Switching Macs

by C.K. Sample III Oct 06, 2004

I just upgraded from a 1Ghz 12-inch Powerbook G4 with 768MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive to a 1.33Ghz 12-inch Powerbook G4 with 1.25GB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. I’m not writing this to brag (yes, I am), but rather to mention that Setup Assistant is my new best friend.

Setup Assistant, for those of you who aren’t in the know, is the wonderful treat that Apple is bundling with all their new machines. When you first open up your new computer and turn it on, during all the regular setup rigamarole with which we are all familiar, Apple quite politely asks if you would like to transfer settings and files from another machine. Yes, please.

Boot your old computer into Firewire disk mode (start it up while holding down the T key), connect the two computers with a firewire cable, and click continue. You have the option to copy over all the network settings, all or only a few of the users, and/or all the applications from your old computer’s Application folder. I copied over network settings and my home folder (along with my backup “test user” account that I use for troubleshooting), but left the Applications behind. Setup Assistant won’t let you go through and check the individual Applications that you want to transfer over, and my old Powerbook was suffering from a bad case of Application folder bloat. I also had a lot of new programs ordered with the new computer that I wanted to install fresh on the machine.

So I started running it and walked away. Fiddled with some offline things for a change. Walked by a little while later and noticed that it was finished. Clicked continue and—instead of being met by that oddly familiar-yet-alien Mac OS X interface which had never been tweaked in all the ways I prefer to have my installations tweaked—I was met with my Mac OS X. My desktop picture. My customized folders on the Desktop. My right-hand side Dock placement, minimized with zoom effects turned on. No need to adjust all these little things that we normally forget bits and pieces of until several days, weeks, or months later when we are slapped right in the face by the discrepancy from what we expected and what we have. This was my Mac in a brand new nice skin, and it all ran nicely without any errors. Sure, there were a few question marks in the Dock pointing to programs I hadn’t brought over from the old machine’s Application folder, but if I changed my mind, all I had to do was navigate to /Applications/Utilities/ and run Setup Assistant again.

I’ve seen several people over the past month or so post little Wows on their blogs about this, but I always thought, So what? I can copy the entire hard drive using Carbon Copy Cloner. But, CCC isn’t this slick and easy and not nearly this fast. Evan Williams, of Blogger fame, was the first person I read expressing this same wow after my experiences with it. After his recent experiences with Setup Assistant, he posted a brief sigh-of-relief post noting: “That was easy.” If you get a chance anytime soon, you should really check it out.

Now, you may be asking yourself, what else makes this article-worthy besides this being a cool new app and kudos to Apple? A few things. First, I want to mention that Windows XP has had something like this for about a year now. I should say, something that is supposed to have the same benefits as this, but I haven’t heard any praise of it coming from anywhere other than Microsoft themselves. Why? Possibly, because most PC users these days upgrade to get away from the virus and spyware-plagued machine that has become the regular blue-screen-of-death thorn in their side. Possibly because it just doesn’t work as nicely as Setup Assistant. Possibly because most non-geek PC users aren’t really into customizing their PC environment the way that Mac users are. Who knows the mind of a PC-user? Not I.

Second, a surprise: After Setup Assistant had worked its magic and after I had finished installing all the fresh new programs and entering in their serial numbers into the machine, I dragged over a few old programs from my old machine one by one. I was rather amazed that when I launched them, due to the wonderful copying of my Home folder and Library, they all retained their registration, saving me the trouble of digging through my boxes of old serial numbers and manuals (yes, I know, I really should put all this info in a file on my computer somewhere).

This is cool, but think of the implications of it. What’s to stop me from hooking up my laptop to multiple friends’ machines and running Setup Assistant to copy over their Application files, essentially stealing all of their software. Sure, I might have to copy over entire users and then tweak and configure each, but with fast-user switching that could still be a very workable environment for using multiple bits of pirated software.

Read over that last paragraph and think about how ludicrous it sounds. Very few people would want to commit such a crime, and there are too many inconveniences involved in the process for all but the most determined thieves. Now, why when this is blaringly clear to me, and I hope to you, does Apple continue to slap down useful products like iPod Download, effectively blocking the possibility for the same sort of easy upgrade that Setup Assistant provides between Macs between iPods? Think about it. The answer has to do with the RIAA, DRM, greed, and money. Squashing a small software developer for these reasons sounds like Microsoft to me. Hey, Apple! Think different.


  • Actually, the big problem with the XP counterpart—Files and Transfer Settings—is that it does NOT transfer applications. Only basic settings, fonts, etc; in other words, new PC=time to reinstall everything. And, yes, I admit, I’m a longtime XP user (although I do own an iPod as well as several Newtons).

    AdamB had this to say on Oct 07, 2004 Posts: 4
  • Looks like it’s not working as nicely for everyone :

    I wonder if it works well between same modeled machines, but has these problems when switching between different types of machines?  I know this is a problem I had noticed in the past with CCC.

    Sleazy McNasty had this to say on Oct 08, 2004 Posts: 3
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