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Windows 7: Multi Boot computer - how to keep data and programs in sync

19 Jun 2015   #1
MarkusGE

Win7-64 Home Premium single boot / Win7-64 Professional & Win8.1-64 dual boot
 
 
Multi Boot computer - how to keep data and programs in sync

First of all, please let me say hi, because I´m new to this forum. My name is Markus, I am from Austria (Europe), interested in trains, computers (mostly programming) and music (I play the drums). I´m a member of the Open Rails Development Team and an administrator at Elvas Tower Railfan Forums.

Secondly, let me go medias in res

I have recently acquired a new laptop computer (Toshiba Satellite L70-B) to replace my aging Sony Vaio rig. However, this new computer came with Win8.1 pre-installed, which I personally actually have come to like very soon - but which won´t run many of the programs I use daily (of note is Microsoft Train Simulator and many of its supporting utilities and programs, which do not run on Win8+AMD Graphics card setup - Win8+NVidia is said to be fine though - anyway).

Because of this problem, I have made this computer dual-bootable with an HDD partition layout as follows:
Code:
#1 - Primary Partition - 100MB - NTFS - "System Reserved" - System, Active
#2 - Primary Partition -- 50GB - NTFS - "Windows 7 Professional"
#3 - Primary Partition -- 50GB - NTFS - "Windows 8.1"
#4 - Primary Partition - 831GB - NTFS - "Data"
However, as I´m likely going to use both OSes to about the same amount, I want to have my data and programs shared and synced between both OSes to the greatest extent possible. I have also already done quite a bit of online research on the topic, but have not yet come to a real conclusion what to do.

Here´s a list of possible ways of keeping data and programs in sync without too much duplication that I could go with. The list also shows to which extent I have trustworthy info on it, where I found, and what conclusions I came to (color coded: solution/info found -- only vague/partial bits of info -- not possible -- no info yet)

  1. Sharing (parts of) the C:\Users\<YourUsername> folder between OSes.
    1. Can Windows' libraries feature (e.g. the My Documents library consolidates the contents of the public Documents and your user account´s Documents folders into a single folder for easier access) be set up to look for files and save to (the first folder opened in a "Save File As" dialog) a different location than in your userprofile´s Documents folder?
    2. Can the sub-folders of your userprofile´s home folder (e.g. C:\users\<YourUserName>\<SubFoldersHere>) be moved to other locations than their default?
    3. Can an entire C:\Users\<YourUsername> folder be moved to another location than it´s default?
    4. Can any of the sub-items 1 to 3 above be used to share folders/files without duplication between both OSes?
    5. Can any of the sub-items 1 to 3 above be used to merge user profiles folders between both OSes?
    6. What about permission clashes with any of the methods mentioned? (Access to the other OS' user profile might be denied...)
  2. Using programs on both OSes
    1. Can I use programs on both OSes, even if the files for said program are installed to disk only once?
    2. Can settings that are stored in ...
      1. ... the program's installation directory ...
      2. ... C:\Users\<YourUsername>\Documents\<Program'sSubfolder> ...
      3. ... C:\Users\<YourUsername>\AppData\<Program'sSubfolder> ...
      4. ... in the registry ...
        ... be shared across both OSes?
    3. Will program installers that put some program data into My Documents, for example, recognize to where that folder has been moved?
    4. How would any of the methods under bullet point 1 (subpoints 1.1 through 1.4) influence sharing of program settings across OSes?
  3. Are there any other recommendations / strategies WRT directory structure setup or keeping settings of a program installed to both OSes in sync between the OSes?

(Color code: solution/info found -- only vague/partial bits of info -- not possible -- no info yet)


Now to the info I found:

