The Geek outlines some of the various ways to get your files from an old computer to a new one.

Q: I read your column every week, however many times it is over my head. Anyway, my present desktop computer is just like me, old and slow. I am going to purchase a new desktop soon, with a solid-state hard drive and other normal upgrades. What is the best way to transfer all my data from the old to the new? I do have an external hard drive for my image backup but I never had to use it, thankfully. I know this is a very basic question and I would appreciate it if you could just send me an email and not waste people's time with this issue as it is so basic.

–Edward L., Niceville

A: I’ve said before that the sole reason I solicit questions from people is for them to be published in my newspaper column. I have neither the time, nor desire to be anyone’s private source of free computer assistance. I also don’t think there is such a thing as a question that is so basic that it could be considered a waste of time. You’re not alone in feeling “over your head.” I’ve been writing this column for over 12 years now, and people are always asking questions about rudimentary Windows functions, many of which are far more basic than yours.

Your question is a classic example of something that everybody faces when purchasing a new PC, but seemingly few actually know how to do. There used to be a pretty nice feature built into Windows called Easy Transfer that did all the work for you, transferring files, email, and so on from one PC to another using a cable, a set of DVDs, an external hard drive, or your home network. Unfortunately, and for some reason I cannot fathom, Microsoft scrapped this eminently useful feature, and it no longer exists in Windows 10 (Thanks, Bill!). So, I guess you’re stuck with me.

Before I start, I want to say that one thing many people fail to understand about moving to a new computer is that with few exceptions, your programs don’t get copied. Oh, you may re-install them, but they don’t simply get moved like your data files do. That means you need to have available any installation disks and activation codes, or re-download software and install it from scratch on the new machine.

As for your data files (music, photos, documents, etc.) the first thing you need to do is set up a method of accessing the files that’s common to both machines. The simplest way to do that is with an external hard drive, which you indicated you already own. This device gets moved between the two PCs, acting as a shuttle to move the files.

Providing a detailed primer on how to copy and paste files would probably span at least two issues of my little column, and I suspect that you probably already know how to do that anyway. In case you don’t, check out for some lessons. The goal is to systematically copy files to the external drive, move the external drive to the new computer, then move the files from the external drive to their new home. Repeat that until you’ve copied over all your files. It’s important to know that Windows does not enforce many rules about where programs store their data, so doing a good job of this will require some knowledge on your part of where you’ve been storing things all these years. Hopefully they will be under various folders in “My Documents,” along with other specialty folders, such as “Music,” “Pictures,” “Videos” and so on. Hint: When getting files from the old PC, use the Copy function – not Cut. This will leave them intact on the old computer until you’re sure they’ve arrived safely.

There are a couple of exceptions to the above instructions for copying data to a new machine. One of them is browser shortcuts/bookmarks. In general, you export them from the browser on your old machine, copy them using the above instructions, then re-import them on the new machine. The details depend on what browser you’re using. The other exception is email data. I can’t even begin to make suggestions on how to move your emails without knowing something about your email setup. If you’re using the most modern and flexible protocols, your email is all in the cloud, and all you need to do is re-setup your account in an email client on the new machine and all your email will be instantly available.

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