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Trying to merge desktop and application settings is more prone to failure than anything else. A clean set-up will get you what you want.

In regard to having two hard drives, I just bought a fast, new HP desktop and installed an old drive from a failed computer in as the secondary. Everything seems to be operating well. The primary drive is functioning nicely and my experience is that of being on a new PC. How should I proceed if I want to see my old desktop merge with the few new desktop icons when I boot up from the main hard drive? Along with that, I want the primary hard drive to contain all of the software and all the documents and other data files and the system settings from my old computer's hard drive? I'd like to use the secondary hard drive as a backup from my documents and data.

In this excerpt from Answercast #52, I look at the complexity involved in moving programs and settings from one machine to another. A clean setup is the best bet.

Copying hard drive settings

There are tools that will do some of it. Things like PC Mover may move applications from one drive to another, from one machine to another

But the overall thing you're trying to accomplish here - not practically possible.

Installation is necessary

The best approach to this is to reinstall the programs that you care about on to this new machine, on to the C drive.

Even though they're on that other drive (on that other secondary drive that you've got on there), there's really no practical way to move them. Ditto for things like merging your desktops. There is no practical way to merge two desktops.

Recreate desktop and settings

The best thing I can suggest is to customize the desktop, to the degree that you want to, on your new machine. Recreate, in effect, the desktop that you're looking for. The desktop that is new plus the items that you remember being on the old desktop.

The same thing is true for documents and settings. Copy the documents from your backup drive; put them where you want them to be.

Settings for applications? Reset them up. Change the configuration options on the applications that you've now installed on your new machine to be the way you want them.

There really isn't a good way to simply merge this stuff (this collection of stuff on one hard drive) into Windows as it's installed on a new hard drive.

Merging is too complex

It's an incredibly complex task to even accomplish in software! That's why you don't see many offerings that try and do that. It's actually more prone to failure than anything else and it's typically not what people end up wanting.

The best thing to do, the most reliable thing to do, and the least frustrating thing to do in fact is to essentially rebuild your system from scratch:

  • Reinstall those applications.

  • Recover your data from your backup.

  • Reset your application preferences and move on.

Article C5802 - September 12, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Steve Gledhill (PC Resolver)
September 13, 2012 12:28 AM

I include an "Export Program Settings" task to my monthly backup. Most programs allow this (either Export or Save Settings). Not automatic but foolproof! These are saved in a folder with all my other setup information ready for my next install along with router settings etc.
I also include Windows' App Data folder in my automatic backup.
I have my data stored on a different partition or disk and 'Move' My Docs, My Pictures etc to this location after the new install.
As Leo says: there is no reliable automatic method so I do it my way!
On other people's computers I tend to use the Windows' Docs and Settings Transfer which seems to have improved but doesn't help if you can't boot to the original Windows.

Tony M.
September 16, 2012 12:20 PM

Naturally, Leo is correct in all he described about the difficulty involved with transitioning from one computer to a new one. Existing solutions for dealing with this task are really in their infancy, in my opinion.

Windows Easy Transfer utility is wonderful in theory, but in my experiences with it, I've enjoyed only limited success. Trying to salvage a partially successful transfer attempt -- due to overlooked/skipped content, or because your connection was interrupted -- sometimes makes it easier to just start all over again. If you must use Windows Easy Transfer, I much-prefer using the export-to-external-hard-drive method. The direct and over-your-network transfer modes have been troublesome for me. Still, though, unless Micosoft makes substantial improvements to future releases, I think I prefer to completely skip using Windows Easy Transfer ... just my opinion.

Regarding data storage and transfer, I think Microsoft's default data storage locations are an insult to common sense and intuitive adaptation. From the very first time they implemented their multi-user storage environment (in Windows 95 or 98, as I recall), I was instantly apalled, and from that point forward, I've made every effort possible to avoid the user folder structure they provide.

From the start, before saving a single file or installing any software, the "brand new" user folder Windows 7 creates is already loaded with roughly 7,000 folders and well over 10,000 files. What on Earth for?!?!? For Windows' use, obviously, but not for me!

Because Microsoft does this, many friends ask my assistance: "What is all this stuff? Where do I save my files? Why can't I find the files I saved?"

