Migrating user files and settings

When making the move from one operating system to another, it's important to make sure that user data and configurations remain intact. You can do so by using the User State Migration Tool and the File And Settings Transfer Wizard. Here's how they work.

Whenever you plan on rolling out a new workstation to one of your users, you must take time to consider the value of the user's state, which consists of two items: user settings and user data. User data refers to the files that users use and create in the process of their jobs. User settings refer to application and user-specific settings they may have configured on their existing computers, such as links, menus, and other critical information they need to get their jobs done efficiently.

In most networks, the usage of home folders located on network file servers and roaming profiles will provide your users with most of this critical information regardless of what computer they log into—but this is not always the case. What about networks that don't have in place a strict policy defining where user data and profile information is stored? How will these networks make a transition to new client workstations? Regardless of what your exact situation is, the solution is the same: Use the user state migration tools that Microsoft has provided.

A look at the tools
You can use two tools to perform user state migration. The first, appropriately enough, is the User State Migration Tool (USMT), which you can find in the Windows Server 2003 CD-ROM in the \ValueAdd\Msft\USMT folder. USMT is powerful and complex; it runs from the command line and uses somewhat archaic .ini files to configure its operation. USMT, however, is the only solution designed for large-scale migrations.

The second tool is the Files And Settings Transfer Wizard (FSTW), a GUI-based utility that ships with Windows XP. While the wizard is very simple to use, it's not an enterprise-level solution. FSTW is designed to allow single users to migrate their own user state from one computer to another without any intervention from the IT department.

Files And Settings Transfer Wizard
The FSTW is located is the System Tools folder and can be reached by clicking Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Files And Settings Transfer Wizard. The settings that are migrated by the wizard fall into four larger groups:
  • Appearance: Items such as desktop wallpaper, colors, sounds, and the location of the taskbar.
  • Action: Items such as the key repeat rate—whether double-clicking a folder opens it in a new window or the same window, and whether you need to double-click or single-click an item to open it.
  • Internet: The settings that configure how you connect to the Internet and control how your browser operates. This includes items such as your home page URL, favorites or bookmarks, cookies, security settings, dial-up connections, and proxy settings.
  • Mail: The settings that you need to connect to your mail server, your signature file, views, mail rules, local mail, and contacts. The mail clients supported are Outlook and Outlook Express.

Additionally, the FSTW can migrate specific application settings, such as those associated with the Microsoft Office suite. Note that only the application settings, and not the applications themselves, are migrated, so the applications will need to exist on the new workstation before the migration is completed.

The settings that are migrated when using the FSTW include the following:
  • Internet Explorer settings
  • Outlook settings and store
  • Dial-up connections
  • Phone and modem options
  • Accessibility
  • Screen saver selection
  • Font
  • Folder options
  • Taskbar settings
  • Mouse and keyboard settings
  • Sounds settings
  • Regional options
  • Office settings
  • Network drives and printers
  • Desktop folder
  • My Documents folder
  • My Pictures folder
  • Favorites folder
  • Cookies folder
  • Common Office file types
  • Outlook Express settings and store

You can migrate files by type (such as .xls), by path (such as D:\ImportantDocs), or by name (such as D:\ImportantDocs\MyFile.doc).

User State Migration Tool
The USMT was designed to assist administrators who have been tasked with migrating large amounts of user settings to new Windows XP desktop clients. USMT provides the same functionality as the FSTW, but is used for larger scale enterprise-level migrations. As well, the USMT provides the administrator with additional functionality, such as the ability to configure user-specific modifications to the registry.

As I mentioned earlier, the USMT is a command-line-driven tool (and thus can be scripted—where its true power lies) that uses several .ini files to configure its behavior. The files associated with the USMT include:
  • scanstate.exe—The application that collects the user data from the source location.
  • loadstate.exe—The application that restores the user data to the destination location.
  • migapp.inf—Specifies which application settings are to be migrated.
  • migsys.inf—Specifies which operating system settings are to be migrated.
  • miguser.inf—Specifies which user settings are to be migrated.
  • sysefile.inf—Specifies which files are not to be migrated, regardless of any other rule that may be in place. This list is prepopulated with operating system files that will configure with the newer versions found in Windows XP and should not be modified except to add additional files to the list that are never to be migrated.

