Transferring More Than Data from Computer to Computer, Why So Hard?

Google, AppleA friend of mine asked me how to transfer his data from his old laptop to his new laptop. In particular, he was interested in the big three types of files on most personal computers these days: documents, music, and photos. “I know where I keep all my files, so I just copy them over to where I want them on the new computer, right?”

Well, he’s right for one of three categories of files: documents. But when I asked him if he was interested in preserving his iTunes playlists, song ratings, and album art or his Picasa photo albums (basically, any of his “metadata”), he gave me the “of course” look. Little did he know the headache that awaited him, none of that information moves when you simply copy or backup files.

I know this for a fact, as I was faced with the same problem this past summer when I purchased my new computer. Like my friend, I use iTunes for my music and Google’s Picasa to organize my pictures. So naturally my first step was to consult your friend and mine, Google Search, for how to backup and transfer my precious metadata. The process for iTunes isn’t too bad but is still far from easy for the non-techie crowd. But Google’s Picasa is an absolute nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic program that I use daily. But one of its main features enables you to create photo albums, which are basically compilations of whatever pictures you choose. By default, Picasa has all your pictures indexed by date. And if you are interested in grouping all your wedding pictures or vacation pictures, for example, you create an album and add whatever pictures you would like to be included. But this doesn’t move or change any of your actual picture files stored on your hard drive. Rather, it’s an internal reference inside of Picasa. So if you want to move your pictures to another computer, you will lose all of that organizational work.

These are just two examples, albeit big examples. The use of these two particular programs extends far beyond me and my friend. But even then, these are definitely not the only two programs which store internal user-generated data in a way not easily accessible. So the million dollar question is, why is this the norm? When will companies like Apple or Google correct this?

It amazes me that moving / backing up this kind of information is still not as easy as moving files. Everyone wants it, in fact, many already think they have it only to be surprised when there’s a big hole in that bridge when they get to the point of crossing it. Apple, Google, or any software company, if you’re listening, this is something likely all your customers want, not just a feature or enhancement wanted by a select few. Make it happen, already.

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  • Jordy

    If you use Linux you can just copy your whole /home directory. It’s all there, baby.

  • Bob Caswell

    Wow, that almost sounds non-techie enough. Now if most of the free world could learn Linux without having to know words like “kernel,” we might be getting somewhere.

  • Kevin

    These days you don’t have to know any more about a kernel to run Linux on your desktop or laptop than you do for Windows. Get a Fedora 7 or Ubuntu/Kubuntu livecd, boot it to check hardware support, you’ll be amazed. It’s actually easier than Windows in many regards. If you want to install some software, say image editing, go to the “Add/Remove software” program on the menu, and select what you want from the list, usually there are 3 or 4 things of the same type to chose from, and say apply, all done, almost never a need to reboot, but it’ll tell you if you do.

  • Tom Caswell

    I use both PC and mac, but I have to say that this is strictly a PC problem. Next week I will have to upgrade laptops (again), but I’m not complaining because (1) my work is paying for it and (2) it’s a mac upgrade. So I will put my old mac into “target” mode (it acts like an external hard drive) and copy it all over to the new machine via firewire or USB 2. Everything will transfer, including all passwords and preferences. I have to say, this is one area where Apple really shines.

  • Erin

    I need help. I was given a brand new computer for Christmas and really the only things I want to transfer from my old computer are the photos. I have close to 700. Can someone help me? Thanks!

  • Kevin

    Spend a few bucks on an external USB hard drive, I think that the 500GB one is just over $100 now. Plug it into the old computer, copy all of the stuff you want to it, turn off the old computer, plug the USB drive into the new computer and copy it over to it. This will also have performed a backup of your pictures. Every now and then just copy all of your important stuff to the external drive, it’s a backup!

    Another possibility is to put all of your pictures up on Picasa,, it’s a free gallery of your pictures, as well as a backup of sorts.

  • Bob Caswell

    Another option, Erin, is to use an online backup system like Mozy. Just click on the sidebar banner that says Mozy, and you can sign up for a free online account.

    The free version allows you to backup up to 2 gigabytes worth of data, which is probably enough for your 700 pictures. How it works is you install Mozy’s program on your computer, and it will ask you which files you would like to backup. Just select your pictures folder.

    The service will then copy your pictures folder onto a secure location online. Then, on you new computer, login to your online Mozy account and download your pictures.

    The options Kevin has listed are good as well… though a USB hard drive costs something, of course, and Google’s Picasa may not give you enough free storage for all your pictures.

    Good luck and Merry Christmas!

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