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How To Re-Install OS Without Losing Data and Settings
Discovering What Files and Settings to Backup by Doing a PC Audit
Before re-installing, it is important to take to locate mission critical files and settings these will be lost during re-installation. Some of the areas that are important to look at are:
What Else to Check
Saving Files and Settings
One method that works great if available is XP Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. The following subheading will outline how to use it:
XP Files and Settings Transfer Wizard
To Make a Backup of Important Files another way of saving your files and settings is to user the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard if its available in your OS. This is how to use it:
After OS has been reinstalled:
Using "My Computer" (with hidden files and system files turned on) make a copy of and place into a safe location such as flash memory or CD RW the following files:
Note: Due to permission settings it may be difficult to copy all these files without changing permissions to suit the current user
This will backup everything under "\documents and settings" and place it into a directory called in "\documents and settings\old_files"
Locating and Saving Drivers
Note: It is important to make sure that all files associated with the drivers are copied otherwise it will be impossible to re-use these
Saving User Profiles
Create a folder called something meaningful like "old_profiles" (make sure this is copied to a safe place before commencing re-installation) Save everything in C:\Documents and Settings.
This should copy all the profiles to a folder called "old_profiles" in the C: Drive ... check to make sure this has been done. It is possible to use "My Computer" however it is not the most reliable method to copy hidded files and so forth. The command prompt still proves to be the most powerful tool for this type of objective.
Working with 2000 and XP CD's
Boot from your Windows CD-ROM. When you get the 'Press any key to boot from CD' message, do so. (If you don't see that message before Windows starts, restart Windows, press the key you're prompted to enter for your PC Setup program, and change the boot order so your CD drive is first.)
At the 'Welcome to Setup' screen, press Enter. Soon you'll be told that there's already a Windows installation on the computer. Press Esc to begin a complete re-install. Select C: partition and press Enter. When you get the warning that says an operating system is on that partition, press C. When you are asked your partition preference, select Leave the current file system intact (no changes). When you're told that a Windows folder (or Winnt folder for Windows 2000) already exists, press "L" to delete it and create a new one. Follow the series of prompts. When the installation program asks for your name, enter Admin.
Once the installation is complete, your system will reboot into Windows, and you'll be logged on as user Admin. If the screen is difficult to read, reinstall your graphics card driver that you have saved.
Finishing the Job
Re-Installing the Drivers and Applications
Now you've got Windows going, but not much else. The drivers will need to be re-installed that was backed up prior. If a drivers came on your Windows or vendor restore CD, it will be probable the drivers might be reinstalled automatically otherwise the drivers that were backed up will need to be used. This can be done by copying the driver files back to the exact directory they came from. Then use the wizards to select the correct drivers. Ar'nt you glad you took a complete audit!
You'll have to reinstall your applications to reintroduce them to Windows. Some of their settings will not be changed by the re-installation, but those that were stored in the Registry were wiped out.
Once your Internet connection is running again, browse to Windows Update and download all critical updates for your version. Load the drivers you have saved and re-install your profiles.
If you chose not to save your drives you can visit the sites of your hardware vendors to update your drivers.
After the reinstall, some of your data may not show up where it should. Search for it in both your Application Data and oldstuff folders, and see if you can move it to the folder in which Windows or your apps are looking for it. If you find a folder called Identities with two subfolders whose names are long and indecipherable, try moving the contents of one to the other and see if your data reappears.
You've probably guessed that the final step is deleting the c:\oldstuff folder. Make this the very last step, however. Wait a couple of days, weeks, or even months until you're confident that all of your needed files are accessible. 
Logon as Administrator, Select Start, Programs, Accessories, Command Prompt. Type cd "\documents and settings" and press Enter. Then type xcopy administrator\*.* username /s /h /r /c, in Documents and Settings. Now press Enter, and when you're asked about overwriting files or folders, press a for All.
Copy the files back to their original/appropriate positions
1. ^ PC World Article - Retrieved on 27 August 2007
Handy Utilities and Software
This will probably work with all windows operating systems however it has not been tested and some of the wizards mentioned in this article are specifically for XP, however it is our hope that this article will be gradually improved in time so that it will cover all currently supported MS Operating Systems