Migrating user data on Windows should be easier

When I moved from Windows 7 to Windows 8, I remember using Easy Transfer tool to move my data — app-specific data (e.g., configurations, user profile) and app-independent data (e.g., file generated using apps) — from Windows 7 box to my Windows 8 box. After the transfer, for applications that were installed on both Windows 7 box and Window 8 box, I just fired up the application on Windows 8 box and continued from where I left off on Windows 7 box — all the configurations/settings were in place.

Recently, I tried to replicate this experience while moving from a Windows 8 box to a Windows 10 box. Boy, was I wrong?

To begin with, there was no Easy Transfer tool to move user data from Window 8 and Windows 10. So, upon searching the web, there were suggestions that such a tool was not required as both Windows 8 and Windows 10 supported OneDrive. Clearly, these suggestions were from users who do not have personalized settings. (Lucky folks!)

Since I use apps with personalized settings, I went along with the alternative suggestion on the web — copy over user files (C:\Users\*) from Windows 8 box to Windows 10 box. The plan was to install the apps, create user accounts, copy over user files, log into user accounts, and fire up the apps. The expectation was that Windows 10 and the apps would magically use the copied over app-specific data (e.g., configurations) and work as they did on my Window 8 box.

I followed thru with this plan. I spent days transferring GBs of data from one box to another. Copying data took a long time as I had to “incrementally” move from smart data transfer tools that would avoid redundant work but fail to deal with certain situations (e.g., hidden files, being accessed by another process) to dumb data transfer tools that did redundant work but deal with any situation.

When I logged into a just “migrated” user account on Windows 10, the start menu was empty. All of the default Windows 10 apps were missing. Even the Store app was missing. WTF!!

Upon searching the web for a solution, I found various suggestions ranging from troubleshooting Windows 10 to scanning the file system for errors to resetting Windows 10. While I did run the troubleshooting app (and it found no issues), I did not pursue others suggestions as I was confident this was a case of bad configuration and not a low-level system issue. Then, I found a suggestion to not copy AppData\NTUSER.* files. So, I deleted the user accounts, recreated it, and copied over all user files except the ones mentioned above.

When I logged into this user account, all of the apps were available. Yeah! However, when I fired up the apps, almost none of them were configured according to the copied over configurations; specifically, the apps did not pick up the configurations stored under AppData folder. Argh!

Since I had already spent few days on this exercise, I decided to transfer app-specific data only for few essential apps and then recreate new configurations for all other apps. So, I deleted the user account, recreated it, and copied over all user files except AppData folder. Only for the essential few apps, I copied over their files under AppData, e.g., copy over AppData\Roaming\Mozilla and AppData\Local\Mozilla folders to migrate Firefox specific user data.

This time, the essential few apps did pick up the copied over configuration while the other apps started in a pristine state. Voila!

  • If I had limited myself to migrating few essential apps, then I could have saved a lot of time by using the Sync feature in Firefox and a similar feature in Chrome.
  • Like Firefox and Chrome, other apps and platforms should by default provide features to “propagate” user configurations/settings/profiles to all devices of the user at the user’s discretion. At the least, apps and platforms should provide features to backup and restore app-specific user data.
  • With our recent fixation to collect gobs of data just about everything, the problem of efficient transfer and management of huge amounts of data is ripe for the picking. This is true for both remote transfers across the network and local transfers across USB cables.
  • While I doubt if Microsoft intended to influence the Windows users by not supporting Easy Transfer tool, I am still curious about why the tool was not supported.

After all the hiccups with migration, I am now a happy Windows 10 customer :)

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Programming, experimenting, writing | Past: SWE, Researcher, Professor | Present: SWE

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