Switched On: A moving experience

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

As PC penetration inches closer to saturation in the U.S., more PCs sold every year are replacement units. Upgrading should be a joy for consumers. Who wouldn't want improved speed and expanded capabilities? Instead, however, receiving a new PC is bittersweet because of the chore of migration. Worse, the more consumers have taken advantage of their PCs by installing applications, the bigger a hassle migration is.

Windows provides support only for migrating files and settings, not applications. A couple of years ago, I'd tried a popular commercial product that promised the same. Not only was I stuck with reinstalling all the programs, but it failed to transfer certain Outlook Express email accounts and Palm Desktop data. It was the most horrendous jerky movement since Elaine danced on Seinfeld.

Last year, though, I was intrigued when LapLink Software introduced PCmover. I tried out the product migrating a server and it worked pretty well. However, it wasn't much of a test. There were only a few programs that needed to be transferred to the new computer and no personal data or e-mail. About the only program that complained was iTunes, which worked on the new PC, but warned that it needed to be set up again to work properly with the new PC's CD burner.

Still, the experience was positive enough that, when I needed to migrate a laptop last month, I bought another copy of PCmover (the license entitles you to a single migration). This time, I had a real "working" PC with email, shareware programs and lots of digital detritus. Things didn't start auspiciously as PCmover couldn't get moving. I correctly identified the culprit as not enough disk space on the source machine; PCmover's error reporting could have been better.

But after its wizard completed its magic, I was astounded by how good a job it did. Every application on the new computer worked. All settings were intact. The issues that cropped up were pretty trivial. First, many programs that accessed the Internet had to be unblocked thanks to Windows' more aggressive firewall. Second, an old Acrobat print driver had to be reinstalled. And third, the same iTunes problem resurfaced, but Apple's fondness for frequently revising that program soon rendered that a moot point anyway. The program even includes a startup manager that enables you to selectively enable potential troublemakers during startup. This capability has value long after the migration is complete.

PCmover costs about $40 for the downloadable version and $10 more in the box that includes a USB 1.1 transfer cable. The flexible program can also operate over networks or use recordable media such as DVDs. The impatient can also pay dearly for their impudence with LapLink's pricey USB 2.0 cable for $50. Laplink claims it can perform migrations from older versions of Windows to newer versions, but not vice versa. If you're a Windows user who keeps your registry simple and your original installation CDs tidy and handy, you may not need PCmover, but power users wanting to make save hours of tedious system reconstruction should find it a blissfully simple, remarkably effective time saver.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at