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Can my backup programs restore my settings to a new machine?

Question: Leo, earlier you gave me good advice about changing from XP to Vista due to the fact that support will end on the 8th of April in 2014. I have several questions before I do this.

I’m going to take those questions one at a time, but I also want to point out that they actually reflect a very common misconception when it comes to backups.

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A backup’s purpose

Many people want their backups to help them migrate to a new machine or to a new operating system.

That’s not what backups are for.

Backups are to save your data in case something happens to your machine. You would restore your machine to a backup taken of that machine if a hard disk dies, or malware renders the machine useless.

I advise you not to attempt to use a backup taken on one machine to restore to another, especially when you’re trying to migrate to a different operating system at the same time. However, you can use that backup to transfer your data over to that new machine. I’ll come back to that later.

On to the specifics.

Upgrade!Will Carbonite do the same as Macrium Reflect restoring my files and folders?

It’s a little bit of an apples and oranges comparison.

Carbonite is mostly a “data file” only backup, and it backs up online. Its primary job is to back up your data files, and not much else. It can be configured to back up more, I believe, but because it does so over your internet connection, a full backup can take an incredibly long time. A complete backup of your entire system and a restore of a complete system from Carbonite can take days or weeks, or in a couple of cases I’ve heard of, months.

Macrium, on the other hand is an “image” backup program. It makes backup images of your entire hard disk, typically storing them on an external hard disk or some other media.

Both Carbonite and Macrium can absolutely be used to restore your data files.

Will either restore all of my settings including Outlook?

Again, if you’re restoring a backup image to the same machine that it was made on, then Macrium will restore everything, including Outlook settings and in fact Windows itself. You’ll be restoring the same version of Windows that you started with on that machine.

But in your situation where you’re transitioning from XP to Vista, the answer is no. When you move to a new operating system, you’ll be installing Outlook, for example, from scratch and reconfiguring all of your settings.

Does changing my operating system affect the network?

The news is good here: your networking set up should work just fine regardless of the operating system you are migrating too.

How do I choose to restore everything except the operating system?

Again, this is not really what a backup is for.

There’s no way to say in the backup construct “Restore everything except…” You can’t restore just applications or installed applications to a new operating system. You can’t tell your backup utility “Restore only my data”. We’ll get to data in a minute, but there’s no simple way to say “just restore only my data”, because there’s really no definition of what just “your data” – or even “installed applications” – means.

Restoring data

After you’ve installed Windows and your applications on the new machine, you can use Macrium Reflect to mount the image backup so that it appears as if it were another drive on your new system. Then you can copy whatever files you choose to from that backup image to the new system.

I like using image backups for this, since by definition they contain every file on the hard disk of the original system, so you don’t have to worry that you forgot some important file. If you find that you need something at any time later, you can just go back to that image backup and grab the file.

Moving to a new version of Windows

Ultimately, the right way to move to a new machine or a new operating system isn’t really centered around using backups at all. You install Windows from scratch, or it might be pre-installed on your machine. You install your applications from scratch (and again depending on how you got your machine, some of the may be pre-installed for you), and then you copy over your data.

In that last step, as I just explained, your image backup might be a convenient source to get the data to be copied over. But that’s about the extent to which you can really use a backup for migrating to new machines or to new operating systems.

Moving to a new machine or new OS is actually a very complex process for the computer itself. A lot can change. While there are utilities like PC Mover, for example, that are designed to help automate migration of installed applications from one machine to another, I’m personally still of the opinion that installing from scratch and copying your data manually will give you the most reliable and the most stable results.

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