Rolling out new Windows desktops is a common enough chore. The problem comes in locating and migrating the bookmarks, files, and personal settings that users depend on to do their jobs. So when the time comes to upgrade, it’s your job to move these local settings to a new machine. While good policies such as using a server for all company files and locking down desktop settings can help, migrating users’ files and settings still takes a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, Windows XP includes a new utility, the File and Settings Transfer (FAST) utility, that alleviates much of the work associated with this task.

FAST migration
The FAST utility’s most useful feature is its ability to migrate settings from one computer to another. It works with all previous versions of Windows back to Windows 95. You can also use it during an in-place upgrade of a workstation to Windows XP or even to back up your system’s settings in the event of a failure.

My example equipment

For this Daily Feature, I’ll be using two Windows XP workstations, but the process is the same when migrating from older versions of Windows. I’ll be using a named SLOWE-XP, an old workstation named SLOWE-P, and a new Windows XP workstation named New-XP-Station. While the “server” in my example is also running Windows XP, it could be running anything—Windows 2000, Windows XP, NetWare, or even Linux with Samba—as long as both workstations can access it.

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 migrate between computers. 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.

Gathering the settings
While you can start the process on the new computer, I find it simpler and more intuitive to start at the beginning with the old system. For this part, you’ll need the Windows XP CD.

  • Insert the Windows XP CD in the old system (or the system that you want to back up the settings from).
  • Browse to the \SUPPORT\TOOLS directory on the CD.
  • Double-click FASTWIZ.EXE, which is the executable that will start the File and Settings Transfer wizard.

The first question the wizard asks is which system you’re using, the new one or the old one (Figure A). Since this is my old system, I’ll choose that option and click Next.

Figure A
The wizard asks which system you’re using.

The FAST wizard allows for a number of methods to transfer information between the two systems, including a null modem cable, floppy disk, and network folder (Figure B). For administrators supporting a network, the network server option is the best. Specifically, I’m saving the information to \\Slowe-xp\TechRepublic\FASTutility.

Figure B
Choose a method to transfer the information.

Next, the FAST wizard asks you what you want to transfer—files only, settings only, or both (Figure C). At the right-hand side of the window will be a list of exactly what the wizard will transfer, based on your selection. You can customize this list by choosing the option at the bottom left-hand side of the window, Let Me Select A Custom List Of Files And Settings. For this example, I’m going to move only settings, so I’ll choose a custom list of settings to move.

Figure C
The wizard asks what you’d like to transfer.

By choosing the custom option on the previous screen, this portion of the wizard allows heavy customization of the settings that will be migrated to my new Windows XP machine. Even though I chose Settings Only on the previous screen, this step also allows me to add specific files or folders to the migration. For this step, I’ll choose only to migrate display settings, Internet Explorer settings, network printer settings, taskbar options, and the contents of the C:\Windows Setup Manager folder on my old PC (Figure D). To add a folder, click Add Folder and browse for the folder that you wish to migrate.

Figure D
Customize your migration.

The gathering phase of the migration process is now complete. When you look at the files on the file server, notice that there are only two. This is because separate files are not stored for everything that you want to move.

Migrating the settings
With the files and settings safely stored on a server, it’s time to load them onto the new Windows XP workstation. You’ll generally find the FAST utility at Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | File And Settings Transfer Wizard on a Windows XP machine. If for some reason FAST doesn’t show up on your machine, just run it from the Windows XP CD, as you did earlier for the old system.

On the first screen of the wizard, make the appropriate choice and click Next (Figure E).

Figure E
Choose the new computer for this part of the wizard.

Step two for this phase asks about the status of the old system and from where you want to run the wizard. Since this utility was designed for either choice, you can also use this step to create a wizard disk that will help with the migration process from the old system. However, since I’ve already collected the settings from my old system, I don’t need a wizard disk, so I can choose the last option on this screen and click Next (Figure F).

Figure F
A wizard disk isn’t needed since I started with the old system.

The third step asks for the location of the information from the earlier selection (Figure G).

Figure G
The wizard asks for the location of the files and settings.

A final check
When the transfer is complete, you’ll need to log off and back on in order for the changes to take effect. To verify that my settings are indeed transferred, all I have to do is look at the background on the desktop, which now matches the old system. In addition, all of my Internet Explorer settings and bookmarks were successfully moved, as well as the single folder that I requested.