Copying Large Files to Another Computer with MS Windows Backup

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By Bill Poynter

Published in TechRepublic's PC Troubleshooter Report

Suppose you've downloaded a great freeware file from the Internet and you want to put the file to use on other machines in your company. At first you think that copying the file to the other machines will be no problem—but then it dawns on you that file is too large to fit on a floppy disk.

With shareware and freeware so abundant on the Internet, this issue comes up more often than you might realize. In this article, we'll show you how to move large files from one computer to another.

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Choices, Choices, Choices
Using Windows Backup to Move Files from One Machine to Another

Choices, Choices, Choices

If you're running Windows® 95 or Windows 98, you can solve this problem several ways:

  • Use software such as Windows Backup (the version of Microsoft Backup that comes with Windows), which is designed to separate the file into slices that will fit on floppy disks

  • Use Windows' direct cable connection capabilities. To make this technique work, all you need is an available serial port on the back of both computers, a serial cable, and a null modem. Then you can directly transfer the file through the serial ports.

  • Connect the computers through a network. Networks are becoming more popular in small businesses. In addition, many people who have multiple computers in their homes are deploying small peer-to-peer networks.

  • E-mail the file to yourself by attaching it to a message. For this method to work, both computers must have modems and connections to the Internet.

If you don't need to transfer large files very often, the first choice is probably the best. In fact, Windows comes with a utility capable of dividing a large file into segments that fit on floppy disks. This utility is called Windows Backup.

Using Windows Backup to Move Files from One Machine to Another

In this article, we'll cover the version of Microsoft Backup that comes with Windows 98. The screens you see may vary depending on the version of Windows you run on your computer.

Even if you never back up files, you'll find Windows Backup very helpful for transferring large files. All you have to do is configure Backup to write to your floppy disk on the first computer (the source computer). Naturally, you'll set Backup on the second computer (the target computer) to restore from the floppy drive.

When you begin copying your file, Backup automatically divides it into floppy-sized segments. As Backup fills each disk, it prompts you to insert the next disk.

When you restore the file onto the target computer, Backup reassembles the segments into one file.

If you're going to reuse old floppy disks with Windows Backup, you should always reformat them first. It's a good idea to avoid using a disk that the format utility reports as having any errors. If you get one bad sector that can't be read during the restore operation, all the disks in that backup set will be rendered useless. It's also a good idea to number the disks so that when you're restoring the file to the target machine, you can supply the correct disk when Backup asks you for it.

To start Microsoft Backup, click Start and select Accessories from the Programs menu. Next, select System Tools and click Backup. When you start Microsoft Backup the first time, a wizard may search your computer for an installed tape drive. Don't panic—even if you don't have a tape drive on your computer, you can still use Backup. You can just tell it to use your floppy drive for the back-up media. To do so, click No when the Wizard informs you it can't find any back-up devices.

After Backup starts, a Welcome dialog box will open. From this dialog box you can quickly restore files or start a new backup job. To start a new backup job, make sure the Create A New Backup Job radio button is selected, as shown in Figure A, and click OK.


Figure A: Start a new backup job from the Microsoft Backup welcome dialog box.

Now the Backup Wizard will start. Select the Back Up Selected Files radio button and click Next. In the next window's left pane, you can select drives, directories, or files that you want to back up. To select a file, just place a check in the check box next to it, as shown in Figure B. When you've finished, click Next.


Figure B: Select the drives, directories, or files that you want to back up.

The next window asks if you want to back up all the selected files or just those that have changed since the last time you ran Backup. Click the All Selected Files radio button and click Next.

Now the Where To Back Up dialog box will open. Here, you select the location where you want to back up your files. Click the Folder button next to the bottom field and select the drive letter for your floppy drive, as shown in Figure C. After you've selected your target location, click Next.


Figure C: Indicate the target location for your backup file.

Next, Backup displays the How To Back Up dialog box. Here, you can tell Backup whether it should compress the backup file and if it should compare the backup with the original files. If the source file is a ZIP file, you shouldn't compress it during the backup procedure—Backup will actually make the file larger if you do. Click Next to continue.

In the wizard's final window, you provide a name for the backup file. (You can leave it untitled, if you prefer.) Click Start to begin the backup. When it finishes, you can take the backup disk to the target computer.

Copying the File to the Target Computer

When you're ready to copy the file to the target computer, start Backup the same way you did on the source computer. However, when the Welcome dialog box appears, select the Restore Backed Up Files radio button and click OK. The Restore Wizard will start and display the Restore From dialog box. Here, you tell Backup where to find the file you want to put on the target computer. Click Next to begin the restoration process.

Now the Select Backup Sets dialog box will open, as shown in Figure D. If you've used the disk to perform more than one backup, you may see several available backup sets. Select the one that contains your files and click OK.


Figure D: Select the backup set you want to restore.

Next, in the What To Restore dialog box, you select the target location for the file. In the left pane, click the location and then click Next.

The Where To Restore dialog box will now open. By default, Backup lets you restore to a directory that matches the directory on the source computer. If you want to specify a different location, select it from the drop-down list box. Click Next to continue.

In the How To Restore dialog box, shown in Figure E, you tell Backup how to deal with duplicate filenames. If a file with the same name already exists on the target computer, you can make Backup either overwrite the file, overwrite older files, or not overwrite the file. The safest choice is not to overwrite identical filenames—select this option unless you're absolutely sure the file doesn't exist on the target computer. Click Start to begin the restore. After the file restores, you're done.


Figure E: Let Backup know how it should handle duplicate filenames when it restores your backup set.

What if the Two Computers Have Different Versions of Windows?

The situation is more complicated if the source and target computers use different versions of Windows. You shouldn't have problems restoring files that were created on a Windows 95 computer to a Windows 98 machine. The Backup version that comes with Windows 98 is backward-compatible with the version in Windows 95.

Unfortunately, the reverse isn't true. The Windows 95 version of Backup probably won't see the files you want to restore if you created them with the Windows 98 version. If you want to go from Windows 98 to Windows 95, you must find a different way to do so.


Sometimes you need to move files from one computer to another. Things get tricky if the files won't fit on one floppy. Fortunately, you can move files several different ways. One way is to use the backup utility that comes with Windows: Microsoft Backup.

Bill Poynter began working with computers in 1979 with one of the first personal computers on the market: a TI-99/4A manufactured by Texas Instruments. In addition to his experience in the two-way radio communications industry as an account representative, he's been involved in the hardware side of the computer industry, including the sale, repair, troubleshooting, and upgrading of both home computers and office networked machines. You can reach Bill at