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Transitioning to a New Computer

new computerMany readers of this blog have experienced the pleasure of getting a new computer. Along with that pleasure, though, there’s sometimes a bit of dread that surfaces as we realize we need to get all of our information from the old machine to the new one. For some, there’s the additional challenge of keeping a home machine and a work machine in sync with each other.

While the thought of getting all that data transferred can be a bit daunting, I’ve found that acquiring a new computer can provide a good occasion for doing some digital housekeeping, making your files easier to find and your worklife a little more organized. And the process needn’t be overwhelming; it just takes a little planning. What follows comes from my own experience of a month or so ago, when I was fortunate enough to receive a new computer at work.

Preparing the old computer for its departure

Here, I’m assuming that you have another machine that you’d like to keep in sync with the new one that will be arriving. If that’s not the case, jump down to the sections on digital housekeeping and moving data, adapting as appropriate; what I describe here is what you’ll want to do last.

The first thing to do is to be sure you properly prepare your old machine for its departure. This is so whether it’s a personal machine that you’re giving away, recycling, or selling to someone like Gazelle or BuyMyTronics.com, or a work machine that you’ll be returning to your employer. Backing up and then removing personal data is essential. You’ll also want to uninstall any software that you installed (if the machine was provided by your employer, be sure to remove only the software that’s your own, not the software that your employer provided for you.). If you own the machine, consider doing a complete wipe of the hard drive. (The good folks at LifeHacker ran a piece on Wednesday on how to prepare your work-issued Windows machine for turn-in.)

Digital housekeeping

If, in the process of cleaning up your old machine, you’ve backed up any data that’s not yet on the machine that you’ll sync with the new arrival, copy it over so that all your data lives in one place. That done, this is a good time to do some digital housekeeping.

Software. Are there programs on the machine that you don’t use? Now’s a good time to uninstall them. Then, take a look at the programs that are left. Which of these would you likely use on the new machine, but are unlikely to be provided for you by anyone else? Make a list for yourself, and then check the licenses for these programs.

  • Some licenses are for a single machine, which means just what you think it does: you may only install the software on one machine at a time. If you want to install it on a second machine, you’ll need to purchase an additional license.
  • A lot of software, though, comes with a single-user license. Such a license allows you to install the software on more than one machine, provided that you’re the user of the software and aren’t using both copies simultaneously. So, you can’t install the machine on your laptop and your best friend’s laptop (your friend will have to buy her own license), but you can install it on both your home and work machines. Some of these single-user licenses limit you to two machines; others allow for more. Check with the company you bought the license from.

I was lucky; when I recently did this inventory for myself in preparation for a move to a new machine at work, I found that, with just one exception, all my licenses allow for installation on at least two machines. (And the exception isn’t a big deal; it’s something I would almost never use on the work machine, anyway.)

Files and other data. What files do you have? Are there duplicates? Are there things you no longer use? Again, this is a good time to do some cleanup. If you use a database program or a password manager, this is a good time to go through the entries there, too, and remove any that are duplicates or that you no longer need. (Just be sure that what appear to be duplicates really are.)

Moving data and keeping your machines playing nicely together

When the new machine arrives, all you’ll need to do is install your software and transfer your files. For the software, be sure you have the install discs or installer files handy, and you’ll be in business. For transferring files to the new machine, you might use your OS’s migration tools, or you might consider using a a service that syncs files between machines. (We’ve written about such services before here at ProfHacker.)

I opted to do the latter, in part because I had trouble with the migration tools available to me. Since I use Dropbox anyway, it was easy enough to just get it started and let the machines sync overnight.

What experience have you had with migrating to a new machine? Please feel free to share ideas, tips, and tricks in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user Shane Kaye / Creative Commons licensed]

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