In its default configuration, the USMT will migrate many file types, folders, system settings, and system components. File types migrated include:
  • .doc
  • .dot
  • .rtf
  • .txt
  • .mcw
  • .wps
  • .scd
  • .wri
  • .wpd
  • .xl?
  • .csv
  • .iqy
  • .dqy
  • .oqv
  • .rqy
  • .wk?
  • .wq1
  • .slk
  • .dif
  • .ppt
  • .pps
  • .pot
  • .sh3
  • .ch3
  • .pre
  • .ppa

Folders that are migrated include:
  • Desktop
  • My Documents
  • My Pictures
  • Favorites
  • Cookies

Settings and components that are migrated include:
  • Accessibility options
  • Desktop settings
  • Dial-up connections
  • Display properties
  • Folder options
  • Fonts
  • Internet Explorer settings
  • Localization settings
  • Office settings
  • Mouse settings
  • Keyboard settings
  • Network drives and printers
  • Outlook settings and stores
  • Outlook Express settings and stores
  • Phone and modem options
  • Regional options
  • Screen saver configuration
  • Shortcuts
  • Sound settings
  • User certificates
  • Taskbar settings

Regardless of which method you choose, the actual process of migrating user Files And Settings involves two discrete steps. You must first migrate the Files And Settings from the source location to a temporary storage location. You next migrate this image file into the new location.

What method do I choose?
Now armed with your introduction to the two tools Microsoft has provided for user state migration, what will you do? The answer is different for every organization and ultimately depends on several factors:
  • The number of users to migrate
  • The size of the organization
  • The size of the IT staff that will be making the upgrade
  • The amount of time and money available for the upgrade
  • What type of desktop management is already in place

In smaller networks or networks where there is no standard set for user data and settings information, you might be better off using the FSTW. If, on the other hand, you have a large network and everything is in one or a few locations, then the USMT might be best for you. Ultimately, you'll have to make the decision.

The USMT provides a quick means to migrate large numbers of users' settings, but at the cost of a steep learning curve and lots of practice in a test environment. Also, your results with the USMT might be less than expected if Files And Settings are located in nonstandard locations. On the other hand, the FSTW, like most Windows wizards, is a fairly easy to use GUI-based tool that walks users through the basic steps of the migration process. Advanced support and administrative staff will have no problems using the FSTW to transfer files and settings.

What to migrate?
Once you've chosen the method you want to use, you must next determine what exactly is going to be migrated. You need to consider disk space usage during the process. Some potential disk space usage numbers you might expect to see on your temporary storage location include:
  • Typical desktop user; e-mail and files located elsewhere: 50 MB
  • Desktop user; e-mail and/or files located locally: 150 MB to 600+ MB
  • Laptop user using offline files and folders: 150 MB to 600+ MB

When it comes to identifying the user data to migrate, you must consider where the users keep their data and what data is critical to daily operations. Data that is not often used may be a good candidate for archiving, thus reducing the stress of the migration process. When determining what user settings to migrate, you must first determine what level of interaction you'll allow users with their workstations after the migration is complete. Will you allow them to change settings on the new workstations? What settings must users be able to change in order to get their jobs done correctly? What settings should users not be allowed to change to ensure workstation usability? If you won't allow users to customize their display properties (and will be configuring this via Group Policy), you might be able to safely skip migrating this portion of the user settings.

Last-minute tips
Before you even think about performing a large-scale user state migration, you should take the time to do your research. The "Designing a Managed Environment" volume of the Microsoft Server 2003 Deployment Kit has an outstanding chapter (chapter 6) on migrating user state.

In addition, keep this short list of items in mind during your migration:
  • If you have customized file storage locations in use that you want the migrated files to be moved into (correctly), create these paths before attempting to migrate the user data to the destination location. Ensure that these directories have been assigned the correct share and NTFS permissions that the target user will require to access the files.
  • When using the FSTW, make sure that you have created the user account on the destination computer before attempting to migrate the user's data and settings. Be certain that the user has the correct paths and directory structure created, along with the required NTFS permissions to these locations. This includes share and NTFS permissions on network shares that might be used to temporarily hold the migration image.
  • When using the FSTW, make sure at all times that you are logged in as the correct user. Failure to do so will result in disaster.