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Migrating to a New Mac in the Real World

It all began earlier this month with a soft, extremely high-pitched intermittent whine from the upper-right corner of my mid-2011 iMac. Then, a few evenings ago, I heard about a dozen clicks and my Mac shut down. I couldn’t get it to reboot normally, from a safe boot (hold down Shift at the startup chime), nor even from a recovery boot (hold down Command-R). An Internet recovery boot (hold down Command-Option-R) did work, but its included Disk Utility app had a grim tale to tell: my Mac’s internal drive could not be found.

A trip to my local Apple Store Genius Bar confirmed that the Mac’s drive had rung down the curtain and was now an ex-drive. Although the Apple Genius told me they could install a new drive, it would take a week, and since I had been planning to buy a new iMac next year, I decided I’d just push that purchase forward a few months (besides, I can always connect an external drive to the old iMac and use it as a test machine). So I packed up my old iMac, took out a credit card, and within minutes walked out of the Apple Store with both my old iMac and a new iMac with 5K Retina display. I drove home, anxious to discover whether Time Machine really would do what it was supposed to do. Would it “just work”?

The answer is “more or less”; I did get all of my backed-up files restored, and most of my settings as well, but there were more than a few loose ends and hiccups along the way.

I strongly suspect that my experiences restoring my Mac’s contents to a new Mac from Time Machine are similar to those of other users who have had to do the same thing. I present the following tale for those of you who haven’t (yet) had that experience: what I encountered may help prepare you for what could lie ahead.

The Time Capsule Migration -- My Time Machine backup resides in a 2 TB Time Capsule that sits near my desk. Pack-rat that I am, I keep an Ethernet cable in my Cupboard of Arcane Connectors: I strung that between my new iMac and the Time Capsule before I started the migration. I could have used the Time Capsule’s Wi-Fi connection instead, but restoring a backup that way would have taken considerably more time — the last time I did a migration over Wi-Fi, it consumed a full weekend. Crossing my fingers, I booted my new iMac for the first time. It was 7:20 PM on a Saturday evening.

Upon starting up, my new iMac recognized the Time Capsule and offered me the opportunity to set it up from a Time Machine backup. I chose that option and we were off to the races… though, as races go, it was a marathon, not a sprint.

The first obstacle was the appearance of a dialog that told me the Mac was “preparing” to transfer my backup: it had no progress indicator and, as minute after minute passed, it gave no impression that any progress actually was being made. In my younger, more impatient days, I would have forced a reboot and tried again, but that night I told myself to wait an hour before giving up. After “only” 30 minutes, though, the “preparing” dialog was replaced by one with a progress gauge, and, what’s more, a time estimate! It told of 6 hours remaining — that estimate quickly became more than 8 hours, then fell to 7, then to 4, then to 3.5 before stabilizing at 5 hours. Files and settings began transferring and I walked away.

I checked in an hour later and saw the estimated time to completion was now 36 hours! As I watched, it jumped to 40, and soon got as high as 72 hours. I resolved not to panic and walked away. A few fretful minutes later I came back for another look and relievedly saw that the estimated time remaining in the migration was once again under 5 hours.

In fact, the data migration from my Time Capsule to my iMac via Ethernet, involving some 300 GB of data, took just under 6 hours: close to the original estimate!

The moral of this episode: patience is a virtue. Progress gauges are notorious liars, so don’t hasten to pull the plug if you worry things are hung up, and don’t be disheartened by interim time estimates that may be wildly incorrect.

Back to My Desktops -- With the data migration completed, my new iMac asked me some of the usual new Mac questions (pick a time zone, choose a language), and then it rebooted and asked me to log in to one of my migrated user accounts (they all seemed to have transferred). It was now well after midnight, but I couldn’t go to bed without seeing if my old familiar desktops were truly back in my main user account (I use Mission Control and have seven desktops that I move between). They were.

But I couldn’t move among them with a flick of my fingers as I was accustomed to because the new iMac, which came with a Magic Mouse, didn’t recognize my trackpad: the Bluetooth setting for the trackpad didn’t migrate so I had to pair my trackpad manually with the new machine. Not surprising, really: the trackpad itself knew that it was paired already with a different device than my new iMac, but with the help of the Bluetooth pane of System Preferences I soon got the two talking.

Before I could even get to that, though, I had to deal with a flurry of requests for my iCloud password. Dialog after dialog came up requesting it, four or five in a row. This flurry was finally followed by an alert telling me that some of my apps required app-specific passwords, and the alert offered to help me create them. The alert didn’t tell me which apps needed those passwords, but I noticed that it sported a Messages icon.

The light eventually dawned: a few months ago I had enabled two-step authentication for my Apple ID, which required me to create an app-specific password to be used by both FaceTime and Messages (why any of Apple’s own apps require this is another question). It occurred to me that the flurry of iCloud password requests might really be very poorly worded requests for the app-specific FaceTime/Messages password. Fortunately, I had that app-specific password stored in 1Password and could retrieve it with the 1Password app on my iPad. So I cancelled the alert, and, on the next iCloud password request, I fed it the FaceTime/Messages app-specific password. The flurry stopped.

It was now heading toward 1 AM, but before I went to bed I wanted to make sure that my email had survived the migration. When I opened Mail, though, I saw a dialog telling me that Mail would have to process all my saved messages, several hundreds of thousands of them, a process that would take at least another hour. I decided to let Mail have its way and toddled off to bed. After a few hours of restless sleep, I returned to my new iMac and saw that, indeed, all of my mail was in place. What’s more, Mail had found a couple of messages that had gotten lost in its bowels on my old Mac last year and had never been sent; while I was sleeping Mail sent them for me, no doubt confusing the recipients.