  • According to Library - Set Save Folder and http://www.eightforu...indows-8-a.html, item 1.1 of the above list is possible, more or less without complicated steps. However, it seems like only one OS' libraries can be included into the other OS' libs. Also, the means of controlling data duplication in this setup seem to be almost inexistant - at least I have no info on that.
  • According to http://lifehacker.co...7-and-windows-8, items 1.2 and 1.4 are possible, wihtout major problems to be expected, even if both both OSes point to the exact same folder.
  • According to User Profile - Change Default Location a complete user account can be moved to another drive, as described in 1.3. That goes at least in Win7, I have no idea if the same process will also work in Win8. Also, the process is quite complicated and I have read indications elsewhere that problems might arise to access denial (see 1.6) by the OS (User SIDs differing between the OSes or administrator privileges interfering - no real hard info though, and many contradictions). And, merging of the two OS' User folders into one is not even mentioned.
  • According to http://www.tomshardw...grams-dual-boot and http://superuser.com...7-and-windows-8, item 2.1 is entirely possible and should work completely flawlessly. With that in mind, programs that only store info in files in their installation directory (sometimes called "portable programs", like ORTS in portable mode), will inevitably run with the same settings on both OSes (item 2.2.1).
  • As has been said above, folders like C:\Users\<YourUserName>\Documents can be shared between both OSes, thus, item 2.2.2 is also possible.
  • Having tried to move subfolders of the <YourUserName> directory according to the instructions in http://lifehacker.co...7-and-windows-8, I have found that AppData cannot be moved this way. Thus, item 2.2.3 is only possible if 1.3 and 1.6 (merging a complete user folder without permission clashes) is done.
  • As to sharing settings saved to the registry (item 2.2.4), and WRT installers recognizing a moved My Documents folder (item 2.3), I have not found any info at all yet.
  • Influences of bullet point 1 on 2.2 (item 2.4):
    • All sub-items of 1 are irrelevant for 2.2.1 by the nature of the changes.
    • I have not enough info on 1.1 to say how it would affect 2.2.2 (2.2.3 and 2.2.4 would not be affected due to the nature of the changes).
    • 1.2 would in effect be the only condition for 2.2.2 to work, but due to reasons already mentioned cannot work for 2.2.3; It does not affect 2.2.4.
    • Item 2.2.3 would only be possible if 1.3 is doable, but I´m still missing some info there.

I need all help (comments, links, suggestions, experiences...) I can get with those things highlighted in red, please. Comments on yellow items are also highly welcomed, and if you tell me something new on the green things, it´s appreciated also

Please, keep the thoughts coming

Cheers, Markus


My System SpecsSystem Spec
.
19 Jun 2015   #2
gregrocker

 

You can move the active User folders (Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc) that you use from each OS to the same folder on data drive following User Folders - Change Default Location.

However you cannot share programs except in rare cases where they will run from their .exe in the installed Program File, but which I would not do since it is really only correct to fresh install programs to the other OS.

So you'll probably need to expand those OS partitions by at least double the size, which can easily be done using How to extend partition easily with Partition Wizard - video help that can borrow space from any other partition even if it's not adjacent.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while you can upgrade either of those OS's to Windows 10 upon its release next month, you can also Clean Install Windows 10 Technical Preview in a third dual boot or to another hard drive or PC to test it now and get a free upgrade from the TP to Windows 10, too.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
19 Jun 2015   #3
MarkusGE

Win7-64 Home Premium single boot / Win7-64 Professional & Win8.1-64 dual boot
 
 

Thank you for the fast reply

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
You can move the active User folders that you use from each OS to the data drive following User Folders - Change Default Location.
[...]
I assume, the tutorials in "Option One" are OS-specific, are they?

Can I also merge my C:\Users\markus folders of both OSes into one on the Data partition? Or will that make the access permission play havoc?


Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
[...]
However you cannot share programs except in rare cases where they will run from their .exe in installed Program File, which I would not do since it is really only correct to fresh install programs to the other OS.
[...]
I know I cant actually share programs between OSes, but I have read (as shown in my initial post) on multiple sites, including sevenforums, that I can just install a program to, say D:\someprogram (D: is my Data partition) in one OS, switch to the other OS and install again to D:\someprogram. Is this information wrong?

WRT sharing program settings between OSes, the method just mentioned would cater for that perfectly with "protable" programs, which keep their settings saved to e.g. INI files right in their installation directory (for example Notepad++). SHaring of settings will also be ensured for programs saving that info to My Documents (some Games do that...) when consolidating the documents folders only. And for programs saving settings in AppData, only merging the C:\Users\markus folders of both OSes into one will solve that, as I understand it.

Am I getting something wrong here? If so, please correct me (this is the first time I´m dealing with dual-booting and the resulting problems of data syncing).


Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
[...]
So you'll probably need to expand those OS partitions by at least double the size, which can easily be done using How to extend partition easily with Partition Wizard - video help that can borrow space from any other partition even if it's not adjacent.
[...]
As I said in my previous paragraph already, programs will mostly be installed to the Data partition (unless they are specifically for one OS only) - if that works and I´m not conceptually wrong.


Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
[...]
Another thing to keep in mind is that while you can upgrade either of those OS's to Windows 10 upon its release next month, you can also Clean Install Windows 10 Technical Preview in a third dual boot or to another hard drive or PC to test it now and get a free upgrade from the TP to Windows 10, too.
Thanks for the hint. I have already signed up my old computer for the update/upgrade, which will also be an excuse to clean that computer (physically and virtually) and do a system refresh before upgrading


Cheers, Markus
My System SpecsSystem Spec
.

19 Jun 2015   #4
gregrocker

 

I would not move the User account folder as it can cause problems. Again, you want the User AppData to stay on the OS partition along with the Programs installed to that OS to avoid problems. These write Registry keys to the OS that should be kept together with the programs and AppData on that same OS partition until uninstalled.

