Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 3 Issue 9 September 2009
In This Issue
Moving to a new computer is easy, right?
Kadansky Consulting marks 11th year in business
With the cost of new computers at an all-time low and computer hard drive warrantees lasting only 3-5 years, you may be getting a new computer sooner than you think. Here is my advice on how to make moving to a new computer as smooth and painless as possible.

Moving to a new computer is easy, right?

It's bound to happen sooner or later. You may decide to move to a new (or different) computer, or you may find yourself with no choice but to move. The most common reasons I've seen are:
  • Your computer as a whole has become difficult to use, e.g., your software isn't working well anymore or it's just too slow, and you've determined that fixing or upgrading the hardware or software will cost more than buying a new computer.
  • You're tired of using a Windows machine, and you want to switch to a Macintosh.
  • You're tired of using a Macintosh, and you want to switch to a Windows machine.
However, moving to a new computer isn't as easy as you might think.

Where to start: Take a look around
You wouldn't move to a new house or apartment without taking at least a few minutes to think about the stuff you need to move and where it will end up in your new place, as well as the stuff you won't need, and the same idea applies to computers. With a little planning you can minimize the problems you (or someone you hire) may run into.

3 layers to think about
One useful way to think about what's on your computer's hard disk is to visualize 3 layers of stuff: your data (e.g., your Microsoft Word documents), which you access using your software (e.g., Microsoft Word), which in turn relies on your operating system (e.g., Windows or Mac OS X) to work. With this in mind, here are my "basic principles" regarding moving to a new computer:
  • Top layer: You can copy your data (documents, pictures, email, music, etc.) to a new computer.
  • Middle layer: Except for very simply programs, you can't copy your software to another computer, not to mention that software license agreements often prohibit it. Most programs install too many pieces into too many nooks and crannies for this to be practical. Finding all the pieces is like trying to find all the water you've poured on a pile of gravel. Instead, if the software you need doesn't already come with the new computer, you should plan on installing it.
  • Bottom layer: Similarly, you can't copy your old computer's operating system to a new computer.
Therefore, I recommend taking a thorough look through your old computer, asking yourself "what am I using" in each of the following categories, and making a list.

Your data on the old computer
  • What data do I use directly, that is, by explicitly clicking or choosing the file you want to open? In what folders is it located? How big is it (in megabytes or gigabytes)? This should include your "regular" documents, pictures, music, Quicken or QuickBooks files, etc.
  • What data do I use indirectly? This includes your email messages, email address book, web favorites or bookmarks, etc., plus other information that your old computer "just knows," such as your email account settings, usernames and passwords, special fonts, and other settings you might care about, including sleep settings, your desktop picture or background pattern, screen saver settings, etc.
Your software on the old computer
  • What programs do I use explicitly, e.g., whose icons I click on or choose from a menu?
  • What programs do I use implicitly? This is software that you rely on but don't invoke directly, such as printer, antivirus, antispyware, and firewall software, and other behind-the-scenes services. Focus on the programs you added after you bought the computer.
Your peripherals on the old computer
  • What external devices are plugged into the old computer? This includes your monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner, internet connection, USB hub, external hard disk, flash drive, telephone line, speakers, microphone, iPod, Palm Pilot, cell phone, digital camera, webcam, voice recorder, etc.
  • What physical ports does my old computer have, and which of them am I currently using with which devices? This includes serial, parallel, USB, video, telephone, network (a.k.a. wired internet), speaker, microphone, FireWire, etc.
  • What wireless connections can my old computer handle? This includes wireless internet, Bluetooth, infrared, etc.
Now, think about the new computer
I call this part of the process "book/couch/stove":
  • Book: Things that are easy to move.
  • Couch: Things that can be moved with some effort.
  • Stove: Things that are built-in and can't be moved, so there had better be one (or something equivalent) in the new place.
In other words, how will you use your current things on the new computer?