Happily, I found that the migration had preserved all my mail accounts — one account seemed to have had its settings mangled, but it turned out later that the problem was actually at the mail server: the settings were intact.

Next, I wanted to see if my Photos library had also made the leap to my new machine. When I went to the Dock to launch Photos, however, there was a great big question mark where the Photos icon should have been! It turns out that the version of Yosemite on my new iMac was the one that came out prior to the release of Photos. Although Time Machine had backed up my old Mac’s system along with the rest of my data, the migration did not replace the installed version of the operating system or any Apple apps on my new iMac. So it was off to the Mac App Store to upgrade Yosemite. When the upgrade to OS X 10.10.5 was complete, Photos was back on my Dock, and my Photos library was accessible once more — and it was intact.

Finally, I got a prompt asking me if I wanted my Time Machine to “adopt” the previous backup for my new machine, warning me that if I chose to do so, I wouldn’t be able to use it again with my old Mac. I chose to do so, which means I can seamlessly use Time Machine to retrieve files from before the crash as well as after: as far as Time Machine is concerned, my new Mac and my old Mac are the same Mac.

The moral of this episode: Be prepared for the unexpected. You will still have a lot of things left to set up, and updates to install, when you migrate from a Time Machine backup to a new Mac. Furthermore, Migration Assistant may say that it is transferring your settings, but it doesn’t transfer all of them. If you haven’t saved the passwords for your Mac’s services and accounts somewhere that you can get to as needed, do it. Do it right now.

Loose Ends and Hiccups -- Even after my new iMac was finally set up, there were still a few problems that I had to resolve.

One of them was the matter of third-party software licenses. Some survived the migration intact, while others, such as for Smile’s PDFpen and TextExpander, and for my copy of Microsoft Office 2011, did not. Smile has a lookup service that allows you to retrieve purchased license keys, but for the Microsoft Office key, you may need to make a phone call. Fortunately, I had my Office key squirreled away in 1Password. Unfortunately, Smile’s lookup service didn’t work for me because I had received my keys directly from Smile when I was writing “Take Control of PDFpen 7” and “Take Control of TextExpander,” but since the good folks at Smile know me, I was able to resolve that problem with a quick email. (Note: In case you are wondering, yes, the Smile licenses are now in my 1Password archive.)

I had one other TextExpander problem: all my snippets were missing! It turns out that was because I have them stored in Dropbox, and because my Dropbox settings didn’t transfer for some reason, they were inaccessible to TextExpander. Once I reauthorized my Dropbox account for my new iMac, I was able to relink TextExpander to its settings and my snippets came back.

But there was still one more Dropbox hiccup: none of my Dropbox notification settings made the migration, so once I authorized my new Mac to use Dropbox, I began seeing notifications every time someone changed something in one of my shared Dropbox folders (and, as a Take Control author/editor, I share a lot of Dropbox folders with my colleagues). A quick trip to the Notifications pane of System Preferences cleared that up.

Then there was iTunes. When I opened it, I was warned that some of my media was inaccessible because my Mac was not authorized for my iTunes account (thank you, DRM!). What’s more, I had no more authorizations left: I had previously used all five that iTunes makes available. Fortunately, Apple does allow you, once each year, to deauthorize all the computers authorized for a specific iTunes account. Since I couldn’t deauthorize my old Mac (no hard drive, remember), I deauthorized all the computers using my account, and then authorized my new one. My media was once again accessible.

I also encountered a weird Mail hiccup. For some reason, even though all of my mail had transferred, none of my smart mailboxes seemed to work, nor did any new ones that I created. It turns out that Spotlight was the culprit: even though Mail had processed all my migrated mail, for some reason Spotlight, upon which smart mailboxes depend, hadn’t indexed that mail. The solution for this was simple: once I forced Spotlight to re-index my new iMac’s hard drive, the smart mailboxes began working again. (Though the process can take hours, reindexing a hard drive is easy: in the Privacy view of the Spotlight preference pane, add your hard drive to wipe its index, wait a few seconds, and then remove the drive.)

Finally, I found that I was no longer able to make phone calls from my Mac using my iPhone over Wi-Fi. Every time I enabled the iPhone Cellular Calls setting (which you can find in FaceTime’s preferences) it immediately disabled itself, with an alert telling me that my Mac and iPhone had to be using the same iCloud account. Frustratingly, they already were! Fixing this, though, turned out to be simple too: I logged my Mac out of my iCloud account, and then logged it back in. After that, the iPhone Cellular Calls setting worked.

The moral of this episode: It’s not over until it’s over. Even if you get your Mac successfully migrated, you will likely find a few things that need tweaking and readjusting in the days and weeks ahead.

Final Thoughts -- Few of us are lucky enough never to encounter the unexpected loss of a hard drive or even a Mac. Stuff inevitably happens. But if you have at least one good up-to-date backup, and if you keep track of all of your software licenses and service passwords, you can usually turn a disaster into nothing more than a time-consuming inconvenience.

Developing a backup strategy is not hard (read Joe Kissell’s “Backing Up Your Mac: A Joe On Tech Guide”), and recording new logins and licenses may be a chore, but it takes only seconds for each one. Do these things, and if you ever find yourself standing in the smoking crater of what was once your Mac, you can climb out again, secure in the knowledge that your most irreplaceable stuff — the pictures, documents, mail, and media you have accumulated over the years — is intact.


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Comments about Migrating to a New Mac in the Real World
(Comments are closed.)

Don OShea  2015-08-28 15:53
Recently, I migrated my MacBook Air to a new MacBook Pro using SuperDuper. I made a clone of the MacBook Air on an HD and then attached it to the new Pro after having done its initial “Welecome” setup. I connected drive with the clone of the Air, then option-booted the Pro to run the Pro on the clone. I ran the new Pro for three days using the clone and encountered no glitches during that time. I then transferred the clone to the new Pro using SuperDuper. My cloned Pro has been running fine ever since.

