Quickly and efficiently transplant customized files and settings

Computers have personalities, in the form of user—customized network, desktop, and application settings. Recreating a computer's personality on a new or upgraded machine can be extremely time—consuming, especially when you need to repeat the task for multiple computers. The ability to migrate,rather than recreate, a computer's personality can save a significant amount of time and resources. Miramar Systems' Desktop DNA 2.5, Altiris's PC Transplant Pro 2.1 beta, and Tranxition's Personality Tranxport Professional (PT Pro) 2.0 give you this ability. You can save users' personalized settings, set up new computers or upgrade existing computers, then reapply the saved settings. The new or up—graded computers look familiar to users, who can immediately find printers, mapped network shares, and shortcuts.

The Test Environment
Migration scenarios can take several forms. In an in—place migration, you transfer a personality to an upgraded OS or software on the existing system. In a same—version migration, you transfer a personality to a new machine running the same OS and software that your user currently employs. In an upgrade migration, you transfer a personality to a new computer with new versions of the OS and software. Because many companies are considering upgrading to Windows 2000, which has greater systems requirements than Windows NT or Windows 9x, I tested the products' usability during an upgrade migration.

I set up five NT Workstation 4.0 computers and installed Service Pack 6a (SP6a), Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.5, and Microsoft Office 97 on each machine. (I set up multiple machines and tested each product several times. This method let me easily test each product's migration of different personality configurations.) On each source computer, I created a variety of personalized settings including shared folders, customized toolbars in Office applications, printer connections, and miscellaneous desktop settings. I also set up a Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox with several email messages for each of the computers. I then set up five new computers onto which I installed Win2K Professional and Office 2000. (I didn't manually install IE on the destination computers because Win2K includes a version of IE. My goals were to determine how thoroughly and how accurately the products transferred personalized settings, copied Outlook settings and existing email messages, and automated the migration process to the destination computers.

Desktop DNA 2.5
To begin, I inserted the Desktop DNA CD—ROM on my source computer. I didn't need to install the program to a shared folder as I did the other tested products (although Desktop DNA offers that option). The program gave me the option to perform the migration over the network or to save the settings to a file. I selected the Network transfer method, which uses TCP/IP to directly transfer personality settings over the network to remote computers. This method saves both file—server storage and network bandwidth because the program doesn't need to store settings information on a server, then copy the data to the new computer. This approach also saves time because one operation performs both the settings extraction and application. I clicked Source System to tell Desktop DNA that the local system would be the source computer.

Next, I ran the CD—ROM on the new computer, selected the Network option for the transfer method, and clicked Destination System to identify the local system as the destination computer. I then ran the migration wizard on the destination computer. Desktop DNA uses a wizard—based primary interface, which was easy to understand even though the numerous screens contained a lot of information. I needed to click through a lot of pages, which would be time—consuming if I were creating or migrating multiple personality profiles.

The wizard let me select system settings, application settings, files, and folders to copy to the new computer. The selection process was easy to understand but required several steps because the product offers a unique option: As well as transfer program settings, the program can copy entire applications to your new computer so that you don't need to install the applications separately. (This ability can be useful—for example, when transferring inhouse applications that you've customized for particular users—but most companies simply upgrade standard applications.) The program displayed a treeview of applications; when I expanded an application, the program revealed a check box for the application and a check box for the application's settings. I looked for an easy way to select only settings for all applications, but instead I needed to individually select each check box under all the applications. (The program provides a Select All button, but clicking the button selects all the application programs as well as all the settings.)

The wizard also let me set up filters to include document files and folders in the migration. The file—filter interface was easy to understand: When I selected Filters from the Settings tab's Files and Folders section, the program displayed a new window with separate tabs for configuring each of many filter options. I could include or exclude files according to type, name and location, date, and size. I could also create multiple filters without needing to close and reopen the interface. The filters transferred all the files I wanted (and none of the files I didn't want).

At the end of the wizard, I had the option of saving the selected settings as a profile to use for unattended migrations. I then clicked Start Migration to complete the transfer process. Desktop DNA copied the source computer's personality directly to the new computer. After the migration process finished, the program presented three logs showing undo options, errors, and exceptions. From the Undo Log, I could select migrated settings that I wanted to undo. The Error Log didn't display any errors, but the Exceptions Log showed a few settings that didn't transfer correctly and a few instructions that explained how to get transferred settings to apply correctly.

