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File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

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I configured and updated a brand new machine last week and overall the process has been pretty smooth and painless. But once again I'm reminded how silly Windows' scattering of files all over the place really is.

I installed the new box on Monday. It's now Saturday night and I'm still picking up a handful of things every day that I have to reinstall or reconfigure or try to pick off the old machine's hard disk. And even after a new machine is up and running for a month - I will probably  still have that sinking feeling like I somehow forgot something in the copy/move over process.

I'm not expecting installing a new machine to be easy, but it's pretty crazy of the hoops we have to run through just to reconfigure a machine with a few applications on it (and I think my application count is probably fairly light).

I try to make things as easy as possible for myself when I set up my machines knowing that I quite frequently pave machine (or more likely ruin them first with a beta install gone bad <g>) and so will need to move everything to a new box. So all of my development and data and document folders are easily organized of my root rather than in Documents and that stuff for the most part copies over pretty smoothly, even if it takes nearly an hour with RoboCopy to get it all over to a new machine. I have to shut down SQL Server and IIS and then just let the copy rip the files over the wire.

But that's the easy part, right? The hard part is finding all those little pieces of configuration that are scattered all over the hard drive by various Windows compents and applications. So a lot of information goes into Documents and you'll want to be sure to copy a few folders from your documents root. For me that's a few applications like Visual Studio, Html Help Builder, Alpha Button and a couple of others. Those are also pretty reasonably forward.

But then there's additional stuff that needs to move. For example, I use IE's RSS feed manager to keep track of all of my Rss feeds and the only way to get it out is to export. IE Favorites - oh yes - they're buried somewhere off the users\rstrahl folder. A few other applications keep their configuration information in Application Data. Microsoft Office instead puts its templates into a really obscure place: C:\Users\rstrahl\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates where you are almost certain to forget that you put them there.

Eh - you can see easily that Microsoft is the worst of offenders when it comes to settings scattered all over the place. OTOH, FireFox also stores its settings in this location: C:\Users\rstrahl\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\viom886t.default so same issue there. All of these weird Roaming folders (there are 3 different folders for the 'local profile' - is that really necessary?

But then there are also local applications. Sure almost every application allows you to export its settings somehow and lets you move them.

Even worse are applications that don't let you export settings and store things in really obscure places. For example, I wanted to move my Live Writer site configurations a couple of days ago. I couldn't find a way to export those settings nor could I find a configuration file that actually contains these settings. Live Writer being a .NET application you'd think it's be fairly trivial to store configuration settings in a serialized XML file or AppSettings? Ah, no that'd be too easy. There is probably a configuration file somewhere but I'll be damned  if I could find it. Is it Documents? Is it in AppData? Is it in the Roaming profile? Who the hell knows. Or maybe it's in the registry. After a few minutes I just gave up and reconfigured my blogs manually.

The problem with all of this is that it's nearly impossible to keep track of all the different configurations and settings that you've set up unless you really have two machines side by side and you - where the hell did those settings get stored, and you go and get them right then and there.

I try to to be as minimalist as possible with my machine installations and I take the opportunity when I do a new install to ditch dozens of applications and tools that I rarely use. So there's a benefit to this cleansing process. My old machine had a 100gig hard drive with 85 gig filled. The new machine is currently at 65gig (of 160 gig) and I think all the real hogs are installed so there's some benefit from the reinstall.

So what do you do for your machine management to make life easier and keep things organized for the next paving?

Posted in Personal  Vista  Windows  

The Voices of Reason


Steve from Pleasant Hill
August 25, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

I just absolutely do not have time for this madness unless it is very necessary, which is why I have purchased 1 PC in the past 3 years and run W2K still... (I'm thinking of waiting to see what the next OS is after Vista as I'm not sure I want those headaches).

Hopefully some self sacrificing person has written a tool to help.

Joe Cheng [MSFT]
August 25, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

Have you tried Windows Easy Transfer? It was invented exactly for this. (I personally have not used it--I try to bring stuff over as needed to keep entropy at bay for as long as possible)

Here's a utility for moving Writer settings from one machine to another.


Walt Ritscher
August 25, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

Micorosoft has a solution in Vista.

Vista has a utility that grabs all your data and user settings from the different locations like C:\Users\rstrahl\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates and duplicates on your new install. It's called Windows Easy Transfer http://tinyurl.com/ysqtvl

I used it on a Vista transfer this spring and it save me a lot of time. Google search for it and see that a lot of other people are happy with it.

Rick Strahl
August 26, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

@Joe - thanks for the link to the Live Writer plug-in. That's great - but you gotta wonder, why that isnt built in...

Easy transfer - didn't know that was there. Going to give it shot now to see what I missed in my transfers <s>. I know a few settings (Newsgroup accounts in Windows Mail etc.) that I'm still missing.

Thanks for the links. I can use that *next* time. <g>

Adam Nofsinger
August 27, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

I have 2 hard drives, and try to keep stuff split up so that my smaller drive is just Operating Systems stuff, and my bigger drive is the "Data Drive" So, I migrate the data drive to any new machines I get, or if I need to "reset" Windows due to entropy I just format the smaller drive and reinstall windows.

Usually I can get away with just copying my C:\Documents and Settings\ to my "Data" drive temporarily and then pulling stuff I need when I need it. Still, it's annoying.

I have some experience with Linux, and I've got to say that its really not any better there. Any Mac OS guys think a Mac is easy to migrate?

August 27, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

What I do to find out where an obscure setting file resides is run regmon and filemon (from SysInternals) right before I launch the application and suspend the capture after the app loads (to limit the amount of capture logs). Then I look at the capture logs and investigate. With some search and filtering, I know what the app is loading.

(Using this method, I am able to, ahem <g>, extend some of my trial software.)

Rick Strahl
August 27, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

I actually did something like that with Live Writer, but it was spewing forth so much stuff it'd have take an hour to dig through the logs. I decided it's quicker just to set up the two or three entries by hand.

Bertrand Le Roy
August 27, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

Err, yeah, as others have said, Easy Transfer just works great. I had to migrate to a new laptop recently, and I just decided to trust it (knowing that I had a full and recent backup of the drive ;).
Seamless experience, I had a new machine with all my stuff in less than an hour's unmonitored intall of Vista from scratch. Just amazing. I don't want to have to chase down my outlook files anymore. Ever. And I won't.

Rick Strahl
August 27, 2007

# re: File Locations on Windows Machines = Absolute Madness

Thanks Bertrand. Next time... As to Outlook - wonder if your Office settings migrated with you?

Files are not a problem - I move everything to different folders out of the Documents hell <s> when I can, and Outlook's one of them so it's easy to backup in scheduled backups. But the big problem is that Office 2007 seems to have lost the option to back up Office settings (at least I couldn't find it).

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