I have no connection to SuperDuper, except as a satisfied user.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-08-28 15:56
If I had known ahead of time that my hard disk would die a week ago, I would have made a clone before then and done as you did. But the most recent backup available to me was on the Time Capsule the day my hard drive died.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-08-28 16:10
Yes, we talked about that while editing the article too. I always have a nightly duplicate of my boot drive, but in a case like Michael's where it died late in the day, even a nightly bootable duplicate wouldn't have been enough because he would have had to try to figure out what had changed during the day. In that kind of a situation, something like Time Machine or CrashPlan that runs all the time is more likely to be up to date.
You can still use the clone for the main restore. For any files that changed since the clone you can restore those from Time Machine.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-08-29 19:38
There is the tiresome matter of identifying which files are the ones changed since the clone was made, and then actually restoring those files. But yes, that is also something you can do…if you have a clone.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-08-31 09:46
Yeah, this is one of the problems with Time Machine - there's no way to say, "Restore everything that changed after 4 AM on Tuesday." You can search for individual files and restore them, but that's only slightly less a fool's errand than trying to figure out which individual files to back up in the first place.
There actually is a way to do that. Get CharlesSoft's free Time Tracker. It's still beta and all, but it's been working like that for years with various OS X versions and it is regularly (but quietly) updated.

It will allow you to see exactly what Time Machine backed up on every session it ran. You can even sort by size or date within the file tree which makes it easier to get an idea of when important changes were made.

I use Time Tracker a lot when I want to find out why TM backed up large amounts of data despite the user not appearing to having "done" much since the last backup.

I'm, not sure how practical it is to use this to find everything that changed over an entire day, but in principle it would definitely work.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 10:59
How useful this is may also depend on your particular filing system and which applications you use. I suspect that many people's work on their computers is not as complex as Michael's. And I generally know where I store the files I'm working on, so finding them again is not too difficult – not in the short term, anyway. That said, I dare say most people are not as organized as I am. In which case, finding their latest stuff with Time Machine may not be easy or practical; that's even assuming they are using Time Machine, which, sadly, most people do not.

You can schedule backups at most once a day with SuperDuper. But Carbon Copy Cloner will allow you to run a backup once an hour. I've found the system overhead with CCC to be negligible on my 3.5GHz quad-core 27" iMac with 24GB of RAM, but your mileage may vary depending on your system resources. And, as the example below indicates, a clone may also be corrupted before you even know you have a problem.

How long a restore takes over Ethernet will also depend on the quality of the cable you use. Not all Ethernet cables are created equal.

If you made few important changes since your last clone update, restoring from a clone may be the easiest option. Certainly it will run more quickly than with Time Machine. Any e-mail you received since the clone will re-download, it you don't wipe the server too often. And, of course, if you use web mail there will be nothing to update. In the case of iTunes, you can re-download music you bought at the iTunes store that's no longer in your library, or, if you prefer, you can restore the library from Time Machine without much trouble.

Which method you use to restore will also depend on how big of a disaster you encountered. Some months ago I experienced such drastic system corruption that Disk Utility couldn't repair my drive, or even wipe the Fusion Drive for a restore. Not even DiskWarrior could help. I had actually to erase the SSD and the HDD separately, after which DU offered to restore the hybrid volume to its native state. Then I installed a clean copy of Mavericks and ran all the appropriate updates, before restoring from a month old Time Machine backup in order, hopefully, to bypass the corruption that originally hosed my system (as this was four or five months ago, it apparently worked). This did leave me with some things to restore from my clone which, by the way, was not bootable because it too contained the corrupted system. I have since adopted Joe Kissel's recommendation to keep a backup off site, which will by design be older than my onsite clone. The moral of this story is that both Time Machine and a clone have their uses. And, though Time Machine can sometimes be problematic, I have a much higher opinion of it than I once did.

Like Michael I had to restore a lot of application license codes. I'm not sure how they were lost, but for some reason some are not included in Time Machine backups, while many others are. The only one I was unable to restore was SnapzPro. None of my valid license codes would work and the developer couldn't be bothered finding a solution. He just resent me the codes I told him I already had and which would not work. Which is sad, because I really liked Snapz Pro and had been using it for many years and paid for several upgrades. Not all developers take customer loyalty, or customer support, seriously.
Kathy Bridges  2015-08-28 16:31
So glad your TimeCapsule worked. My iMac required a hard drive replacement under Apple's repair program. Apple returned the repaired computer to me with the latest operating system, which had been released while my computer was in for service. When I got it back, Migration Assistant couldn't see the hard drive. Three trips to the Apple Store, an unsuccessful attempt by Apple to manually copy my drive, many phone calls to AppleCare and six days of non-stop work on my part and I rebuilt my entire 1T of data from other backups. It was an epic effort that ultimately required creating my entire iTunes library anew. I too ran into many of the same issues you did, and I found myself wondering what I would have done if I was the average Apple user instead of someone who has used them for 25 years.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-08-28 16:52
All I can say is the hours between the crash and my finally discovering that my Time Capsule backup was intact were very tense hours for me!
Kirby Krieger  2015-08-31 21:33
Easy for me to add now :-) — but the _only_ "best practice" is to always have two back-ups of all your data, on separate spindles. If you are ever "tense" about restoring your data, your back-up plan is inadequate.

Nothing else makes sense today: data is more valuable than ever (you might have ten years — or more — of _literally_ irreplaceable data on your main machine's system drive), and the cost of storage (which has been one of the great bargains for years now) is lower than ever.

