Return of the Clones

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It’s times like this that I feel really good about Mac OS X.

Yesterday I took delivery on the new 1.5GHz 12” PowerBook G4. (Yes, I am a proud member of the Twelve Inch Nation. The 15-inch PowerBook feels like a brick to me now. It’s just too darned big.)

As I wrote last May (the last time I moved), moving to a new computer can be a pretty jarring experience. But with all the different PowerBook models I’ve gone through over the past few years, I’ve gotten it down to a science. It starts with Bombich Software’s Carbon Copy Cloner, an excellent (and free, although a donation is requested) utility that anyone who’s moving their Mac house should use.

There are a few ways to use Carbon Copy Cloner; the easiest is to simply put your new Mac into FireWire Target Mode (by shutting down, then starting up and holding down the T key until the FireWire logo appears), then attach it to your old Mac. When the new Mac’s hard drive appears on the desktop, quit out of all your programs and run Carbon Copy Cloner. CCC’s interface isn’t much to look at, but it’s pretty simple: choose your source drive, your target drive, enter your administrator password, and click Clone. And then go off and do something productive, because it takes time to copy gigabytes of data, even over FireWire.

However, lately I’ve been using an interim step with Carbon Copy Cloner that also doubles as a secondary backup regimen. Using an external FireWire drive and CCC’s syncing options, I periodically clone a copy of my hard drive to the external drive. It’s a handy backup (supplementing the full, incremental Retrospect backup that Macworld ’s IT department holds in its clutches) and it makes moving from one PowerBook to another even easier.

Upon receiving my new PowerBook yesterday, I synced my system with the external drive. Then I unplugged the old PowerBook, plugged in the new one, and booted off the external drive! With my entire computing life now on a tiny FireWire hard drive, I was able to take my new laptop home and clone the contents of the FireWire drive onto it as I ate dinner. So I’ve still got my backup and I’m using a newer, faster laptop without any pain whatsoever.

The next step in the moving process isn’t fun, but it’s necessary, like cleaning out your old apartment when you move to a new one. First, I have to remember to deauthorize my old computer’s iTunes Music Store account. Tip: leave yourself a post-it note, stuck to the old computer, with the word DEAUTHORIZE on it. Because if you don’t de-authorize that computer before someone else takes possession, it will be a colossal pain.

Second, once you’re absolutely, positively sure that all of your files have made it safe and sound to your new Mac, boot the old one off of the disc that came when you bought it (or of the disc that came with your new one, which will work even better in most cases) by holding C down at startup. When the Mac OS X installer comes up, launch Disk Utility from the menu. Then select your old drive and format it. If you’d like to be extra safe, click the Options button and choose to zero the drive or eight-way random reformat it — that way nobody can reconstruct your private data later.

And if you forgot to de-authorize your old Mac before wiping the drive, have no fear — since Apple’s unique iTunes identifiers are based on a Mac’s hardware, you’re safe. Just re-install Mac OS X, launch iTunes, log into your iTunes account, and choose Deauthorize Computer from the Advanced menu.

Sure, things were easier in Mac OS 9. You could just select all your folders in the hard drive window, drag, and drop. Those days were nice. But with Carbon Copy Cloner, the process is almost as easy. The next time you switch Macs, give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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