As someone who has to deal with reinstalling computers fairly frequently, I also have to deal with restoring programs after the reinstalls. Now my question is, why the hell does windows need to spread files across the partition when installing a program? I mean, the core program is in Program Files or Program Files (x86), then there are functional bits in ProgramData, Appdata>Roaming, AppData>Local, Documents and rarely I have found bits of software that was required for it to even launch in the Windows folder... I wouldn't mind if its just 1 or 2 programs I need to back up to avoid having to reinstall and re-do all the settings and in the case of games, lose saved data, but when its usually 10-20 different pieces of software that I'd rather just backup and copy back to their corresponding places to avoid having to reinstall them, it becomes a major pain in the ass.

Is there some magic button that will compile ALL required files for a program and places them in a neat folder structure, so after reinstall I can just copy it over to C and all files promptly find their ways back to their original locations that I have missed in all my years of computing?

Is there even a reason why Microsoft installs software this way? Or are they just trolling users, to make sure maximum effort is needed to complete a reinstall?

  • Well there are the core bits and the user specific bits ... – DavidPostill Feb 14 at 15:52
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    Dragging and dropping installed programs from one PC to another (or back to the same PC after a clean Windows install) is definitely not the way you should be "backing up" programs. When a program is installed on a PC, it has keys put in the registry, and could have vital components installed into areas where you wouldn't think to look (as you have mentioned). You'd be better off just reinstalling the program with the installer again after you wipe the PC. Some programs will refuse to work if you don't do it this way. – Sam Forbis Feb 14 at 15:52
  • I know, that's my issue. I forgot to mention the registry keys, which I was aware of, and is another thing I don't understand why it has to be so complicated. I understand it is better to just reinstall the program afterwards, but sometimes reinstalling the program is more effort than simply dragging it back. Dragging it back would be infinitely simpler if windows didn't make it so difficult. – Unknown Feb 14 at 15:54
  • I know, and I agree to an extent. But generally programs aren't "portable" in the sense that they store everything in one folder. If multiple users share the same PC and use the same program, it makes sense to store their settings in their user profile directory as opposed to in the same folder the program resides in. Likewise, there are reasons that the program sets registry keys, like so Windows knows which programs are installed, and how to uninstall them, etc. – Sam Forbis Feb 14 at 15:57
  • Firstly - Why not just use a proper backup strategy? Secondly - why do you have to "deal with reinstalling computers fairly frequently" ? – Tetsujin Feb 14 at 16:05

This information is googlable with little effort, but here's a rough summary:

  • Program Files stores program components and protects them against unauthorized modification with filesystem permissions
  • ProgramData stores files common for all users that are not program components (eg. public caches)
  • %USERPROFILE\AppData\Roaming stores user-specific files that can be shared between accounts of this user on different computers
  • %USERPROFILE\AppData\Local stores user-specific files that can't be shared between accounts of this user on different computers
  • Documents - user-specific files that developer decided not to put in other directories for some reason

Putting all of those in a single directory would:

  • Break Program Files security
  • Limit OS to a single user account
  • Break data sharing between accounts of the same user on different computers
  • An alternative are the so called "portable apps" which keep all their executables and data together, but which would collectively take up more disk space than they would if installed normally to a system. – Mokubai Feb 14 at 16:21

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