I use a lot of external drives (I'm a artist who uses photographic source material). They fail all the time. Iirc, I've lost only two system drives in the last decade (and c. 8 EHDs). But that's not the point I want readers to keep. I stopped worrying about data loss years ago, when I started rigorously keeping two full copies of my data, on separate spindles (and one of those off-site: if nowhere is convenient, and you have a car, store one in your glove box).

(to be continued ... )
Kirby Krieger  2015-08-31 21:43
(... continuing:)

Every Mac's system drive should be (imho, and based on both _data security_ and _peace of mind_) backed up to a Time Machine disk. This is a good hour/day back-up, is usable for a full restore (though not ideal), and — important — provides some access to older versions of files.

Additionally, every Mac's system drive should be cloned to an identical-size drive _every night_. I use SuperDuper. CCC is equally good. Every time the system senses that the back-up drive is mounted, SuperDuper runs, refreshes the clone, unmounts, and shuts down.

For data drives, _buy them in triplicate_. Yes, it's 3x the cost of buying just one. How much is peace-of-mind worth? How much is, say, 6 weeks of your professional time worth?

Put working data on one, and rotate the other two, updating one of the two clones _every day_ the working data is changed.

_NEVER_ have all three drives in the same physical space.

Short of a local or regional disaster, your data will be safe.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 11:33
Storing hard drives anywhere in your car is a bad idea. Every interior space in an automobile is subject to extremes of climate: heat, cold and humidity. None of these are good for drives of any kind, SSD or HDD. Oh, and there's the hazard of theft.

Convenience should not be the first, or even the second consideration for off site backup storage. Security and a stable climate are. Which is why a safe deposit box is probably the best alternative. I recently got one at my local B of A branch for $52 a year, which is bleeping cheap. Of course that's because my accounts with the bank entitled me to a discount. Oh, and put your drive(s) in an electrostatically neutral container. I use a NewerTech StoraDrive that I got from Otherworld Computing for $9 a pair. Safe deposit boxes are metal and highly conductive.
Steve Werner  2015-08-28 20:49
A note for owners of Adobe Creative Suite software: Restoring your software or migrating it from another computer probably will not work. (Adobe stores support files in too many locations for it to be reliable.) The recommended method is to reinstall the software. You can download it from here if you don't have a copy of the original installer:

If you have a Creative Cloud subscription, you can simply download it again from the Creative Cloud app.
Peter U  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-09-02 13:48
Yes, Adobe CS 4 didn't work when I migrated from an MacBook Pro with OS 10.8. to a new one with 10.9 (Mavericks).

The simple solution was to copy the Adobe folders from my backup to the Applications folder on the new Mac.

No guarantee this will work with any other OS version combination though.
Winsor  2015-08-29 15:31
My experiences were similar. I had not activated Apple's two step password, but the iCloud sign ins were maddening. It seemed to be a timing problem. It would only let me enter the password twice and when not recognized I would have to reset all the passwords, but there would always be one that did not get the message. I should have waited a while between resetting and trying to enter the new one.

Part of my iTunes library disappeared but I did search for one of the missing files and iTunes suddenly asked if I wanted to use that location to restore the rest. I did and it did.
I would be very reluctant to buy a computer that doesn't allow you to upgrade the hard drive or in some cases memory. I replaced the 500mb hard drive on my MacBook Pro with a1Tb Seagate hybrid dive for about $80 and it greatly improved the laptop's performance. Soon I'll do the same for my Mac mini. I resent that Apple is making you buy a new computer instead of allowing for simple replacements or upgrades.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-08-30 18:06
Reread the article. I did have the option of replacing the hard drive. It would have taken Apple a week to install the new drive. I could've done it myself much more quickly, but since my machine was four years old anyway, I thought I would forgo that "pleasure" and treat myself to a new machine. I may still install a new drive in my old machine.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-08-31 09:51
Apple doesn't make that hard drive replacement easy. In an old tower Mac Pro and older MacBooks, it would have taken less than 60 seconds. From what I see on iFixIt, you have to remove the screen on all the iMacs released in the last five years or so to replace the hard drive (and it's not even possible with MacBooks at all any more). I see why Apple does it for MacBooks, where space is at a premium for a reason, but speaking as the owner of a Retina iMac like Michael's, I've never noticed how thick it is - I look at the screen all day long, not the side.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 11:47
I agree. That thin iMac design serves no practical, nor even serious aesthetic purpose. The design, like many of Apple's choices these days, is gratuitous and arbitrary. They rarely take usability or customer convenience into account any more. Jonathan Ive used to be a design genius. Now he's just insane, out of reach and out of touch. But he's a deity at Apple and no one dares to state the obvious, that the emperor has no clothes.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 12:02
Hard drive replacements weren't easy with the "thick" iMacs either. I actually quite like the thinness, but I'd rather have easy access to the hard drive. Then again, that's just not what Apple is going to offer going forward.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 12:13
Yeah, the iMac hasn't been easy to upgrade for a long time (if ever - I can't remember what was necessary for all the models). But the old Mac Pro and my old aluminum MacBook were trivially easy, which was nice.

As you say, that's a thing of the past - Apple doesn't want people doing this any more.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 12:16
Not much different from the original 128K Mac, really. The majority of all-in-one type Macs have not had user serviceability as a feature.
...and the beauty of an “old” Mac Pro (one among a long list, actually) is that not only can you replace a boot drive in 60 seconds — but you can keep your data on a separate (internal) drive, and even back it up internally on another internal drive, and / or external drive(s). And that applies to backing up the boot volume, as well.

I fail to understand the appeal of the iMac. It's basically a cinema display with a Macbook bolted to the back. It's expensive to fix — not to mention the downtime...even if you're a skilled technician, capable and willing to do it yourself. Buy a 2009-or-later “old” Mac Pro on Craigslist for ~$400. Stuff it with drives and RAM. I have two of them, and I fully expect their server-grade components to provide many more years of continuous use (literally continuous for one of them, an always-on media server). Zero downtime. Replace any component in a few minutes with only a screwdriver (if that).

