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Apple is known for making products that are easy to use. One thing they make almost too easy is the ability to Migrate your older computer to your new one. The Migration Assistant is a dream come true for anyone upgrading their Mac. You can either connect your old Mac to your new one using a cable or Migrate from your Time Machine or clone backup. There is one problem with this great feature though. I've been migrating my notebooks from one to the other for as long as I can remember. I went from the early PowerBooks to the MacBook Pros and have had several models of those. Each time I have successfully Migrated from the old computer to the New one and while I haven't had any major issues, I have been wondering for the past couple of years "just how much old baggage do I really have on this thing?" Like anyone I've installed software and deleted software, created documents and forgot about them, downloaded stuff and never trashed it when I was done. Unfortunately back in the day most Mac apps didn't have uninstallers. So you were on your own or had to use a utility to find all the various pieces to discard. Guess what? I didn't really do a whole lot of that. It was evident in my Applications, Library and Preference folders. It was like walking through an attic seeing files and folders for Apps that I hadn't used in years (ie. AppleWorks). I was seeing preferences for older versions of Apps that wouldn't even run on my current system if they were still installed.

 

If you took everything out of your garage, basement or attic would you put everything you just took out back in again?

 

 

It's (Past) Time To Start Over

The last time I started over, which means wiping the hard drive clean and installing everything fresh was back in the late 90's when I was forced to. I had my first major hard drive crash with no real backup to speak of. I remember it like it was yesterday (I still have the scar). I came home one Friday afternoon in the summer of 1998 and there it was, my Norton Utilities 4.0 diskette had arrived in the mail. Although there was nothing wrong with my PowerBook, I decided to pop the disc in and do a check. Some preventative maintenance if you will. The software reported that there was a problem with my drive and I opted to let it repair it. About half way through the repair process the progress bar froze. I let it sit for a couple of hours and still had no movement. I decided that it was in fact frozen and I rebooted.

I got the lovely flashing question mark which meant that my operating system was toast. I jumped in the car and drove to a local computer store to get some recovery software and I was able to recover about 10% of my data (at random). There was no choice at that point but to reformat and reinstall everything. For the next few months I would go to launch a document and remember, "oh yeah, I lost that in the crash." Needless to say I've been a fan of backing up ever since and have never touched a Norton product  anymore 🙂 

This time I wanted to start over on my own. I wanted to backup my drive, reformat it and install ONLY the software that I currently use and the documents that I currently need. I actually did three backups. I did my normal Time Machine backup, I updated my clone backup (using SuperDuper!) that I normally travel with and I made a second clone backup to store on the shelf for the next 6-12 months as a just in case. After all the backups were done I de-authorized iTunes and a couple of other Apps that were authorized to my specific system. I booted with the Snow Leopard disc that came with my 2010 MacBook Pro and used Disk Utilities to reformat my boot partition. After that I reinstalled the OS from scratch and told it NOT to copy/migrate anything over from the backup. It was both scary and exciting at the same time. It was like getting a New Mac for the first time all over again.

 

You spend months if not years tweaking things

The thing that I was most concerned with was losing all those little preferences that I had set over the years and tweaks to my system. I clearly put way more value on this than I needed to. After the OS was installed and I ran all the system updates and then I proceeded to install fresh copies of the software that I use every day. I installed a few drivers from fresh downloads for things like my Xerox printer and my Wacom tablet. I setup the preferences as I went along and it wasn't bad at all. I then plugged in one of the clones and copied over all of my music and photos. I also copied over my current work in progress from the documents folder, not the entire Documents folder. Since I sync to MobileMe, my calendars and contacts came down just fine into iCal and Address Book.  My email accounts are iMAP based so I did't have to worry about missing any new mail in this process. I did copy over my old Mail folder for the archived mail. 

 

The saviors

The biggest savior in this process was 1Password. I didn't want to bring over the old system Keychain file as I knew it had a ton of outdate stuff/certificates in it. However, there was no way that I was going to remember all my passwords on the sites I'm registered with. I reinstalled 1Password from a fresh download and then used my FREE Dropbox.com account (which I also reinstalled their software fresh) to sync back over all my 1Password passwords and logins. It just worked! 1Password also made it MUCH EASIER to do my software reinstalls because I also use it to store my Software Serial numbers. Everything in one place!

A very pleasant surprise – Time Machine picked up where it left off. I backup via Time Machine to my network OS X Server. So I'm not plugging in an external drive to do it. I know that Time Machine in the past wasn't very forgiving if you reformatted your drive and wanted to backup again. In most cases it would want to start a NEW backup instead of reusing the old one. However, by keeping the computer name the same, Time Machine was able to continue using the same backup data (sparse file) as before. Granted it took all night to figure out everything, make enough room on the drive, etc., but now I have the ability to go back to December 17th (my oldest TM backup) and grab anything I may need without plugging in one of my clone drives. 

 

The Bottom Line

I figured this process would take about a week to get everything back to the way I like it Actually it only took about a day and a half! When I started the process I had about 60GB's of free hard drive space. Now I have about 200GBs of free space. This is largely in part of not reinstalling a bunch of Apps that I never use and not copying over gigabytes of documents that were several years old. I still have all the photos and music/movies I had before and to this day I'm not missing anything. I thought I would be tethered to that clone drive for several days dragging stuff over as I needed it, but I was able to disconnect the drive by day three.

I'm finally past the thing that I dreaded doing for so long figuring that I never had the down time and it feels great. My computer is more responsive and it's Awesome knowing that I'm not dragging around so much unnecessary crap. While I probably will Migrate here and there in the future, I definitely won't ever go this long again without starting over! If you have been migrating from computer to computer for two or more systems, it's probably time to consider a fresh start. I would like to go to an every other computer Migration to Fresh Start ratio. 

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  • Chuck Plater

    Great suggestions. One note: I think TM sparse images are keyed to the MAC address of the machine as opposed to the Machine Name, but I could be wrong.

    I’ve been tempted to do this same thing and to move my documents folder to the cloud at the same time.

    • You’re probably right. Now my next task is to move all the TM backups/images on that drive to a larger one that’s on the way. 🙂

  • James

    How did you decide on the process steps to use?

  • @James, from talking with you, Dave McGuire & Jack Beckman of course. Not to mention having 27 years of Mac experience didn’t hurt 😉

  • calvin

    Ahhh Backups….. They can allow you to do some amazing things!

  • Jose H

    I have just been through the same thing. I built a new PC with the latest Sandy Bridge processor. My main HD is an SSD drive so I definitely need to limit what goes on there due to space constraints. I’m not quite finished but glad to read about your experience.

  • A rational, smart approach, and one I keep putting off. But you’ve inspired me to get going on the project. Thanks.

  • John

    Similar story. After dragging everything from one machine to the next for about a decade I finally made a break with the past. I have a complete copy of the previous machine on an external drive so I can find things that I had before. On the new machine I installed sort of a minimum set of Applications and data files then I brought over things from the backup only as needed. Quite a few gigabytes were left behind.

  • calvin

    This does pose a question. This is like a clean up of a closet or a garage. Although the data is personal, is there any “sale value” to the old software or is it just licensed to you and it can be “resold” as used? Perhaps the proceeds of the sale can finance that external drive you need to perform the cleanup function.

  • @Calvin, when it comes to selling or even giving away old software you have to check the rules/license agreements of each individual software package. Some are easy to do like old copies of iLife since technically they aren’t upgrades. Others may require a call to customer service to transfer the license or you may have to do it in writing. You also will most likely be giving up all rights to all versions if you’ve upgraded from version to version at a discount.