Your old software on the new computer
For each program that you've been using on the old computer, ask yourself:
  • Will it already be on the new computer? Great! It won't need any further work on your part.
  • Is it compatible "as is" with the new computer? Good! You'll just need to install it, assuming you can find your software CD or download it from the internet.
  • Is my current version incompatible but I can get new a newer version which will work? Is it free (e.g., Adobe Reader) or will it cost money (e.g., Microsoft Office)?
  • Is my version incompatible and there's no new version available? Is there another program I could get to replace it? How much will it cost? Will I have to convert my data?
Your peripherals on the new computer
Looking at the new computer, ask yourself:
  • What physical ports and wireless connections will it have? Are there any types of ports I'll be losing? Gaining? For example, serial ports, parallel ports, and dial-up modems are disappearing, and wireless internet and Bluetooth are becoming commonplace.
  • How will each of my wired devices physically connect to it? Is there "driver" software already on the new computer to make them work? Or can I download it from the manufacturer's web site?
  • How will each of my wireless devices connect to it?
  • For any devices that can't physically connect or for which no drivers are available, what will I replace them with?
For example:
  • You have a parallel printer that works fine on your old computer, but your new machine doesn't have a parallel port. Rather than buying a parallel-to-USB adapter (which don't always work), the simplest solution is to buy a USB printer (perhaps moving up to a multifunction printer) to replace it.
  • You already have a USB printer, but until you check the manufacturer's web site (HP, Epson, Canon, etc.), you won't know if there's a driver to make it work on your new computer.
Planning the move
At this point you've got enough information to plan your move:
  • How will you "ferry" your data over to the new computer? I prefer to use flash drives or external hard drives, but CDs, local network, or the internet can also work.
  • What data will you need to convert?
  • What software are you ready to install from CDs?
  • What software will you need to download or buy?
  • Will you need to buy any new peripherals?
How much time will it take? Speaking from experience, whatever optimistic amount of time you estimate, double it!

What about moving from Macintosh to Windows or Windows to Macintosh?
Changing operating systems adds even more complexity to your move. Careful planning and research beforehand is especially important! I still recommend the process I've outlined above, but it's very likely that you'll need to get replacement software and convert certain types of data.

There's one partial exception: If you're moving from a Windows machine to a Macintosh and setting it up with Windows emulator software (Virtual Windows, Parallels, Boot Camp, etc.) to recreate your Windows environment inside the Macintosh environment, you'll avoid most of these issues, but you may experience other "fish out of water" problems.

Things to do after the move
After the movers have left, I recommend:
  • If you haven't already, set up a backup system for your new computer. You've gone through all this work to get here, why risk losing your data? See "What's the single best way to protect my computer?" at
  • If your surge protector is more than 4 years old, it may already be wearing out. Buy a new one, then take a marker and write on it "Replace me in <month> <year>," picking a date 4 years from today. See "End of year advice on protecting your computer and other devices" at
  • Keep your old computer for a few days or weeks in case you forgot something.
  • Then, decide how you'll dispose of it: Will you donate it to someone who could use it? Donate it for parts to a repair person? Put it in the trash?
  • If you're not sure how to securely remove your data from its hard disk, I suggest removing its hard drive and destroying it, then donating the rest of the computer to a repair person for parts.
Where to go from here
  • If your computer is slow or crashes a lot, I recommend you have a knowledgeable person look at it before you decide to buy a new one. Problems like this can often be fixed!
  • If you're using "borrowed" software ("my friend came over and installed it using his disk"), then be prepared to deal with this when you move to a new computer.
  • If you need to work with Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) but don't need to use the Microsoft Office software per se, you can download free "equivalent" packages for Windows ( and Macintosh (
If you know someone who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
Kadansky Consulting marks 11th year in business

Many things have changed since September 1998, but my mission hasn't. I believe that with a little help, encouragement, and information, the average person can accomplish just about anything on the computer. I'm learning new things every day, enjoying what I do, and I will still be here to help.
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to and I'll add you to the list, or visit

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Copyright (C) 2009 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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