The program transferred my Outlook settings without any problem. When I ran Outlook 2000 on the destination computer, Outlook informed me that a previous version's settings were available and gave me the option to use those settings. I accepted and could immediately send and receive email messages. All my old messages and folders were in the same place as they had been on the source computer.

Desktop DNA offers command—line switches that let you control portions of the migration process without user intervention. (For example, Desktop DNA doesn't include command—line switches for automated installations but does have a command—line switch to uninstall the program.) The print documentation details the command—line switches and their functions.

I decided to test the program's automated network—migration capabilities. I set up two batch files: one for the source computer and one for the destination computer. The source computer's batch file needed only a few commands before the system was ready and waiting for the destination computer to connect. The destination computer's batch file required a little more work (although I could then reuse the batch file on many computers). To set up the destination computer, I needed the source computer's IP address or DNS name, the password I had specified for the source computer, and the filename of the personality profile I'd created earlier. The automated migration went off without a hitch.

Additional Utilities and Features
Desktop DNA has some interesting features that the other products don't have. The product's Validation feature let me detect potential settings problems before the migration. To test this feature, I clicked Validate on the migration wizard's Validation tab. Desktop DNA then displayed a treeview of potentially problematic applications and settings as well as explanatory warnings, as Figure 1 shows. This information was helpful and gave me an idea of problems I might face during subsequent migrations. I could save the results to a text file in case I needed to refer later to the information.

The Muscle Migration feature adds extra muscle to Desktop DNA's application—finding function. To test this feature, I installed GlobalSCAPE's CuteFTP Pro and Microsoft ActiveSync 3.1—neither of which Desktop DNA supports directly—on a source computer. I ran Desktop DNA's migration wizard, which didn't detect the applications. I then clicked Muscle Migration on the migration wizard's Settings tab to retrieve a list of all installed programs on the source computer. I had to search a little before I found CuteFTP and ActiveSync; CuteFTP appeared in a treeview under the vendor's name, and ActiveSync appeared as wcescomm.exe. But Desktop DNA successfully migrated the programs and settings for these two applications.

The program included both printed documentation and online Help files. The printed documentation was detailed and complete, but the online Help wasn't as detailed as I'd hoped.

The Bottom Line
I found Desktop DNA to be a helpful migration tool, and I especially liked the program's unique features and network—transfer option. The product's extensive program—settings support and Outlook support are also a plus. If you need to migrate entire applications, including inhouse applications, Desktop DNA is your best bet. However, if you need to migrate many different computer personalities, the program's wizard has too many steps to be practical.

Desktop DNA 2.5
Contact: Miramar Systems * 805-966-2432 or 800-862-2526
Web: http://www.desktopdna.com
Price: $245 for 5 computers; $490 for 10 computers; $1125 for 25 computers; $2250 for 50 computers; $3900 for 100 computers; $9000 for 250 computers; $16,000 for 500 computers
Decision Summary:
Pros: Validation feature detects possible problems with selected settings; option to migrate settings through TCP/IP network transfer saves time and effort; product can migrate complete applications; offers advanced file filtering; provides good Outlook support
Cons: Program—or settings—selection process is awkward; wizard's many steps make multiple migrations a hassle

PC Transplant Pro 2.1 Beta
Altiris let me test the PC Transplant Pro 2.1 beta version, which should be available as a retail version by the time you read this review. PC Transplant Pro stores disk images and Personality Packages (i.e., the files containing the personality settings) in its installation folder, so you need to install the product on a file server with plenty of available space. The setup program creates the installation folder, and you can share that folder after you install the product on the server. The product ships with a product license file that you must have to install the software. After you install the product on a file server, you can run the program on the source computers directly from the share on the file server. This process produces an executable file that you then run on the destination computers.

The product comes with a printed installation guide, but all other documentation is in PDF format. The PDF files and the product's online Help were useful, although I was disappointed that the documentation didn't fully explain the Migration Wizard's or the disk—imaging tool's command—line parameters. Instead, Altiris's technical support staff talked me through the wizard and helped me get the migration program running.

