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Can I transfer software from one machine to another using an external drive?


Is it possible to transfer my XP programs and files to an external memory?
Then, if and when I need to, connect the external memory and run it on Windows
7? If so, could you lead me through the process, please?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #75
, I look at what “memory” means and the possibility of
running software from an external drive.


Transfer software to an external drive?

Unfortunately, the answer is “no.”

Now, I have to assume that when you say external “memory,” what you really mean is an external “hard drive” or an external “flash drive.” In other words, an external drive of some sort.

Remember: memory is RAM. That’s the memory in your computer. A disk, while it does remember things, we don’t refer to as memory. We refer to it as “disks” or “drives” and that kind of thing.

So, assuming you mean an external drive, the short answer is really no.

Software must be installed

The reasoning is simply this: when you install software, it makes a lot of settings in the operating system – most notably in this thing called the registry. It places a lot of information in the registry.

Now if you do that under Windows XP, even if you’re installing the software on to an external drive, and then take that external drive to a Windows 7 machine – all of that information is not present in the Windows 7 machine’s registry.

That means that the software is not likely to run.

The rule of thumb is very simple. If the software requires that you run a set up program to install it, then it must be set up on the operating system for which it is intended to run.

That means you needed to set it up with XP. It means you’ll need to set it up with Windows 7.

So no. You can’t use the same copy, because the drivers may be different, and many other things may be different. You’ll be better off simply installing the software on each machine separately.

XP Mode virtual machine

Now, there is one other approach that may help. If you are running Windows 7 Pro or better, you can get for free what’s called XP mode. XP mode is really nothing more than a copy of Windows XP that runs in a virtual machine in Windows 7.

You can then transfer that software by reinstalling it into the Windows XP mode, which is a copy of Windows XP.

But that’s really what it boils down to. If there’s a setup program involved to install the software, you’re going to need to run that setup program to install it – regardless of where else you’re moving it to.

Portable applications

Finally, there is a class of software called portable applications. It’s not common; you have to look for it.

There are definitely portable versions of many applications like Thunderbird and Firefox. It does seem to be more common in the open source world.

But the point is: portable applications will pretty much do what you’re looking for. You place the application on a drive, a drive of your choosing. There is no setup program. You simply run the program and it works.

If that’s the kind of software you’re dealing with, then absolutely, you can do what you’re looking to do.

But in most cases, when people ask this question, they’re asking about the larger applications – and to be frank, the more expensive applications like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop or any number of other things. Unfortunately, all of those involve a setup program and all of those must be setup on the system on which they’re going to be used.

End of Answercast 75 Back to – Audio Segment

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3 comments on “Can I transfer software from one machine to another using an external drive?”

  1. There are some old games I enjoy to play from way back in the DOS age that don’t have to be installed, just moved (like Commander Keen). Many of those won’t run in Windows 7, but with an application like DOSBOX installed – they will run. Others like Civilization II are also standalone, and can be moved (didn’t try that in Windows 7, but used the Windows XP mode). There are usually ways to run any old software, but like Leo said, if you had to run an installation program to install it at first, then most likely you need to do the same thing on your newer system – but not always. If you know what you are doing you can try moving it and see what it does. If it doesn’t work, then research on the web (but be carefull of getting viruses, or companies promising you software then forcing you to install unneeded extra software so they can make money)

  2. Ahhh…this is not always the case. My XP machine died recently, and I put the HD into an external case. While most of the programs did not work, many DID! Far too many to list here, but Photoshop CS3, Word97, PageMill, FontLister, and many, many more.

    So it is true is usually does not work, but go ahead and give it a shot–what is there to lose? I keep my old executables in a file called “Programs that run from EHD” where EHD = External Hard Drive.

    Just my .02, YMMV.

  3. If I create a disk image of my hard drive, and then restore it to another drive, will the software be intact on the new drive? (Settings, registry, etc. ?)


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