Please tell me why you're in love with your iMac.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-02 15:17
I upgraded from a 2008 Mac Pro to a Retina iMac and while I miss having the internal drives and easy access to RAM (mostly necessary when the drives and RAM failed, which they did in the Mac Pro), the Retina screen on the iMac is absolutely stunning. Performance is better than my old Mac Pro as well, and my understanding from benchmarks is that the iMac is faster than even the current Mac Pro (which lacks those internal drive bays) for all but serious multi-core activities.
No one could argue the 5K iMac display isn't “absolutely stunning”. As far as “performance” goes: this is obviously a *very complex, usage-dependent subject. Hard-drive and / or RAM failure had nothing to do, specifically, with your Mac Pro. Those components fail, eventually. This is essentially a pointless argument. You love your 5K iMac. I love my “old”, exquisitely-engineered, dependable, industrial-grade-everything, effectively-zero-downtime Mac Pros. I hope you purchased AppleCare for that iMac, and you have money to throw at it after AppleCare expires.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-02 15:56
I love being able to modify my computers. I've built dozens of PCs and that's why I stuck with my old MacBook Pro for so long. But that's just not the direction Apple is going with the Mac. Your best bet in the future is a Hackintosh or another platform entirely.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-02 16:18
Sure, whatever works for you. I prefer to buy the most powerful current Mac that meets my needs and hold onto it until it starts to be a problem, either due to hardware failures (my Mac Pro killed DIMMs regularly) or unavailable features (USB 3.0 and AirDrop support, in my case). For me, the everyday utility of the iMac's Retina screen for my eyes outweighs the highly infrequent difficulty of getting into the unit. But your mileage may vary...
paulori  2015-08-31 21:03
Have had almost identical experience after replacing dead hard drives x 2 in same machine but also after getting the drive electively replaced in a different machine with the recent repair program. Yes, patience was a virtue: left it to back up from Time Machine overnight. Same problem each time with Microsoft Office. Why I still have the original box! Same issue with two step verification. Additional issues with iPhoto which I have had before (not jumped to Photos yet as still use locations) : loss of thumbnails. Not got around to rebuild for that though have to say been disappointed in results when attempted in the past. In saying that, is all a bit nit picky: is somewhat amazing that it 1.7 TB restores with only minor hiccups!
Jon Butler  2015-08-31 21:36
I have a 5-year-old iMac that I intend to replace this fall. My plan is to transfer all my data files to the new iMac using Super Duper, which I regularly update. I intend to reinstall additional software from scratch, no matter the tedium. When I transferred files to the then new iMac I bought 5 years ago from my earlier iMac using Apple software, I felt that I brought old problems from my previous Mac. I want to avoid this. Does this make sense?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 10:34
Yes, it does, though I'd go bare bones and copy data files in the Finder. Particularly if you've updated the same basic boot system for years, it's not a bad idea to start from scratch and build up the machine with completely fresh installs of everything you actually use.

I don't do this regularly, but I have done it once or twice over the years, and I think it's a good idea to eradicate cruft that builds up in the cracks of the OS.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 12:56
Not using Super Duper. You cannot select specific data with SuperDuper. With SD you have little control over which files are copied; it may very well cary over the problems you are concerned about. If you want to migrate specific files and folders from your old iMac to the new one, without impacting the new system, use Carbon Copy Cloner. With it you can control precisely which files are copied.

If you are worried about corrupt files, you may want to create your user account(s) from scratch on the new iMac, rather than migrating your accounts from the old machine. User accounts contain much of the chuff and corruption that accumulates over time, not to mention innumerable old, out-of-date items.

Once you create your new account(s), you can use iCloud to synchronize bookmarks, mail and other items between your two Macs. You can use CCC to replace new, empty iPhoto (of Photos) libraries on the new Mac with those from the old one, as well as your iTunes library. Be sure to authorize your iTunes account on the new Mac so that your old library will work once you've copied them.

Be aware that your new Mac will not include iPhoto. Nor is it available to install from Apple any longer. They thoughtlessly killed iPhoto the very day Photos was released, ignoring the fact that most people had not yet upgraded to Yosemite (because Yosemite was too bleeping unreliable). So, if you have a significant photo collection in iPhoto, you may want to consider upgrading your old iMac to Yosemite, if you have not already done so, and migrating your iPhoto library to Photos (after making a backup). Alternatively, it you still have a copy of iPhoto it may work just fine if you copy the app to your new iMac, along with the iPhoto library from your user>Pictures folder. This will enable you to bypass all the complexity and confusion (and the bugs) in Photos until you're good and ready to start using it.

If you use Apple Mail, you will need to copy the Mail folder from your user Library folder on the old iMac to the new one in order to preserve any mail, accounts and mail boxes you want to keep. Otherwise, be prepared for your service provider to download a ton of mail, including all the spam you trained Mail to handle – once you've successfully set up your mail accounts, which can be tricky if you're not used to doing it. You will also need to copy over the Address Book folder from your user>Library>Applications Support folder.

You can copy all these files manually, or select them in Carbon Copy Cloner, which has the added advantage that it can see hidden files, like your user Library folder, so you won't have to go looking for it.

