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Can I just drag-and-drop program files in Windows?

We explain how to transfer installed program files from one drive to another when using Windows. (For more, see How to move program files folder in Windows: relocate file to a different hard drive / SSD and How to move files and folders from one drive to another without losing the time and date information.)

QUESTION I recently installed a solid-state drive to replace my existing hard drive, which I then decided to keep as a secondary storage drive. I’ve cloned the existing drive on the SSD, but it’s much smaller than the HDD and there’s now not much space left.

Can I move my installed programs over to the secondary hard drive by moving the program files folders, such as Program Files, Program Files (x86), and so on, on to the other drive? Can I just drag and drop them, and then replace my desktop shortcuts with new ones pointing to their new locations?

HELPROOM ANSWER The short answer is no, you can’t do this. Program installation on Windows is normally much more complicated than this. While there are some programs that can simply be run from any folder, the vast majority store important data about file locations in the Windows Registry and all of this information would also need to be updated to point to the new file locations once you have moved the program files over.

Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t provide a function to relocate installed software for you. While you could painstakingly move all the relevant files and edit the Registry entries, the only guaranteed way of ending up with a fully working installation after the move is to uninstall your applications and then reinstall them on the secondary drive.

This will often involve selecting the Custom install option rather than the Express mode, which will then allow you to decide where you would like the software to be installed.

However this can become tedious very quickly, especially if you have a large number of applications to move. You’ll probably have to reconfigure all the applications again, too, with all your preferences and settings.

If you want to avoid this, you can try using a program moving utility such as Application Mover or Steam Mover, which was originally designed for moving games installed using the Steam system, but works just as well for other applications, too.

As always, use these programs at your own risk and do make sure you have an up-to-date backup before you start.

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