The pains of sharing an external hard drive between two Xbox PC app installs

Deleting WindowsApps, Program Files, and XboxApps on your external hard drive is a matter of:

  • Changing ownership of this files over to your new computer
  • Editing permissions so that you have full control over these files
  • Booting into safe mode and deleting each folder

The official Xbox app for PC has gotten much better over time (especially with the release of Starfield), but you’ll still find yourself running into infuriating bugs. Steam is still far ahead in user experience despite Microsoft’s investment into both speed and functionality.

A perfect example of Steam’s seamless user experience over the Xbox app is in the process of managing external hard drives across two different computers. Whether you’re moving to a new PC or like to switch between a laptop/desktop, you’ll find that the Xbox PC app will refuse to cooperate between two distinct installs.

I’ve found that there are two main issues that crop up when using an external hard drive between two PCs:

  • You won’t be able to play previously installed games on a different PC
  • You won’t be able to install games on an external hard drive if games were previously installed through a different PC

To solve this, I deleted the contents of WindowsApps, XboxApps, and Program Files without having to wipe the drive completely (these were the folders I found to have associations with previous PC Game Pass installs).

How to delete WindowsApps, XboxApps, and Program Files

The three roadblocks preventing you from being able to install PC Game Pass and Windows Store games on another computer are:

  • WindowsApps
  • XboxApps
  • Program Files

Your external hard drive will have associations with another computer due to these apps, and so the goal is to get rid of files related to previous PC Game Pass installs.

The first step is to change over permissions to yourself (the administrator of your current computer). At first, you won’t even be able to view the contents of a folder like WindowsApps, and you need to give yourself full control.

Head over to your D:\ drive and right-click WindowsApps, click Properties, click the Security tab, and click the button that says Advanced near the bottom of the window. You’ll now be in the advanced security settings, and you’ll want to click Change near the top of the window. This allows you to change the owner of this directory.

You’ll then see a screen with a text input field that allows you to enter your username. Enter this into the text box, and then click Check Names. To find the username associated with your C:\ drive, navigate to the C:\ drive and click Users. It should be the only other folder than Public, and the file path will look something like C:\Users\yourusername. Finally, click OK after your username has been recognized, then click Apply, and exit out of the window after the change has been recognized.

Head back into the Security tab, and make sure that you have full control. Also, click Advanced once again and edit the permissions for Administrators and SYSTEM so that they also have full control.

After applying the new security settings and once again viewing the security tab of the WindowsApps properties, you should see that your username, SYSTEM, and Adminstrators have full control, similar to the image above.

You’ll want to repeat this process for all folders inside WindowsApps as well as Program Files and XboxApps. Ultimately, you’ll want to be able to view the contents of WindowsApps, Program Files, and XboxApps and every folder within each.

You won’t be able to delete these files right off the bat. Windows will claim that they’re currently in use. The solution is to boot into Safe Mode. Although you can do the steps outlined above in Safe Mode should you need to alter permissions, it’s best to do so beforehand as it’s a more limited version of Windows and runs slower. Follow these steps to start up Safe Mode:

  • Press the Windows key and R key at the same time
  • Type msconfig and hit enter
  • Select the Boot tab
  • Click Safe Boot and Network under Boot Options
  • Click Apply, OK, and then restart your computer

Make note of these steps before booting into Safe Mode (write them down or open this page up on your phone). You’ll need to uncheck Safe Boot and Network and restart your computer to exit Safe Mode.

Once you’re in Safe Mode, navigate to your D:\ drive and delete WindowsApps, XboxApps, and Program Files. Again, make sure to delete the folders inside of them as well. If Windows presents any errors, click Try Again. This should let you continue with your deletion. Similarly, if Windows asks for any more permissions, you can follow the steps above to grant them.

You should now be able to install PC Game Pass games without causing any errors.

Walking through the issue

The Xbox PC app is clunky for many reasons, but the functionality of using an external hard drive is particularly harsh in its design. The way Windows ties down folders (for security and otherwise) means that certain files won’t be able to be authenticated across different machines. Worst of all, deleting files can be next to impossible.

Unfortunately, you can’t play previously installed Xbox app games on a new PC, and no workaround exists that I know of. However, you can use a previously used external hard drive to install Xbox PC app games on a new PC. The three folders that I wiped clean to do this were:

  • WindowsApps
  • XboxApps
  • Program Files

Deleting these files can be a pain because you’ll run into permission issues and Windows will insist the folders are in use (even though they’re on an external D:\ drive). Thanks to this forum thread, I learned that permission issues can be solved by handing off ownership to the administrative user on your new computer (you).

Since the folders on your external hard drive were originally sourced from a different PC, it means that you won’t even be able to view their contents if you’re using it on a different PC. I solved this by first changing ownership of each folder, and then making sure that I had full permissions (this can be edited after the fact). After this, I booted into Safe Mode to delete each folder.

Safe Mode is a version of Windows with limited drivers, and prevents the OS from throwing errors claiming that the folders are currently in use or opened. You may run into an issue claiming that further permissions are required. In this case, you can further edit the permissions of each domain or group in Safe Mode. I found that giving full control to SYSTEM, Administrator, and your username stopped any security flags. Windows may also throw an error code after attempting to delete a folder. Simply hit Try Again and you should be able to push past it.

This forum post was the piece of information I needed to tie it all together. Windows won’t let you delete WindowsApps, XboxApps, or Program Files in the normal OS environment. It will claim that the folder is “open in another program”. And that’s why Safe Mode is important – it allows you to delete these folders without throwing this error.

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