I suggest you get a copy of Carbon Copy Cloner before you get your new computer and practice using it so that it won't baffle you when you are least likely to have the patience to learn how to use it. CCC is much more powerful than SuperDuper and has a steeper learning curve. That said, I've found it worth every penny I paid for it and the time it took to learn how to use it.

janesprando  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-08-31 23:35
No one has mentioned online back up sites. I use Carbonite and back up to an external drive with SuperDuper. 1Password is a must have App for me. Also couldn't be without Dropbox and Evernote.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 10:32
Online backups are essential for offsite protection of files, but you'd be waiting for weeks to restore an entire computer from one (or getting a drive delivered from the company). :-)

For full restoration or migration, you really need a local backup.
David Price  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2015-09-01 10:31
I now do what Joe Kissell does. Instead of doing a clone backup once a day I do it automatically every hour.
Kevin Davidson  2015-09-01 10:14
What do you do when you realise 3 hours later that you have accidentally deleted some important files, and your clone from 1hr ago doesn't have those files either? Or what do you do if your Mac dies halfway through a backup and your clone is useless? I hope you have other, incremental backups (Time Machine or similar) as well.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 10:29
I don't know about SuperDuper, but Carbon Copy Cloner has a feature called SafetyNet that sets aside old files, so that isn't too much of a problem.
David Price  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2015-09-01 10:34
In addition to cloning automatically every hour I also use Time Machine and Backblaze online backup. I also do a Carbon Copy Cloner backup. Good points, Kevin!
Kevin Davidson  2015-09-01 10:09
This article could do with a little more clarity on the (very large) differences between *restoring* from a Time Machine backup and *migrating* from a Time Machine backup.

Restoring is what you want to do if you're replacing the hard drive in the same machine. Do a recovery boot and follow the instructions to restore your time machine backup (choosing the date and time you want to restore if the most recent backup is mangled).You should never *ever* try to do that if you've bought a brand new Mac. Even if you've kept your old Mac up to date with the latest version of OS X, Apple often bring out new models with the same version of OS X, but a different build number. It has the device drivers etc for new hardware that will get rolled into the next point release of OS X. Don't restore a clone for the same reason.

Migrating is the right thing to do with new hardware - it will transfer just your personal files, settings and applications alongside all the preinstalled software.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 11:19
Right, but when users boot up a new Mac, a full restore isn't an option right away. I doubt most users would go for a restoration from a clone or Time Machine unless there was a migration problem.

But while we're on the subject, I'd like to add what each type of backup is best at, because I think that's important to note. I'm sure Joe Kissell has covered this somewhere.

Time Machine: system migrations, recovery of individual files

Clones: full system restoration, being able to continue working in case of a hardware failure (or having to use another Mac while yours is in the shop), hard drive swaps, and the occasional file recovery

Online backup: individual file recovery, and full system recovery in a worst-case scenario

If I had to pick *only* one, I'd go with a clone, I guess, but everyone should really have all three.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 11:42
And this points to another distinction, restoring a bootable duplicate versus migrating from a bootable duplicate.

Restoring from a bootable duplicate is just a matter of running the duplicate in reverse - copying from the duplicate back to the Mac's main drive using SuperDuper or CCC. That's useful if there were few or no changes since the last bootable duplicate was made. In theory, there should be minimal setup necessary, since it should be identical data (some apps may still freak about being on a new hard drive). I wouldn't use this to get files onto a new Mac because as someone else has said, there may be subtle system differences under the hood.

Migrating from a bootable duplicate is like migrating from Time Machine - you point the Migration Assistant at the bootable duplicate drive and it pulls data and settings and non-Apple apps from it. Personally, I'd probably do that in favor of Time Machine, since it seems like it should be faster and more efficient, since it doesn't have to figure out what the latest version of anything is. But of course, for that to be useful, the bootable duplicate has to be completely up to date. If not, Time Machine is a better bet.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 10:45
I’ll chime in here, since I’ve recently performed two migrations: one being a clean install of Yosemite on my MacBook Pro and the other a migration from my MacBook Pro to a Retina iMac.

My backup setup looks like this: a Time Machine volume, a daily clone with Carbon Copy Cloner, and Backblaze cloud backup.

For the clean install migration, I used my CCC clone. However, it didn’t go well. Almost all of my paid software came over without registration and many of my important folders, such as Music and Photos, were put in the wrong place. At first, I mistakenly thought that they weren’t migrated at all!

For the migration to the iMac, I used my Time Machine backup. It went MUCH better. Other than Office, all of my paid registrations were intact, my folders came over without a hitch, all of my preferences came over, and even my TidBITS SVN setup (which is sort of tricky) worked right away.

The only problem with my iMac migration, and it’s one to be aware of, is that my Photos library came over corrupted. I think that’s because, like Michael, my MBP had a newer version of Photos than what shipped with my iMac. Thankfully, I was able to pull my Photos library from my clone, copy it over, update my Mac, and I was back in business. Even if I couldn’t copy it from my clone, I also had the Backblaze backup, and if worse came to worse, my photos are all in iCloud, and I could restore them from there.

So I have two pieces of advice: first, given the choice between migrating from Time Machine or a clone, I’d choose Time Machine. Migration Assistant is built to work with Time Machine, and I think features like CCC’s SafetyNet (which saves old versions of files) might confuse Migration Assistant. Second: always have multiple backups. I’ve never had a migration *not* miss something, so it’s important to have a place to pull those files from directly.

I realize that not everyone can justify my three-tiered (with some things being four-tiered!) backup approach, but if there’s anything on your computer that you think is important, it’s well worth it.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 14:19
The problem with CCC and your clean install may have been that the user accounts were not comparable. If the accounts don't use the same name, CCC has no way of resolving the differences. So files would naturally be misplaced. When you set up a new Mac it helps to name at least one user account the same as the account on the old system whose files you want to copy.

