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Trials and tribulations of moving to a new PC

It's moving day, time to lug electronic files from the old PC to the shiny new one. I have only this bit of advice before you start: Be afraid, be very afraid.

Over the years, I have tried a number of methods to accomplish what would seem to be a relatively simple, though time-consuming, process. And, boy, have I been burned:

+ Corrupt backups on floppy disks killed my e-mail address book _ twice _ even after I had taken the time to make sure the copying had been successful. I also lost some important message files.

+ Transferring over a network connection worked for some applications, but not all, as I found out only after I had reformatted the old hard drive. Naturally, the data and programs could not be replicated.

+ The latest disaster involved what should have been a simple and easy method, connecting a cable to two PCs and using a software package that's supposed to transfer the data automatically.

It ended hours later with a call to tech support to return the PC to its factory settings (a situation made worse because it was a relative's PC).

So, here is ironclad Gussow Rule No. 1 when transferring data: Make sure you're not transferring the problems from the old PC to the new one before you start. Rule No. 2: Make sure the information is on the new PC and working before you do anything to the old machine.

My brother-in-law waited a long time before buying a new PC for his business, using a slow, glitch-ridden machine well past its prime. So it was a big moment when he decided to buy, and I walked him through an online purchase of a Pentium 4 with 256 megabytes of random access memory, a 40-gigabyte hard drive and CD-RW drive.

His first mistake: He wanted me to help set it up, including moving the programs and data that are vital to his business. My first mistake: I agreed.

I thought of just installing the programs he wanted on the new PC, along with the data from backup disks. But along came PC Relocator, software that received good reviews and seemed easy enough to try ($49.99, www.alohabob.com).

We did the prep work, including uninstalling unwanted programs from the old PC, installed the software and hooked up a cable to each PC's printer port. We clicked start, the PCs saw each other and the software on the new PC ran an inventory of what was on the old PC.

But instead of giving us the choice of what we wanted to transfer, this program simply would move it all. The directions indicated it wouldn't overwrite more recent settings, so I set aside my reservations about the estimate of a three-hour, 14-minute operation and proceeded.

Even programs we thought we had uninstalled ended up being transferred, the three hours turned into more than four, then the real headaches began: It had indeed overwritten the new PC's settings and transferred all the problems from the old machine to the new.

Error messages, including missing DLL (dynamic link library) files, popped up during bootup and continued when we tried to open programs. After a few minutes, I decided to try the System Restore feature on Windows Me, which would roll back the operating system to before the transfer. But it wouldn't let me. The whole system had been corrupted.

I reinstalled Windows. System Restore still wouldn't undo the damage but the PC had at least stabilized so it could be used. That wasn't good enough, so my brother-in-law called Dell and reformatted the hard drive to its factory state.

Eight hours after we had started, my brother-in-law was back to where he had been before my ill-fated efforts. On his own, he went back to the old tried and true. He installed the programs he wanted, and used the disk backups to move the data.

It was slow, but it worked.

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