Transfer personalized settings and files from one PC to another

Migrating a user to a new PC is a tricky job for any IT professional. Setting up the new computer might be easy, but you also need to duplicate all the unique Windows settings and personalized application settings on the new machine—a job that can take hours. Miramar Systems' Desktop DNA 2.0 speeds this process by automatically capturing and transferring the user's OS and application settings.

Desktop DNA can transfer key Windows settings, including fonts, wallpaper, screen saver, keyboard and mouse properties, folder options, network properties, and printer selections. The program can also migrate unique application settings and files such as templates, toolbars, dictionaries, bookmarks, and general preferences. You can use Desktop DNA to migrate settings for more than 40 popular applications, including Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer (IE), Netscape Navigator, Lotus Notes, Intuit's Quicken, and Adobe Photoshop. Desktop DNA supports Windows 2000, Windows NT, and Windows 9x and can transfer settings from one OS or application version to another (e.g., from NT to Win2K, from Office 97 to Office 2000). The product requires a 486 processor or better, 16MB of RAM, 2.5MB of disk space, and TCP/IP for network transfers.

I tested Desktop DNA in three scenarios to gauge how effectively it migrated crucial settings. In the first scenario, I set up two Win2K workstations—one as the source PC and one as the target. Both computers ran the same applications, including Office 2000, IE 5.0, and Microsoft Outlook 2000, but each PC had different application settings and preferences.

Desktop DNA's wizard can guide you through each step of the migration, or you can run the program from a command line in unattended mode— an ideal option if you're migrating several PCs. For a successful migration to occur, the source and target PCs must be running Desktop DNA, but you don't need to install the program on the PCs. You can load Desktop DNA directly from the CD-ROM or install it on a network share, where any computer can tap into it.

Desktop DNA gives you two ways to migrate settings: You can save the source PC's settings to a Desktop DNA file that you then apply to the target PC, or you can use TCP/IP to transfer the settings to the target directly over the network. I elected to save the source PC's settings as a Desktop DNA file, then I picked the system settings I wanted to migrate. Figure 1 shows the wizard interface that lets you select Windows settings to migrate.

Next, I chose the application settings to migrate. To determine which applications I had installed, Desktop DNA scanned my PC. The program presented a list of supported applications that it discovered on my PC and let me choose whether to migrate the settings for each application. As Figure 2, page 125, shows, Desktop DNA doesn't let you pick which individual settings to migrate for each application. Instead, the product presents only a general Settings check box for most applications. Miramar Systems' Web site lists all applications that Desktop DNA supports and tells you which settings the product captures for each application. However, including that information in the product would be more helpful.

Then, I selected folders and files that I wanted to capture in the migration. This stage of the selection process lets you include specific documents and templates in the transfer. You can selectively include a range of files according to name, date, type, or other criteria. For example, I chose to transfer all Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that had an .xls extension except those that I had stored in the Excel parent directory. After I finished selecting the settings, applications, and other files that I wanted to transfer, Desktop DNA copied them to a 20MB Desktop DNA file, which I put on a network share.

On the target PC, I ran Desktop DNA from the CD-ROM. From the software's interface, I selected the Desktop DNA file on the network and chose the system and application settings to migrate. The software offered to validate all settings before I applied them. Validation alerts you to potential errors or conflicts before you apply the settings to the target PC. For example, Desktop DNA alerts you if you try to migrate a setting to NT from Win95 and NT doesn't support that setting. Desktop DNA took a few minutes to apply the settings, then prompted me to reboot the target PC. I logged back on to Win2K and checked the new system and application settings. Desktop DNA captured all the settings I had specified, so the source and target PCs had the same Win2K and application properties. If any of the migrated settings create problems or conflicts on the target PC, you can use Desktop DNA's Undo button to undo applied settings. I tested the Undo button, and Desktop DNA cleanly reverted the target PC to its original state.

To save time during a mass migration, you can create a Desktop DNA profile to record the settings that you'll use in the migration. For example, you can create a profile that tells the software to copy settings for the Windows desktop but not the screen saver, or the settings for Microsoft Word but not Excel. Using a profile lets you avoid the manual selection process for each target PC.

In my second test scenario, I tested Desktop DNA's ability to migrate settings between different versions of an Office suite. I set up two NT 4.0 workstations: a source PC with Office 95 and a target PC with Office 2000. I told Desktop DNA to migrate all application settings from Word, Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint. Desktop DNA successfully transferred the applications' files, default fonts, and page settings from Office 95 to Office 2000. The only elements the product didn't migrate were Word's Style and AutoFormat options. To test Desktop DNA's network transfer option, I ran the software on the source PC, then pointed Desktop DNA to my target PC's IP address. The source PC picked up the target PC over the network and directly migrated the correct settings.

In the third scenario, I tested Desktop DNA's ability to migrate settings between different OSs. I set up a Win95 PC as the source and an NT 4.0 workstation as the target PC, each with different Windows settings. The software's validation command told me that several settings, such as fonts, screen savers, and printer drivers, couldn't migrate from Win95 to NT because of differences between the OSs. Win2K, NT, and Win9x use different drivers for printers, video display, and other key features, making it difficult to transfer those settings. However, the wallpaper, screen properties, and browser bookmarks did migrate.

Desktop DNA uses customized scripts to capture crucial system and application settings. Miramar Systems continually builds scripts for new applications and enhances existing scripts. You can download new and updated scripts from the company's Web site. The procedure for downloading and installing the scripts is clumsy but workable. To determine whether your copy of Desktop DNA has the latest script for a specific application, you need to compare the date of the script file in your Desktop DNA directory to that of the script file on the Web site. Alternatively, you can skip the date checking and simply download the latest scripts for all supported applications in one Zip file. When you unzip the file, you need to manually copy the individual script files to your Desktop DNA directory.

If you need to transfer applications, such as inhouse programs, that Desktop DNA or the Miramar Systems Web site doesn't support, you can use Miramar Systems' script-writing toolkit to create custom scripts for the unsupported applications. The toolkit is based on a C-like scripting language, and Miramar Systems offers training in custom-script creation.

Desktop DNA is a useful tool for transferring settings and applications between machines, although your success rate will vary depending on your migration scenario. Migrating Windows system settings works very well unless you're moving from one OS to another, especially from Win9x to Win2K or NT. Migrating application settings also works well as long as you're running one of the 40 applications that Desktop DNA supports. If you run any unsupported or inhouse programs, you'll need to write custom scripts or manually copy those files and settings.

Desktop DNA 2.0
Contact: Miramar Systems * 805-966-2432 or 800-862-2526
Price: $49 per license (quantity discounts
Decision Summary:
Pros: Efficiently and accurately migrates most custom settings from one PC to another; features a user-friendly interface
Cons: Handles only 40 popular applications; requires custom scripts for unsupported applications; might not migrate all settings from one OS to another