Saving Your Settings

Tomorrow I am bidding my laptop farewell, and will soon buy me a new one. This results in what I like to call Settings Anxiety. I spend months tuning various aspects of my computer to my liking, and starting afresh with a new machine is wearisome. There are solutions to this, of course. I can make a full settings backup using Windows Easy Transfer or some such tool to store my settings and registry information and reload them on my new computer. I am, however, leery of it. First of all, I don’t trust WET to backup everything, especially 3rd party settings and application data. Secondly, I don’t want to copy all the cruft that’s accumulated in my user settings. One advantage to leaving the old computer is to start fresh.

So my compromise is to do a set of manual exports for various pieces of software, to carry it with me to the new computer, whenever it arrives. I’m going to list the various programs I use here that I bothered to customize, and detail the steps needed to do a manual export. This way I can come back to it the next time I reformat.

1. Outlook 2007

I use Outlook to connect to an Exchange server and to Gmail via IMAP. Both of these use OST files for local offline caching, but the primary storage is on the server. No real need for me to back this up.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to export my Outlook profile’s entire Accounts list to a file, and reimport it later. It means I always have to go to Gmail’s help page to remember the port numbers they use for encrypted IMAP and SMTP, but it’s not too much of a hassle.

2. Visual Studio 2008

Two important customizations here – color scheme (I like grey background) and keyboard shortcuts (single-click build-current-project ftw!). Both are easily exported using Tools –> Import and Export Settings –> Export selected environment settings.

3. Google Chrome

Bookmarks, cookies and stored passwords – things I really don’t feel like retyping again and again after I got my Chrome to memorize it for me. Basically, with all major browsers importing favorites and settings from one another, you only really need to backup one browser’s settings.

Unfortunately, Google haven’t quite gotten around to implementing Export Settings in Chrome – like a lot of other things. To backup my settings, I am copying the C:UsersusernameAppDataLocalGoogleChromeUser Data folder. There’s a lot of useless junk there – the cache, Google Gears data – but it should contain all the interesting bits too.

4. RSSBandit

RSSBandit’s “Export Feeds” option will probably export the feed definitions, but not the actual text of the actual feeds that I already have, offline, in my reader. It does support exporting the list of items in a feed, including read/unread state, though. But a better solution, assuming I am unbothered by space or time, is to use RSS Bandit’s “Remote Storage” option to save the entire feed database to a ZIP file that can be “downloaded” into a new installation. Under Tools –> Options –> Remote Storage set the destination (I use a file share), then do Tools –> Upload Feeds.

When recovering, I’ve found that RSS Bandit doesn’t always succeed in reading the ZIP file – I got a “file was closed” error. What I did was simply open the ZIP file and copy all the XML files into the %AppData%RssBandit folder, et voila.

5. Windows Live Writer

Another useful tool that wasn’t given an Export Settings option. There are two things to backup here:

1. My blog settings – I have 5 different blogs I manage through WLW. Here I had to go back to the Registry. Funny how it seems so old-fashioned. Export all settings from HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows LiveWriter.

2. Blog drafts and recently-written posts are stored in My DocumentsMy Weblog Posts. Would be a good idea to back those up as well.

3. When restoring settings, it initially appears that while the blog settings are properly recovered, the drafts aren’t. All you need to do, though, is double-click on one of the .wpost files in the My Weblog Posts folder, and the Drafts and Recently Posted lists will get populated.

6. Digsby

Digsby, the multi-protocol IM and Social Networking tool, uses a centralized login to store the settings of my different protocols – so I only need to log in with my Digsby ID to have all my IM networks working. There are some tweaks to the client itself which I would like to not lose, but they don’t provide an Export Settings feature either, and it’s nothing I can’t live without.


For most other things, I’d rather not bother until I actually need it.

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