‘What’s this?’ you may ask, ‘Microsoft made a mistake with Windows 8.1?’. Yes, unfortunately, they did. And while not apparent to most users, it is something that will affect many network administrators, desktop support technicians and technology consultants alike.
Those that know me may also wonder why I have posted such a powerful heading like the one above. My coworkers often accuse me of drinking the Microsoft Kool-Aid. With my PC running Windows 8.1, with Internet Explorer 11 as the default browser, my Bing.com homepage, Bing Bar and Bing Desktop installed applications, my Windows Phone and my Xbox (oh and the fact I want to buy a car with Sync), I honestly don’t know where they get it from.
But back to the topic on hand. What is this mistake Microsoft made with Windows 8.1 and how that will affect IT professionals? Well it is the removal of Windows Easy Transfer. Windows Easy Transfer still exists in Windows 8.1, but ONLY in an import mode. While this means you can import an Easy Transfer file created with Windows 7 or Windows 8 into Windows 8.1, you CAN NOT create an Easy Transfer file in Windows 8.1.
This became apparent recently when I wanted to move my data between two Windows 8.1 laptops. The screenshot below is all you get. If you click Yes you are asked for the location of the Easy Transfer file to import. If you say No the wizard closes.
For anyone that has done desktop support for a number of years you will remember life before Windows Easy Transfer. In the days of XP and earlier you had to scour around the directory structure to make sure you had absolutely every file and folder necessary to make the transfer as seamless and transparent to your end users as possible. I would gauge a successful desktop transfer by how quickly the user could hit the ground running.
Most of the file locations were obvious such as My Documents, or, My Pictures. However, depending on what applications you had loaded there were the occasional overlooked data locations. Outlook was a perfect example, with PST files buried several folders deep, and more-so was the often overlooked NK2 file (this contained the autocomplete data for the To: field). This was even worse in earlier operating systems such as Windows 98, where software vendors just seemed to store user data wherever they liked (including the Program Files directory!).
Data locations aside there were other pitfalls when moving from one computer to another; such as specific placement of icons, the desktop wallpaper, or, the default internet homepage. As a tenured desktop support technician, you quickly learnt how important it was to make sure you saved a user’s desktop wallpaper, especially if it was of Mr. Fluffykins, the prize winning cat.
That being said, Windows Easy Transfer was a godsend. Not only did it transfer all data from the old computer to the new computer but, it also remembered things like icon placement and application customizations, including transferring Mr. Fluffykins. It made the life of IT professionals way easier. Things often overlooked, like auto-complete data in Outlook, were remembered.
Now, with Windows 8.1, that feature no longer exists and that has been lighting up the tech forums.
It would appear the “workaround” is to use Skydrive. Unfortunately, this does not help people with slow internet connections, such as homes that can only get limited-bandwidth satellite or cellular connections, or, businesses that only have access to T1's from their local provider. Copying a 36GB profile with Windows Easy Transfer to a USB 2.0 hard drive takes about 14 minutes and then another 14 to copy onto the new PC. I can only imagine what this would be like on a single T1. It also would require people to have Microsoft Live Accounts and depending on the amount of data they have (you only get 7GB of space on Skydrive for free) you may be shelling out some extra dollars for additional cloud storage. That means that Skydrive is not always a viable alternative to the home user or small business.
In conclusion, I do hope Microsoft sees the error in their ways and brings back Easy Transfer in its entirety. Otherwise, we may have to go back to manually hunting and copying all data.