The reason for doing a clean install in the first place is to prevent the use of old cruft from the previous Mac. Using Migration Assistant is going to cary over everything in your old user accounts and Application folder, good, bad and indifferent. If you want a clean install, you should plan on re-installing most of your software. This has the added advantage of forcing you to consider which apps you really need and which can be left behind. It's the cleanest way to uninstall those old and never used programs. If you save your old computer or an old backup, you can always go back and grab something later if you decide you need it after all.

The way around the version problem you and Michael encountered with Photos would be to set up the new Mac first and install all appropriate updates. Then your migration would not run into those problems. However, you might want to remove the new, empty, iPhoto/Photos and iTunes libraries, just in case. That way your migration would not encounter any problems overwriting what it would see as newer libraries.

So we really have three ways to set up a new Mac:

1. A clean install, which can be as clean or messy as you choose, depending on how you go about it.

2. A restore, which will copy an entire drive, but may be inadvisable because of system level differences between the two Macs. It should be noted, however, that these problems are less common than they used to be since Apple moved to the cloud for system installs.

3. A migration, which will copy over broad categories of files, depending on only a limited number of options in Migration Assistant.

Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages — and its partisans. I'll admit I'm lazy and have always used Migration Assistant. Being a packrat, reinstalling all my applications is more than I've ever been willing to undertake. I'm sure some people will think I'm a pure fool for doing it that way, but there it is.

I also use Migration Assistant most times when I'm setting up a new computer for a client. Few people are willing to take the time, or pay the cost, of doing a clean install. And, in my experience, most people don't have the original install discs or archives of their software - nor the related license files or records. For them, a migration is the only viable option. I don't use a clone on a new Mac, as the system is usually too old to be viable. Restoring from a clone or a Time Machine backup is most useful for replacing a damaged system that cannot be repaired.

All that said, a clean install is undeniably the best way to insure a stable system. And it's the way to go if you don't have too many applications to reinstall. Even so, there will be some files, like iTunes and iPhoto libraries, Mail and Address book folders, that may need to be copied from the old machine. Things might sync OK via iCloud, and then again, they may not.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 14:39
You're probably right about the clean install, but it was the most sensible choice at the time, and fixed a number of problems. Now that I have two machines, I can do better testing.

Just to be clear, I don't blame CCC for the migration problem. I just don't think Migration Assistant plays well with the clones it makes. And the user accounts had the same name, but now that I think about it, MA may have seen them as different.

In any case, my advice stands: use Time Machine over clones for migration.
David Redfearn  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2015-09-01 11:05
I had a 2011 iMac die - and replaced it with a new system. I had a SuperDuper backup, but it was about a week old (I don't do daily SD backups) so I turned to Time Machine. My restore took a while, but worked fine. I had to re-enter my password multiple times, and MS Office 2011 had to be revalidated - I had one validation left so I didn't have to call MS - but otherwise this whole process went very smoothly. The system was pretty basic - it is my wife's system, and she uses it to store her art - which is updated almost daily. So, the TM backup was perfect - it restored everything. I had never used TM for this purpose before and was nervous, but very happy with the outcome.

Haven't tried Time Machine recovery (Carbon Copy Cloner worked just fine the one time I needed it). As another data point, I've never successfully migrated from an old Mac to a new via Migration Assistant; something always gets missed and something else always gets screwed up. Apple really needs to overhaul that software, or abandon it.

When I upgrade next year, I'll just reinstall everything from scratch and copy over my data from a backup. Longer initially, but much less grief in the end.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 14:30
Yes, Migration Assistant can be tricky. It occasionally has a hard time seeing the connected Macs. I also ran into trouble with it on an underpowered iMac that just couldn't complete a migration. On that occasion I resorted to a clone, which took awhile because I had to copy the system twice, once to an external hard drive, and then to the new Mac, having booted from a third drive each time in order to use Carbon Copy Cloner. Tedious, but there's usually more than one way to solve a problem like that on the Mac, even if it takes some time to figure out which way to go.

If you have all your software installers and serial numbers, a clean install in certainly the best way to go. And it may not take that much more time, considering how much trouble Migration Assistant can be.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 14:53
My goal when my iMac's drive died was simple: to get up and running again as fast as possible. In my specific case, Migration Assistant seemed like the best option (and the epic saga above notwithstanding, it worked pretty darn well for me). That's not to say that the other backup and restore methods described in this post's comment threads aren't good ones.

What I set out to do in my article was to provide an actual crash-and-recover case history. Though alternate procedures for backing data up and data recovery are important to know (and Joe Kissell has covered most of them quite well in his book), I felt our readers might learn something by seeing how one of them actually played out in practice. After all, though there may not be any difference in theory between theory and practice, in practice there usually is! 😉
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 18:46
Michael, I meant no criticism of the strategy you used in your situation, or of your article. Of course it was not intended to explore all the options — that's what the comments are for. ;-) And, as you say, Joe has covered the ground pretty well. What we have here in the comments is the experience of others who have had similar challenges. There are, obviously, a variety of reasons one may need to utilize their backups. Setting up a new Mac is one of them.

What your article suggested to me is how complex modern computing has become. The number of issues you encountered is more than a little daunting. What I would add, though, to your procedure is to apply all the available updates to your new Mac before you begin to migrate your data. At the least this would have eliminated the problem you had with Photos. That problem highlights the fact that a new Mac will have had its software installed well before it was shipped to a customer. And a customer, like you, who kept his old Mac up to date is likely to find his new computer's software somewhat behind the curve. I have, in fact, encountered this quite a few times when setting up a new Mac for a client. And the first thing I do is bring it up to date before migrating or installing anything. It's easy to skip this step and start the migration when you first light up a new computer. And, if you are moving from an older version of OS X, this should not be a problem, as long as the version isn't too far behind. If it is, then Migration Assistant on the old computer may not be compatible with the new one. And you'll have to upgrade the old computer first in order to get it to work. I've run into this issue a few times.

