• The Tiger Report: The Broken Migration Assistant

    October 8th, 2005

    When I first had the chance to review Move2Mac, from Detto Technologies, I thought it was a clever idea with one serious limitation. Yes, it did a decent job of transferring your stuff from a PC to a Mac, although it was rather slow at the task. But what about upgrading from an old Mac to a new one? I suggested that ought to be part and parcel of the operating system. Failing that, I suggested to the publishers of Move2Mac that they ought to have a Mac to Mac version.

    They said they’d consider it, but that’s as far as it went.

    Well, though it probably had nothing to do with my suggestion, Apple’s Migration Assistant, which first appeared in 10.3.4, attempts to remedy the situation. It appears during the initial setup process of your new Mac or operating system installation. On the positive side, it does a pretty fair job with certain limitations. Just the other day, I set up a new Mac mini for a client. He wanted me to transfer the files and basic settings from his iBook, and that was a simple process. I just connected a FireWire cable between both computers and started the iBook in FireWire Disk Mode, which is done by holding down the “T” key at startup and waiting for the FireWire symbol to appear on the screen. A few clicks of the Migration Assistant on the mini and I just sat back and waited about 45 minutes for the process to finish.

    Sure enough, the mini began life as a near-mirror of the iBook, user accounts, preferences, Dock positions and all the rest intact. The client was pleased and I was happy not to have to do much work to get him up and running. After retrieving a bunch of software updates from Apple, I departed, check in hand for my services.

    Fortunately, the client didn’t attempt to set up his Mac mini prior to the file transfer. Had he done so, the files from his user account on the iBook would have to be placed in a second user account on the mini, because the Migration Assistant wouldn’t be able to merge the two. In addition, because of possible differences between the operating system on the older Mac and the new one, some settings wouldn’t transfer either. These are not insurmountable problems, but a failing that could be irritating, particularly for folks who are intimidated when things do not just work.

    But what if that iBook was an early clamshell model without a FireWire port? What if its operating system predates 10.1, which is the earliest version supported by the Migration Assistant? What indeed!

    Well, it’s difficult to believe that Apple didn’t anticipate that folks would be ready to retire their older iBooks, iMacs and other computers that didn’t ship with FireWire. While I can understand that the Mac OS 10.1 requirement must ease the file transfer process, what about folks with Macs that run Mac OS 8 or 9 or even earlier operating system versions? Detto Technologies allows Mac switchers to retrieve files as far back as Windows 95. There are versions that support either the parallel port or USB port on the PC, which offers a fair amount of flexibility. Of course, Move2Mac doesn’t have to deal with applications or system systems, neither of which are compatible with Macs unless a Windows emulator is being installed. It’s also licensed to strictly one PC, which means you have to get a separate licensed copy or multiple user pack to handle additional Windows boxes, which is rather an onerous requirement. Imagine a whole office ready to adopt Macs! On the other hand, even spending $649.00 for 20 user licenses would probably be cheaper than paying employees to do the file transfers manually.

    In any case, I find it difficult to believe that Apple doesn’t realize there are still millions of Mac users with old computers that are seriously considering upgrading to Apple’s latest and greatest. I’m sure many dread the prospects of having to migrate old files. Sure file sharing via Ethernet isn’t hard, but what’s going to survive the transfer, and what should be left behind? True, most applications will work just fine in the Classic environment, but how hard would it be for Apple to build a Migration Assistant that would also retrieve stored email from Outlook Express and Netscape, Internet setups and all the rest?

    It may well be that there haven’t been that many requests for such a thing, or maybe Apple believes that Mac users with computers that are more than five years old aren’t a significant factor in new product sales. But I don’t take the latter seriously at all.

    No doubt Apple is in the early stages of deciding which features will make the cut for Leopard, or Mac OS 10.5. It’ll want to be able to boast another 150 or 200 at the very least. Alas, an improved Migration Assistant probably doesn’t sound sexy enough. But maybe it’s time for me to break out that 10.5 wish list again and start suggesting possibilities.

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