There is no problem with moving specific User data folders like Documents to the data folder and sharing them between OS's. But be aware that Win7 backup imaging will then want to include the data partition since it now contains System files. So I'd use an alternative imaging app like our favorite here Macrium Imaging.

If the OS ever becomes irreparable you can reimage its OS partition in 20 minutes and your data will be safe, still linked and current in its own partition.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
20 Jun 2015   #5
MarkusGE

Win7-64 Home Premium single boot / Win7-64 Professional & Win8.1-64 dual boot
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
I would not move the User account folder as it can cause problems. Again, you want the User AppData to stay on the OS partition along with the Programs installed to that OS to avoid problems. [...]
What exactly are the possible problems?


Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
[...] These write Registry keys to the OS that should be kept together with the programs and AppData on that same OS partition until uninstalled. [...]
Some programs do not create registry entries (e.g. portable programs) do not write to registry. Can those programs be shared across OSes without problems?


Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
[...] There is no problem with moving specific User data folders like Documents to the data folder and sharing them between OS's.[...]
OK, so AppData should (and can) not be moved. The rest can, without problem, be moved to other drives/partitions and shared between OSes, if I read your post correctly.

As mentioned, there are programs that put some of their files (user profile definitions in games, for example) in the Documents folder. If I moved that Documents folder to another partition with the process in the tutorial you posted, will installers for such programs then recognize the new location of the Documents folder?


Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
[...] But be aware that Win7 backup imaging will then want to include the data partition since it now contains System files. So I'd use an alternative imaging app like our favorite here Macrium Imaging.

If the OS ever becomes irreparable you can reimage its OS partition in 20 minutes and your data will be safe, still linked and current in its own partition.
When it comes to keeping backups, I have been keeping a clean image backup of the OS without any data for purposes of quickly recovering a working OS, along with a regularly updated incremental backup by Paragon Backup & Recovery. That image backup was created by Windows, though, so I´ll see if I´ll switch to another imaging software with that computer.

Macrium ,however, seems to have gone payware since the tutorial you linked was created. If possible, I´d like to go with some free software due to my limited budget (Doing compulsory civil service currently).


Cheers, Markus
My System SpecsSystem Spec
20 Jun 2015   #6
Boozad

W7 Pro x64 SP1 | W10 Pro IP x64 | W8.1 Pro x64 VM | Linux Mint VM
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by MarkusGE View Post
Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
I would not move the User account folder as it can cause problems. Again, you want the User AppData to stay on the OS partition along with the Programs installed to that OS to avoid problems. [...]
What exactly are the possible problems?
Denied access to your Outlook.pst file for one as I found out unwittingly the other night while messing around with OneDrive.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
20 Jun 2015   #7
MarkusGE

Win7-64 Home Premium single boot / Win7-64 Professional & Win8.1-64 dual boot
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by Boozad View Post
Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by MarkusGE View Post
Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by gregrocker View Post
I would not move the User account folder as it can cause problems. Again, you want the User AppData to stay on the OS partition along with the Programs installed to that OS to avoid problems. [...]
What exactly are the possible problems?
Denied access to your Outlook.pst file for one as I found out unwittingly the other night while messing around with OneDrive.

That´s a problem related to user files, I guess, and about which I have also read already.


On a the other side of my questions, what would the problems be with programs NOT installed to the OS partition (but still installed to a partition on the internal HDD)?


Cheers, Markus
My System SpecsSystem Spec
20 Jun 2015   #8
gregrocker

 

Macrium is still free. Macrium Reflect Free

I did not say you can move everything except AppData. I said that what works without problem is to move the specific User shell folders such as Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. Move the files in them when prompted to do so and it will complete the move. User Folders - Change Default Location

In rare cases a User folder will lose its Shell status (icon on folder) or Location tab confirming its Shell status. This can be sorted by the steps in User Folders - Restore Default Location - Windows 7 Forums.

I link the User folders into my OneDrive folder across all my devices so that they are kept sync'd. This has worked fine for me although went buggy a few times when I tried to link Windows 10 folders into my Windows 7 Dual Boot when I should have just had them sync via Onedrive, but I had a small SSD for both and wanted to easily share. I think that problem can be avoided by using a Data partition as you plan.

Moving the User profile can cause complicated problems that are difficult to sort out. I asked the tutorial author about it a year or more ago and he said he no longer recommends it.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
20 Jun 2015   #9
GokAy

Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1
 
 

Quote:
Some programs do not create registry entries (e.g. portable programs) do not
write to registry. Can those programs be shared across OSes without
problems?
They can still create folders and some config files in AppData. Not all do this of course.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
20 Jun 2015   #10
lehnerus2000

W7 Ultimate SP1, LM18 MATE, W10IP VM, W10 Home, #All 64 bit
 
 
Portable Software

You could use "portable" versions of your software (assuming they are available) to get around possible Registry issues.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
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