Guest Post by Micah Lahren:
The old computer just won’t perform anymore, and your client needs a new machine. Thankfully, they followed your advice about backing up all their data, in case it failed completely, but they steadfastly refused to get a new machine for years. Now they want all their old programs, pictures, documents, music, and other data to be available and functional on a new machine.
Hopefully they haven’t gone out on their own and purchased one already, as many new machines are equipped with 64 bit operating systems, and those old 32 bit programs may not function at all, even with the so-called ‘compatibility mode’ of Windows operating systems. Even between operating system versions, you will find many programs that simply will not function on a different version than the OS that was intended for them.
Before rushing them into a new computer, find out what they need, and you’ll be in a better position to ensure they won’t regret moving from that old dinosaur to something new. Just grabbing any migration software and setting it to work could be a big mistake. There are many factors to take into consideration such as 32 bit/64 bit, program compatibility, hardware compatibility, and more. I’d recommend following some basic steps to ensure the best results, and client satisfaction, to say nothing of headache prevention for you, the Tech.
1. Get a list of absolutely everything they use on their computer, even simple games like Hover from ’95. It may also be helpful to implement a scale of importance for each program, such as 1-10 for importance. I’ve mentioned this before, but the CBK from Technibble has an excellent list of forms for just this situation, and it merits serious consideration if you want to cover all your bases as far as handling client data.
Of course, you’ll need them to list locations of where the data is stored on their computer that they will want to migrate, such as documents and pictures. If they’re not sure, offer to sit down with them and work it out together. It’s amazing where some old programs attempt to save program-related files. Note down all configurations you’ll need to recreate, taking detailed screen shots if you need to.
2. Find out what operating systems those programs are supported on through research and testing. Virtual machines can be an quick hassle-free way to get some of this done, but don’t rule something out if it doesn’t work on a VM, as it’s not completely foolproof. The internet can be a great resource for finding out what problems have been encountered using different programs on varying operating systems, and workarounds if there were any issues. Notify the client of the results of your investigation, and suggest new machine specifications accordingly. Depending on the importance of the old programs they wish to use, they may decide to just drop some of them and find alternatives, and you can also help them with that.
3. Depending on what they choose to do, or have already done, there’s nearly always a solution or a workaround if you try hard enough. If they’ve already bought a machine, the OS of which just won’t run some of those old programs, even with ‘compatibility mode’, try a VM such as VirtualBox, install their old OS in it, and use their old key to activate it. They may spend all their computing time inside that VM, and you’ll be their hero for resurrecting their old operating system on a faster machine.
For some of the older operating systems, you’ll need to jump through a few hoops to get them installed on a VM, but it’s not that much trouble, and it’s better than not having those programs they need. If all else fails, and there’s no way those old programs are going to work again due to one thing or another, in a worst-case scenario, you can always demonstrate newer similar applications that perform the same task faster, and in many cases, much better. As a case in point, there’s a plethora of reasons why audio cassettes and older media types aren’t popular anymore.
4. Migrate the data and programs carefully. I’m extremely hesitant to recommend any ‘migration’ software after unpleasant experiences with a few popular products that claim to be ‘hassle-free’. If you encounter proprietary software, including business software that connects to remote data sources during it’s operation, you’ll find some migration software will fail completely at attempting to reinstall the proper configurations. In addition, to ‘undo’ a failed migration, it will take additional time, in addition to the time it will take for another attempt. My recommendation is to find the original installation media (or locate it on the internet) and install everything and reconfigure it manually.
You’ll find in many cases, it will save you a lot of time compared to using a commercial ‘migration’ product. Many migration products refuse to transfer drivers, which automatically means you won’t be able to transfer that ‘all in one’ printer software they have installed on their old machine. If you’ve installed everything else manually, and simply can’t find the installation media for a specific program anywhere, perhaps that is the time when you’ll absolutely need a migration software solution. If you intend to use migration software from the start anyway, do yourself a favor and read the fine print, if you haven’t used it before. It may do the job quickly and effectively in simple cases, but cause nothing but problems in other, more complex scenarios.
5. Reacquaint the client with the new machine. If you used a VM to install some programs, show them how to use it. Show them how to access their old data, and if any workarounds needed to be effected in order for some programs to function, make sure they’re all in working order and that the client knows exactly how to perform them. As I mentioned before, be sure to complete all the paperwork for the task, and ensure their satisfaction with the migration.
If you at least follow the basic steps and make the migration as painless as possible for them, they’ll be much less hesitant to upgrade to the next version of their operating system the next time they need it, which will make your job that much easier. There’s also a very good chance they’ll refer their friends to you if anyone asks for an expert on ‘computer upgrades’.
Guest Post by Micah Lahren – Micah covers a wide spectrum of the tech industry, including PC repair, front-end development, WIMAX networking and installation, and more. He currently works with an ISP in Texas that also provides web hosting/design and computer repair, although he’s been tinkering with computers since he was 6 and eventually turned it into a career. He also enjoys traveling and doing volunteer missions in other countries.