Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How do I copy preinstalled software to another machine?

I have an older computer that has a program on it that I want to put on my
new laptop. The program was installed at the factory. There is no recovery disc
or anything. I have tried to download it and had no success. I even had a
friend try to get it and he could not do it either. He said that there was no
install program for it. Can you help me. I sure would appreciate it.

Yet another reason I so strongly recommend making sure that you get
installation CDs for all the software that comes pre-installed on any new
machine. There are just so many scenarios where no having that can be a really
big pain.

Like this one.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

First, the legalities. You should check the license you agreed to when you
purchased the machine for the software in question. The license may restrict
you from legally copying that software to any other machine – ever. (Unlikely,
but it happens.) You may be ok copying it to another machine if you delete it
from the first. Or you may be allowed to copy it to all the machines you own.
It depends. This article goes into it all in a little more details: Can I transfer my software
to my new machine?

With that out of the way, and assuming you’re playing by the rules, we can
move on to mechanics.

Obviously, the simplest solution is to use the original installation media
and setup program. I know you indicated that you didn’t have this, but I want
to reiterate how important this is for other readers, and for your own
experiences in the future. If you have the CD, you just install it and you’re
done.

If you don’t have the original media, the next thing I would do is search
the internet for a legal download. I would not trust sites that offer
buckets of obviously copied software – besides being illegal, they’re often
riddled with spyware and viruses. Where I would look is on the
original software vendor’s website. A Google search for the specific software
and version is also an approach, but again, be very very wary of illegal
download sites – you can cause yourself much more trouble than it’s worth, in
my opinion.

“Obviously, the simplest solution is to use the original
installation media and setup program.”

It might be well worth the money to repurchase the software. Particularly
for older versions, eBay, if used carefully to avoid software pirates, can be a
great place to pick up what you need for not a lot of money – quite often a lot
less than your own time and frustration might be worth. I did this recently
myself when looking for an older version of a particular graphics editing
program. Just make sure to select sellers with a stellar rating and you should
be in great shape.

If it’s not available in other ways, or it’s just too cost prohibitive to
repurchase, then there’s one more step that I’ll recommend trying: a direct
copy.

Say the program you’re wanting to copy is called “Foo”, and it’s installed
into “C:\Program Files\Foo”. Then:

  • Copy the entire directory tree “C:\Program Files\Foo” from the old
    machine to the new. Within that directory you’ll probably find the program,
    perhaps “Foo.exe” in our example – try running that. There’s a small chance
    that this is enough.

  • Fairly geeky: If that didn’t work, look for “Foo” subdirectories underneath
    “C:\Documents and Setting”, in particular those underneath “Application Data”
    subdirectories. Copy the entire directory tree(s) you find for “Foo” into an
    equivalent location on your new machine. There’s a tiny chance this will
    help.

  • Uber geeky and downright dangerous: search the registry for “Foo” entries,
    and move them to your new machine. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail
    here, because this is not for the faint of heart. Not only are there typically
    lots of entries to be copied, it’s also very easy to get it wrong and damage
    your system. Folks who are able to do this safely already understand how.
    There’s a small chance this could work, and a moderate chance you could harm
    your system attempting to do it.

Even after all that, and even in the best of circumstances, it’s still
possible that your program won’t run. It’s missing installation program could
be making required changes elsewhere in the system that we simply have no way
of knowing about.

Some programs are just copy-and-run. We love ’em because there is no
installation program, and things just work. However the majority of significant
software for Windows these days includes significant information in the
registry, as well as a fair amount of file and directory setup. For these
programs, there’s really no practical alternative to their setup program.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

14 comments on “How do I copy preinstalled software to another machine?”

  1. About “How do I copy preinstalled software to another machine?” Leo is very correct about the faint probability and harming the new system when doing such transfers. What I suggest is that you buy Norton Ghost or Imaging software or its trial version and image your hdd and transfer it to your new pc. That will eliminate all the unsuccessful attempts to copy hundreds of files to run just one software.
    How to image is all given in the vendors website. But do imaging only when you know your system is clean stable and usefull.(without the junk bytes).

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    I have a .net win app installed in one machine, can I run it from another machine in the same network. I tried but am getting an error when try to access Database. Is there anyway to make it work?

    Thanks
    Anz

    Reply
  3. I use McAfee Uninstaller… you can Transport an installed program to a single file Example.exe that will reinstall it on another computer..
    All that is required is the same OS like if your old program runs on Windows XP than the New PC would have to also be running Windows XP…
    It usually does a good job… about 90% sucess rate..

    Reply
  4. There is a software tool aimed to solve the problem. PickMeApp http://www.pickmeapp.com is in free Beta now.

    PickMeApp transfer applications in two steps. At the first step it captures selected applications and stores them in a chosen location. The location for captured applications can be USB flash memory, network drive, etc. At the second step you run PickMeApp on the new computer and install the packaged software.

    Reply
  5. WOW! pickmeapp is EXACTLY the tool I needed. I thought there MUST be an application that would be able to look at the uninstall information and be able to figure out the right files and registry settings needed, and it looks like pickmeapp is the tool! How about a review on here of pickmeapp? It’s beta is available at http://www.pickmeapp.com for FREE. Cool stuff.

    Reply
  6. i tried accessing pickme app but it keeps asking for a username and password. when i put something in, it looks like it’s loading but then pops up with the same question again?

    Reply
  7. I bought a Vista machine and had a lot of programs I had no idea of where they were to install on the new machine. I bought PCMover and it did the job easily and quickly. Only works if you are moving programs and files to the same level machine or a higher level- ex: XP to Vista, etc.

    Reply
  8. To move preinstalled software to another machine try CyberMedia UnInstaller it works great to move all files to a zip file or exe file.

    Reply
  9. Hi Leo,

    I installed a game with the cd.
    Also I downloaded the expansion in .iso
    Everything worked great.

    Now I want to play the game on my laptop.
    However I lost the cd.

    Could the game work, when I copied the files from the program files (just the files that I have got from the cd) and then install the expansion?

    Looking forward to hear from you soon.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.