Yes, I know Microsoft has configured and optimized some folders with certain storage purposes/features in mind. Although I may be oversimplifying the issue somewhat, I don't think I'd find much value in buying a file cabinet that's pre-filled with thousands of folders pre-arranged and pre-labeled the way someone else thought the folders should be labeled and arranged.

I tell my friends, particularly those who don't share their computer with other users: "Do yourself a big favor. Instead of trying to adapt to the folder names and structure Microsoft created for you, leave the Windows user folders alone and make a data folder structure of your own. By naming and arranging your folders as YOU see fit, as it grows you'll quite naturally be well-accustomed to the various folder names and its layout." Of course, I also advise against deleting anything in the user folders created by Windows, mentioning that many programs will use these for their own internal purposes: for temporary files and settings, etc. But when it comes to the data files YOU create and save, you're better off making a folder layout of your own ... in my opinion.

By the way: Three cheers for Leo. I've been using Mozilla Thunderbird as my e-mail client for quite a while. Through Ask Leo, I accidentally discovered how completely easy it is to seamlessly migrate your e-mail environment from one system to another. Assuming you'll be using the same version of Thunderbird on your new computer, after completing the transfer, you'll easily swear nothing has changed. THAT is an EXCELLENT example of the way data migration should work. I cannot emphasize that point strongly enough.

So, many thanks to Mozilla, and more Latt├ęs are on the way for Leo, too.

September 16, 2012 12:36 PM

In response to Tony M.,

I suppose if you turn on the option to see hidden and system files and folders, you see those thousands of files and folders (by the way, my User folder in Windows 7 only has about 3,0000 folders, not 7,000).

I leave that setting off. Like you said, these are for use by Windows (and other software you have installed). So why do I want to look at all those folders and files? There's nothing there that interests me.

With that setting turned off (by default), the Documents folder has nothing in it, except stuff that I've put in it. Music, Pictures, and Videos has nothing in it except samples and stuff that I have put in it. Downloads has nothing except what I've put in it.

The advantage of using these pre-defined folders is that software by default looks for these folders. When I save or load a Word document, it looks to the Documents folder. My media player looks for the Music and Videos folder for content.

In my experience, people lose track of their files because either 1. they try to put stuff where the software doesn't look for it and then they forget what they did, or 2. people have too much stuff/unorganized. Viewing hidden and system files and folders shows too much clutter where people can lose their files.

David R
October 2, 2012 2:48 PM

My approach to this is that I'm increasingly using portable apps. These are meant to be used from a USB drive but there is nothing to stop you running them from a hard disk. So I have an XP and window 7 computers. To transfer my portable software from one to the other is simply a file copy. The portability decouples the hardware and software.

Obviously not every software item is available in this form, but increasingly there are good portable versions. For example although there are many apps available on the portable apps site ( I program in Python, which is not on that site. But there is a perfectly good portable version at

So when asked about software, my advice now is to first see if there is a portable version.

I would be interested to hear what you have to say about this Leo.

Best wishes

David R

PS I do like reading what you have to say. I learn a lot from it.

Ron K
November 4, 2012 8:30 AM

Can I copy and paste the "Windows Live Mail" folder found under "C:\Users\Ron\AppData\Local\Microsoft" from an old hard drive to a new hard drive, and expect to see all my old settings, accounts, and mail come through onto my new drive? What would be any consequences to the stability of my newly modified User Profile?

My sense is maybe, but I personally would not expect things to be that simple. While I don't expect it to harm anything, I just don't expect it to work as desired. As always, backup before you try.

Ron K
November 5, 2012 5:27 PM

Well, you are probably correct. I drilled down into my old drive's User Profile, copied a few of my e-mails and pasted them into my new drive's User Profile e-mail account (Windows Live Mail- same accounts, same folder names) . Things got very messed up, very fast.

I know you've written a good deal in this forum about User Profiles and all the intricacies, trials and tribulations of the subject. I've also been delving into the subject at:

Could you direct me to a more detailed tutorial on the User Profile structure and attributes? Same with Windows Live Mail. Combining the two, really has me frustrated :-)

For instance, when uninstalling programs which store data in the User Profile, no matter which uninstaller I use, their data folders remain in the User Profile. The conscience seems to be that one can just delete these data folders after the program Uninstall, without destroying the User Profile structure. Is this true?

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