Monday, April 09, 2012

More Adventures with Migration Assistant

Since my 2009 experience with Apple's Migration Assistant utility, I have had two more occasions to use this seductive tool. It promises so much, but I've come to believe that using Migration Assistant is rarely as easy as Apple makes you think it will be.  Here's a brief recap of my last two adventures with Migration Assistant, along with some advice and lessons learned.

Adventure #1:  Restoring a computer after a hard drive crash

In 2011 my son's MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 2.26  suffered a complete hard drive crash.  After a new drive was installed, my son followed the setup steps presented on the screen, choosing to restore the data later.  A perfectly legitimate choice, but when we tried to do the restore, it didn't work. I could see all the files Time Machine had recorded.  However, neither the Time Machine nor the Migration Assistant utilities would pull those elusive files back onto the now-fixed computer.

I had been doing Time Machine backups on a Western Digital My Book for Mac (a separate hard drive) attached to the Time Capsule. This unusual configuration was necessary to facilitate automatic wireless network backups because there wasn't enough space on the Time Capsule. It was already housing the backups for two other computers.

After a few troubleshooting maneuvers the Apple Genius (that's what Apple calls its technicians) told me that my Time Machine backup was not 100% intact, probably because of the way I had "daisy-chained" the drives.  Apparently this configuration is not recommended.  I ask you, how is one supposed to know that when the backups never produced an error message?

Getting back to the solution, I was advised to move the files manually in small groups from the Time Machine backup to the new hard drive.  Any applications, other than those included with OS X, would have to be loaded manually.  It wasn't pretty, but in the end it worked.

LESSON LEARNED:  Don't daisy-chain your backup drives. 

Adventure #2:  Moving data to a new MacBook Pro from a 4-year old MacBook

In a more recent project I transferred all profiles, data, and settings from my my husband's MacBook Core 2 Duo 2.4 purchased in 2008 to a brand new MacBook Pro Core i5 2.4 with 8GB RAM.  I decided to do a computer-to-computer transfer via FireWire.

My first attempt didn't work. (Why do these failed attempts still surprise me?) The setup program asked me to specify how I wanted to transfer the data.  I selected "from another Mac" -- and that's when the problems started.  The two Macs couldn't find each other!

I immediately called AppleCare.  The "lucky" fellow who took my call was not exactly a genius when it came to Migration Assistant. He was a competent support agent though, and finally he found the right "script" and successfully resolved the problem. 


1) One must finish the setup of a brand new computer before it's possible to migrate the data using the FireWire method.  During setup, just indicate that you will migrate the data later.  Once the computer has all its programs loaded, Migration Assistant will be able to bring over all user accounts, applications and settings, and all your data (music, movies, pictures, etc.) from the old computer.  It will even bring your viruses and malware, but we'll save that story for the next post.

2) Give a fictitious name when you first set up the computer.  (advice from my September 2009 blog post). In other words, don't set up the computer with the same account name you plan to migrate from the old computer.

3) Regarding the Firewire method of migrating data from one computer to another:
  • Shut down the old computer (the one with the data that you want to move). 
  • Attach the FireWire cable to both computers and boot up the old computer in FireWire Target Disk Mode.  You do that by holding down the T key while pressing the power button to turn the "source" computer on.  When you see the light blue screen with the FireWire symbol, you can let go of the T key.
4) Regarding Migration Assistant (which, by the way, is found under Applications in the Utilities folder): 
  • Tell Migration Assistant you want want to transfer information "From a Time Machine backup or other disk."  You see, when your "source" computer is booted in FireWire Target Disk Mode, it becomes nothing more than a big hard drive!  
  • When asked to Select Your Disk, you will see the "source" computer's name listed. Select it.
  • The next and final screen will show you what will be transferred.  Unless you know of some good reason to uncheck any of the selections, leave the default selections checked.
When Migration Assistant is finished, reboot the computer that's in Firewire Target Disk Mode so you can compare settings between the two.
  1. Check the Preferences on all applications.
  2. Look at all the System Preferences if you moved onto a newer operating system.
  3. Authorize your iTunes on the new computer (and de-authorize it on your old one)
  4. Do a Software Update on your Mac.  Keep doing updates until the program tells you your computer is up to date.
  5. Do a Microsoft Software Update if you use Microsoft Office for Mac.
  6. Update any other third-party software you may have.
  7. Do a full system backup.  If you use Time Machine, you will need to configure the new computer.  Then, connect your computer and Time Machine with a cable and disable Wi-Fi for the purpose of the backup.  This first backup will be your baseline and will take a substantial amount of time.
In conclusion...

When it works as advertised, Migration Assistant is pretty amazing.  However, despite the fact that I have used it at least 4 times, I have never done so without calling AppleCare, and I am a relatively advanced computer user!

What if you're not an aspiring geek? Apple offers to do the data transfer in the store, so even if you buy your computer online, have it delivered to a nearby store. If that's not possible, you can probably find someone who will, for a fee, do the data migration.

I wouldn't necessarily discourage a novice from trying to use Migration Assistant.  Just ask AppleCare to walk you through the process. This is what you paid for when you purchased the AppleCare Protection Plan.  (You will definitely want the 3 years of warranty and phone support.) An Apple Genius will ask you some questions, decide how to proceed, and give you step by step instructions. Apple support people are very patient and pretty good at what they do -- they're "Geniuses," after all!

Related post:
Migration Assistant Misery, September 5, 2009 

© 2012, Linda Mason Hood 
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