To assist in the migration process, PC Transplant Pro uses two wizards: the PC Transplant Wizard and the Migration Wizard. The PC Transplant Wizard guides you through the process of extracting personalized settings to create a Personality Package on the source computer. The Migration Wizard helps you create a disk image of a computer with a standard installation and apply that disk image and the Personality Package to the destination computer. If you let the wizards perform these tasks for you, you can turn a computer with no OS, software, or settings into a computer running a standard installation of your current OS and software, configured with personalized settings.

First, I installed PC Transplant Pro on my file server, created a shared folder for the migration program installation files, and gave my source and destination computers read and write access to this folder. Next, I ran the Migration Wizard from my source machine. The wizard prompted me to create a boot disk, which I then used to create a disk image of my destination computer's OS and software configuration as well as to upload that image to the shared folder. After I completed this process, the wizard prompted me to create a second boot disk, which I would use later to install my personality settings onto a new computer.

Next, I clicked a button in the Migration Wizard to create the Personality Package. The PC Transplant Wizard started, and I was able to specify which settings, document files, and folders I wanted to include in the Personality Package. The wizard presented a dialog box, which Figure 2 shows, that contained three tabs: Desktop, Network, and Applications. Each tab contained checklists of settings that I could migrate. I could save settings for Office applications, Corel's WordPerfect Office applications, and even Palm's PalmPilot desktop applications. The PC Transplant Wizard has only a few steps, so creating multiple personality profiles would be easy. However, the wizard lacks a filter mechanism to select or exclude files or folders according to date, size, or location.

When I finished selecting the settings I wanted to transfer, the PC Transplant Wizard prompted me for a filename. The program created an executable Personality Package and placed the executable in the shared folder that I'd created earlier. (This executable was the only client—side software I needed to complete the migration.) From the Migration Wizard, I selected the Personality Package and several network settings to enable my second boot disk to connect to the file server and download my saved disk image when I configured my destination computer. I then used that disk to boot my destination computer. The boot disk downloaded the disk image and Personality Package from my file server, then prompted me to reboot. The computer restarted several times as it applied the network settings and Personality Package.

PC Transplant Pro is designed for same—version migrations rather than upgrade migrations, which might explain why the program settings didn't transfer perfectly. The program failed to copy some settings, including Spelling settings for Microsoft Word and the default font for Microsoft Excel. The only Word and Excel settings that the product transferred were custom toolbars and macros. The product did apply NT 4.0 Active Desktop toolbar buttons to Win2K's toolbar on the new computer and also correctly copied shared folders and links to shared folders on remote computers.

I also found a potential gotcha during one of my tests, when I decided to manually run the PC Transplant Wizard to install a Personality Package I'd created earlier. When I rebooted the new computer, I found that PC Transplant Pro hadn't applied any of the settings I'd selected. An Altiris technical support representative explained that because I'd manually selected a Personality Package, I needed to manually run a command on the file server to apply those settings. Apparently, the Migration Wizard copies and runs this command automatically when you follow the wizard's prompts rather than select an existing file. When I ran the command manually, the program correctly applied my network settings and Personality Package.

Next, I checked the Outlook settings. When I started Outlook, it notified me of the existence of a previous version's settings and gave me the option to use the previous settings. I accepted, and Outlook applied all my saved settings. My old email messages appeared in the correct folders, and I could immediately send and receive new messages.

PC Transplant Pro, like the other products I tested, offers command—line parameters to automate the extraction and application of computer personalities. The PC Transplant Help file details these parameters. PC Transplant Pro doesn't include a parameter to automate the installation process on remote computers.

To test the automation features, I wrote a batch file that a source computer would call when a user logged on. The batch file ran the extraction process on the source computer. I then wrote a logon script for the destination computer. This script ran the Personality Package executable from the network file server. Both the extraction and application of the Personality Package worked smoothly. However, I wasn't able to automate the disk—image—creation process, so PC Transplant Pro's automation features will work only when you already have a disk image in your shared folder or when you're performing a same—version migration.

