. If you'll need your computer in the next hour or two, you may want to wait before transferring files.

Depending on your current setup, you'll use one of these ways to transfer files:

  1. You already have a network set up between the two computers: Download the Easy Transfer program (from the Windows Easy Transfer page), and install it on your old computer. Then follow the on-screen instructions. That's all. Really!You don't have a network: Buy a special cable, unsurprisingly called an Easy Transfer cable, which should cost between 30 and 40 bucks at an electronics store. Install the included Easy Transfer program on your old computer, then follow the on-screen instructions. (No program came with your cable? Download it from the Windows Easy Transfer page.)
  2. No network and you don't want to buy a cable: Download and install the Easy Transfer program from the Windows Easy Transfer page onto your old computer. Then follow the on-screen instructions for copying your files to an external hard drive, then copying them again onto your new computer. (You can also copy to DVDs or CDs, but if you have a lot of files, I really can't recommend that option. It'll take forever.)

NOTE: Although Easy Transfer helps bring over your files and settings, it doesn't transfer programs (like Word, or your favorite game). You'll have to reinstall those yourself, or try the Beta (i.e., not fully tested) version of Microsoft Easy Transfer Companion. You can download that from the Easy Transfer Companion page.

Mac OS X to Mac OS X

When you start up your new Mac, it'll ask you whether you want to transfer files over from another Mac. Choose to do so, then follow the on-screen instructions. You'll need a firewire cable, which costs only a few dollars at any electronics store.

If you've already started your new Mac without transferring the files, you can do so at any time. From the Applications folder, open the Utilities folder, then open Migration Assistant and follow the on-screen instructions.

Note that transferring files takes time. If you need to use your computer in the next hour or two, you may want to wait before transferring files.

Windows to Mac OS X

If your new Mac was bought at an Apple retail store, then the technicians at the store will bring over all your files for free. Make sure to bring your receipt when you go to have it done. If you bought the Mac online, or at a non-Apple store, they'll still do it, but it'll cost a fee. For more details, visit Apple's How to move to a Mac page.

Soon enough you'll have your new home looking just like your old one, but bigger, prettier, and probably a lot faster. And you won't drop a single vase in the move.