Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Your operating system typically requires more than just an .exe file to run a program; it needs to be installed correctly. Installing programs correctly may also provide necessary updates.

I have two old computers worth of information on an external drive. I know how to find and move pictures, documents, and other files. I want to know if there's a way to move an .exe file to my current hard drive or alternatively if there's a way to tell my computer to look elsewhere for the file and not assume that it's on drive C.

In this excerpt from Answercast #7, I look at how your computer uses program files and several ramifications of installing programs correctly, including security and feature updates.

Programs need to install

The short, pragmatic, practical answer is, "No."

Most of the programs that you have on these old systems required a setup program. It's the setup program that basically tells Windows where the program lives; it installs the shortcuts that you click on that point to the program; it installs information in the registry that the program relies on; it can even install additional data files that the program might need.

So, the only way to get those programs moved to your new machine, to your new hard drive is to run the setup program for that program. Nine times out of ten that means you need to go find your original installation media or the original download for that particular piece of software.

Are updates available?

It's a good time to take a look and understand, if you want an updated version of that software: if updated versions are available.

If you're going to run setup, you might as well make sure that you're running the latest version possible.

Portable applications

Now, there are some things called portable applications. Portable applications are applications that do not require a setup.

In most cases, like I said, these are not the applications you're talking about.

For those applications, you can easily just find the .exe file and copy it to some location like Windows. Windows is on what's called "the path," so Windows automatically knows to look there. If you copy to a location like that, a portable application will run fine.

By and large, most of our programs have setup programs that would have installed in the first place.

Next - My friend says I have a virus in my Hotmail email, what should I do?

Article C5174 - April 6, 2012 « »

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?


April 10, 2012 10:45 PM

Hi Leo,

Thanks for this useful information. I didn't understand, for long time, why just copy-pasting an .exe file instead of regular installation, won't work.

Ron Hoffman
April 11, 2012 12:39 PM

Yes Leo, it is very true that you can not copy an exe file to another hard drive and have it work but that is only if the program writes to the registry or installs DLLs or othere thing to other locations. If it does not then the program may work. My wife has a lot of games she likes and I have installed all of them to Drive D in a folder I called Games. I made a shortcut to each of the games and put them in a folder I called My Games and saved that folder in the Games folder where I installed the games. When I clean drive C and format it I make a shortcut on the desktop to the My Games folder and she has her games. There are a few other programs I am able to do that with as well which I guess they don't write to the registry and other places. Hey, it says me time.

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