Imagine this scenario: You are on a tech support call and realize that the user’s PC needs a complete rebuild. Short of backing up this PC or trying to record all of the settings and moving the user’s favorites, what can you do? There are a lot of ways that this can be handled. One simple and inexpensive way to address these situations is to make use of the file and settings transfer (FAST) wizard that is available on the Windows XP CD.

The process
The transfer process is surprisingly easy. You’ll need the Windows XP CD-ROM and a place where you can store the files and settings that you wish to back up. If you work in an environment with a network and server, the easiest place to store this information is on a server that can be accessed by both the old and new workstations.

FAST works on any Windows machine from Windows 95 and up. You can even use this utility on your older and less reliable clients. FAST allows you to back up almost any custom system setting and specific files and folders.

My test setup for this article includes a Windows XP workstation and a server to which I will be saving configuration information.

On the critical machine
On the machine that is to be backed up, insert the Windows XP CD and browse to \SUPPORT\TOOLS directory. Double-click FASTWIZ.EXE, which is the executable that will start the File and Settings Transfer (FAST) wizard.

FAST was designed to be a transfer utility for migrating files and settings from one computer to another. So, the windows do not use terminology that you would expect in a backup product since it’s not a backup product. Instead, FAST uses the terms “old computer” and “new computer.” In the scenario being described in this article, the old computer would be considered the PC that is being backed up and the new computer is considered to be the same PC after a problem has occurred that requires a restoration.

Performing the “backup”
The initial screen of FAST, shown in Figure A, asks you to choose which machine you are working with. For this step, assume that you are on the machine with the settings that you wish to back up and choose the Old Computer option. Click Next to continue.

Figure A
Choose Old Computer to back up files and settings.

FAST supports a variety of transfer methods or, in this case, backup methods. If you are backing up files or settings from a user’s machine, I recommend that you choose a network location in which to save them. A location that is backed up with the nightly backup is preferable. For this example, I will back this information from the “old” Windows XP box to a different XP box named “xp2” that is backed up nightly, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
Choose a location to which to back up the information.

The next step of the wizard will let you choose what to back up—files, settings, or both. FAST will scan your system to determine what should be included. However, if you want more granular control over the backup contents, select the Let Me Select… box in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
What would you like to include in the backup?

Assuming you opted to select the files and settings to be included in the previous step, this next step asks you what you would like to back up, as shown in Figure D. At this stage, you can exclude and include certain files based on their type (Add File Type) and directory location (Add Folder). You can also select specific files using the Add File button and modify the settings that will be backed up by clicking Add Setting. If there is a particular setting, folder, or file that you do not want to include in the backup, find it in the list and click the Remove button.

Figure D
Select the files and settings you want to include.

After these selections are made, the wizard will search the system for matching files (as shown in Figure E), settings, and folders and write a compressed file to the chosen location with all of the contents.

Figure E
Here you can see the configuration collection in progress

To make use of the information that was backed up in the previous section, you need to run the FAST utility and select the New Computer option. The next step of the wizard will ask how you plan to obtain the information from the “old” system or the backup. Since the wizard was already run to back up the data, you should select the option indicating that you already have the information, as shown in Figure F. When using FAST as a backup utility, no other choice would make sense.

Figure F
The files and settings have already been collected.

Next, the wizard needs to know where to find the files from the backup. For this example, I saved the files from the XP workstation (xp1) that I needed backed up to \\xp2\shared\xp1-files, so that is the location that I will provide to the wizard, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G
Here is the location of the backed up files.

After this, the files and settings are restored as they were before the incident that caused a need for the backup, as shown in Figure H. You will be required to log off and log on again for any settings changes to take effect.

Figure H
Here you can see the files and settings being restored.

Not a full backup replacement, but still a useful tool
I wouldn’t recommend using FAST as a regular backup mechanism for critical machines. Instead, I would recommend that these machines be backed up with a real backup utility or that the user be required to save his or her files to a central location that is backed up regularly. However, in situations in which a tech is at someone’s desk and needs to reload the operating system, using FAST can save a tremendous amount of time and be much less prone to errors. Rather than having to manually reconfigure settings and remember to do things like backup favorites, he or she can just run FAST and handle this in a few simple steps.