Another reason one may begin migration immediately is the desire not to set up a user account, but to have one or another of their existing accounts installed instead. However, if you create a new account, you can easily delete it after you have migrated your old accounts. In the meantime you can use the new account to get your software up-to-date. This approach used to concern me until I got comfortable adding and deleting user accounts. Now, for me, it's part of a thorough update/upgrade strategy. It's not like having a basic account lying around will be a problem. In fact, it can be useful on occasion for troubleshooting purposes and many people keep one for just that contingency. I don't usually leave such an account on a client's computer, however, because it will just confuse them at login. Which account is my real account? Etc. Other than that, though, they are harmless.
To check which files are changed during a day, there are program that can synch a specific folder with a USB key or another computer. If you do that during the day, you will be able to retrieve the files which were changed if the machine dies.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-09-01 18:51
What program(s)?
Wade Staddon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-09-01 22:47
My recent experience in migrating from a 2010 mini to an iMac 5k using Migration Assistant and Time Machine were similar with the twist that it could not open Mail. The iMac claimed that I did not have enough space (even though the new drive was more than 3 times the size). Fortunately the mini was still operating - I rebuilt the Mailboxes on the old machine (which I should have done anyway), then imported the Mail file from the mini's Library to the iMac's and all was well. Having 1Password available was also extremely handy for password issues.

There were surprises in the migration but after 30 years I've come to expect that and don't get frazzled about it as I did in the past.
Dave Kitabjian  2015-09-02 13:22
Nice article, Michael :-)

One question: isn't it advisable to upgrade the OS before restoring any files? That's what I do. And that would have prevented the broken "Photos" icon you observed. A missing icon isn't a big deal; but I'd be afraid that, in general, if an OS or application doesn't know what to do with your data because it's not up to date, it could corrupt your data.


Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-02 13:42
If I'd not migrated at the initial setup, it would have meant making a user account, doing the update, then running Migration Assistant, then (optionally) deleting the user account I created during the setup.

That is not a bad way to go, but I wanted to see, and document, what would happen if I followed the most likely path an average user would follow in my situation. That nothing dire happened, despite the loose ends and hiccups I reported, is heartening.
I went that path once and it turned out to be a bad idea. The UID for the initial user was the default. As was the UID of the account I wanted to migrate. But once you do the upgrades and are ready to migrate you'll want to delete the "new account" (i.e. remove the account with the default UID) and migrate from the old. The result is a new UID on the new system for a user that used to have another UID. Turned into all kinds of strange issues, not just involving external media, but also having to authenticate for all kinds of directories on the main (internal) boot partition.
Dave Kitabjian  2015-09-08 22:43
Yes, Simon, I think I've experienced some of the same things.

But I think it's worked fine other times, and so I think I will continue the practice of upgrading the OS before I launch Migration Assistant.
Just want to emphasize again that for a simple clone there's no need to resort to commercial and/or buggy software. Apple's very own Disk Utility does this just fine.

A fact highlighted far to rarely even by veteran guide authors.

Not only is Disk Utility Apple-maintained and reliable, it's also free and best yet it's available on every single emergency boot volume (recovery mode).

So before people harp on about CCC or SD, just remember a built-in tool gets the basic job done reliably at zero cost.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-02 19:38
Yes, that's true, but what makes apps like CCC and SD great is that they can be run automatically and preserve old files as well.

Sure, you could do this from the command line with rsync, but most people don't want to do that.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-02 19:07
Ok, Josh, you got me thinking: could one script that process and make an app with Automator? Hmmm…

OTOH, CCC is cheap (a penny under $40), SD even cheaper (well under $30), and my time is worth more than that per hour. Fiddling around with Script Editor and Terminal to write such a script would surely take me more than an hour, and I'd have to provide my own tech support ("you rolled it, you own it"), so why bother.

That's not to say I'm not delighted to have Disk Utility built right into OSX; it's a really reliable tool.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-02 19:18
I used to do rsync mirrors. Creating a basic clone only takes a single command. Adding it to your cron schedule only takes a command or two. But that's assuming that you understand Unix in the first place, and that's a multi-year investment!
Leo Kennis  2015-09-04 05:56
Just chiming in saying I truly love Time Machine. It's probably not the most technically pleasing or complete solution, but it's one of the Apple things that truly "just work". It's so simple that anyone can understand it and can actually use it. Together with iCloud backups for iOS devices, it probably multiplied the percentage of people who have their stuff backed up by a factor of 50 or more.

Gustavo Domínguez  2015-09-07 05:39
I used to use Time Capsule to keep my data backed up but given I use more than a couple Macs I started instead just keeping them in sync with BitTorrent Sync 1.4. First I tried using a roaming account using OS X Server but they have too many sync problems.

Changes are pushed immediately. You can still use Time Machine to back Macs up but it really isn't that crucial anymore.

I sync my Documents, Downloads, and Pictures folders without the Photos Library, that one I move it one level up to my main Home folder and let iCloud Photos take care of it, I do the same for my music: iTunes Match is my backup. I don't even download my complete music library anymore to my Macs. Setting up a new Mac takes no more than half an hour. The best thing is that it syncs even when I'm not at home. Huge media files are stored on NAS volumes and I use OS X Server and DDNS for that.

There is a new version of BitTorrent Sync but it's not worth it, I think. Stick with totally free 1.4.
Suman Chakrabarti  2015-09-29 23:39
You are the first person I've seen who's solved the problem of repeated iCloud login dialogs. This has been horrible to me, on multiple machines, for months and months. It is indeed very poorly worded. This has been nearly disabling in how frustrating it's been to have to deal with.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-30 10:13
Yeah, it threw me for quite a while recently too - I can't imagine why FaceTime and Messages need app-specific passwords.