Additional Utilities and Features
PC Transplant Pro includes several helpful utilities, such as a fully licensed version of Altiris's RapiDeploy, which the Migration Wizard uses to create the disk images. The PC Transplant Editor tool lets you edit Personality Package executable files. The Undo utility, which is part of the Personality Package and which the product installs on the destination computer's desktop, lets you undo settings changes after you've applied a personality to the destination computer.

The product's Application to Information file Builder (A2iBuilder) lets you define and copy settings for applications that the product doesn't directly support. I used A2iBuilder to try to transfer Microsoft Developer Studio's Visual C++ (VC++) 6.0 settings. The Altiris A2iBuilder Wizard showed me a list of installed programs on my source computer. I selected Developer Studio, which the wizard then launched. From Developer Studio's Options menu, I changed the settings I wanted to transfer. To correctly migrate settings, A2iBuilder needs to "watch" as you manually change the settings. When I closed Developer Studio, the wizard displayed a list of the registry settings that had changed. I selected the registry settings, files, folders, and associated file settings that I wanted to save as part of an .a2i file. I then used the .a2i file to migrate the VC++ settings to my destination computer. The product properly applied all my changes.

The Bottom Line
PC Transplant Pro is best suited for same—version migrations. I wouldn't suggest PC Transplant Pro for upgrade migrations because of the limitations in transferring settings between product versions. For in—place or same—version migrations, however, the product includes useful utilities that the other tested products don't offer and costs less than the other products.

PC Transplant Pro 2.1 Beta
Contact: Altiris * 801-226-8500 or 888-252-5551
Web: http://www.altiris.com
Price: $320 for 10 computers; $800 for 25 computers; $1600 for 50 computers; $3100 for 100 computers; $7750 for 250 computers; $15,000 for 500 computers
Decision Summary:
Pros: Creates standalone executable package with customizable settings; includes utility that helps gather settings from programs that aren't directly supported; provides good Outlook support; undo feature is available after migration
Cons: Fewer application settings transfer during upgrade migrations than during same version migrations; installation guide is the only printed documentation; no filter mechanism exists to assist with file or folder migration

Personality Tranxport Professional 2.0
PT Pro's ability to automate the entire migration process on remote computers offers more flexibility than the other tested products offered. You can use command—line parameters in your logon scripts to install the program, extract and apply personalities, and uninstall the program. PT Pro's setup program copies the migration software to a shared folder on a file server. Other computers connect to that share to download and install the program and perform a migration.

The setup process was a little difficult, although the printed documentation was helpful. (Tranxition also provides free sample logon scripts and support.) I first needed to create the shared folder for the migration program installation files. Any computers you want to migrate will require read and write access to this share to upload and download profiles, so you must correctly set these permissions. After creating the shared folder, I inserted the CD—ROM on the file server. The setup program launched automatically and copied the installation files to the server. The server installation also sets up a few folders for the saved profiles and for program settings. This process lets you install, run, and uninstall the program without the CD—ROM and also lets you script the process to run remotely.

Next, I installed the PT Pro program files on a source computer. To do so, I needed to be a member of the local Administrators group. After I launched PT Pro, I could choose one of three primary views for my program window. The Extraction View, which Figure 3 shows, displays a treeview of settings options (e.g., application settings, Windows interface settings, customizable settings for special file types). You can save all these settings in a template for later use. The Injection View shows a list of personality files that you've already saved to the server and a treeview of the configurations in each file. I could use this view to apply a personality to the local computer. The NetConnect View contains a list of saved personalities from which I could extract network settings to a 3.5" disk and apply those settings to another computer.

Using the Extraction View, I selected settings, documents, and templates from several common applications including Office, IE, Netscape Navigator, Symantec's Norton AntiVirus, and WinZip. I could also choose which personalized Windows settings I wanted to extract. The Windows settings included desktop settings, network settings, mapped network shares and printers, and files in the \profiles\username\personal folder. I chose to migrate all Office 97 application settings, all Windows settings, and one Desktop folder.

PT Pro's Data Tranxport file—filtering feature let me select specific document files and folders to migrate. The feature also let me set up rules for including or excluding document files according to date, size, or wildcard (e.g., *.cpp). I could also specify new destination file locations to match new folder standards on the destination computer. I could also use variables that define some standard file locations (e.g., the WinNT root, My Documents) to specify the source and destination folders.

After I selected my settings and saved them as a template, I clicked Begin Extraction. The program displayed a dialog box that showed the extraction procedure's progress. When the extraction completed, the newly saved personality appeared in the Injection View's Personality list—ready for me to inject on a new computer. The network share that I set up during installation was the default location for saved templates and profiles (which contain the settings information in the template). This default meant that all source computers running PT Pro from the file share could use the same template.

When I'd extracted and injected several personalities on several computers, I went back and verified the transferred settings on the destination computers. Most settings had transferred correctly. The printer I'd set up on the source computer apparently didn't have compatible Win2K drivers, but the destination computer's Desktop contained a shortcut to set up the printer later—a better solution than simply not transferring the printer settings.

PT Pro transferred my Outlook settings, including old messages and folders. Before the transfer could complete, I needed to run Outlook on the destination computer to configure Corporate/Workgroup settings. I did so, and closed Outlook's New Profile dialog box. I then applied the personality settings on the destination computer and restarted the machine. (If you're migrating many personalities, you might want to configure Outlook on your destination computers before you begin the migration process.) I reopened Outlook and could send and receive email messages. My old mail and folders appeared in a new set of folders called Personal Folders, which meant that I had two Inboxes, two Calendars, and so forth. Everything else worked well, however, and I already had new mail in my new Inbox.

PT Pro provides command—line parameters that let you install the program, save or apply a personality, and uninstall the program—all without user intervention. The documentation provides details of these command—line options and examples of batch files that you can execute on a remote computer to create a personality file from or apply a file to that computer. I decided to write a new batch file to test the automated installation. I configured a user's logon script to call the batch file, which ran an unattended setup of the PT Pro program files on the user's source computer, extracted the personality by using the template I'd created earlier, then uninstalled the program.

I came across one problem during the automated installation process. After installing the program files to the source computer, the installation program opened a dialog box asking whether the program should restart the computer. Obviously, this dialog box would be a problem for an automated migration. Tranxition's support staff said that the company is aware of this problem and plans to fix it in the next version. The rest of the automated process went well. The program saved the extraction file in the shared folder on the file server, then uninstalled the program.

Additional Utilities and Features
I tested PT Pro 2.0, but Tranxition told me that PT Pro 2.1 should be available by the time you read this review. The vendor claimed that version 2.1 will provide several enhancements, including a Data Tranxport variable that will reference all local fixed drives as well as a lite version of Tranxition Migration Studio (a visual—development tool that lets you create custom scripts to include unsupported—application settings with the supported—settings migration). The vendor also said that the new version will offer the ability to dynamically add new program—settings support from Tranxition's Web site or Tranxition's Migration Studio without reinstalling PT Pro.

The Bottom Line
PT Pro is a good choice if you need to use logon scripts to install and run the product remotely. The automation features make installation a bit complicated, but after setup, those features can be a big time—saver.

Comparative Results
Each of the products I tested had different strengths. Desktop DNA and PT Pro have advanced file filters that let you select files to include or exclude from a migration by name (using wildcards), location, size, and date. PC Transplant Pro includes disk imaging software, making the process of setting up new computers a lot easier.

All the products have command—line switches, which can help automate the migration process. However, if you want the ability to completely automate the migration process on remote computers, PT Pro is the best choice. Desktop DNA's Muscle Migration feature makes it a good choice if you have inhouse programs that you want to move from one computer to another. If you aren't upgrading your OS or applications, look at PC Transplant Pro, which includes many useful features at a lower price than the other products.

Personality Tranxport Professional 2.0
Contact: Tranxition * 503-291-6400 or 866-277-8776
Web: http://www.tranxition.com
Price: $54.95 for 1 computer; $235 for 5 computers; $820 for 20 computers; $4100 for 100 computers; $8250 for 250 computers
Decision Summary:
Pros: Offers advanced file filtering; lets you use logon scripts to install and run the product on remote machines
Cons: Installation process is complicated