I really liked the way the new MacBooks looked as soon as I saw them, and definitely like the performance upgrades. The other thing that stood out, of course, was something that wasn’t there—a FireWire port. Though I am a big FireWire fan, I’m going to leave the discussion and debate about that decision for others. Instead I’m going to talk about how the lack of FireWire affects one of the greatest features of Apple computers: Migration Assistant.

As Mac users, we take easy and (mostly) painless migration of data from machine to machine for granted. Put the source machine in target disk mode, fire up Migration Assistant on the destination machine, grab a FireWire cable, and with a few mouse clicks you are done. Try it on a PC sometime… it’s an exercise in frustration that could take days and cost hundreds of dollars in software and consulting. Migration Assistant really is a great and amazing thing.

The key to this process has been Apple’s Target Disk mode, which converts an Apple computer into a FireWire hard drive that will appear on another Apple’s desktop and allows quick easy data transfers, among other things. The one caveat is, of course, that you need FireWire on both machines!

So how to migrate data onto your new MacBook without FireWire? Apple’s solution is a new version of Migration Assistant. One of it’s new features allows you migrate data between two machines that are booted up—no FireWire mode needed. Connect the two machine via ethernet (or go wireless!). Fire up Migration Assistant, follow the instructions, and off you go… with a few things to keep in mind. The source machine must be running at least 10.4.11 to install and run the new Migration Assistant. And of course, there can be no underlying OS corruption.

We have done quite a few of these transfers in South Burlington using various methods. Ethernet and wireless both work, but usually need some fiddling to work right… and sometimes, big stuff is needed like an OS reinstallation. The process can also be pretty slow if you are used to FireWire. We are talking “overnight-see-you-in-the-morning” slow. If the worst case happens and you can’t get it to work directly, you can image the target machine on a USB hard drive and migrate from that.

To be fair, we mostly see results like this when migrating from PowerPC machines that have been upgraded from an OS older than Tiger. Time does march on, and making the move from a PowerPC machine running 10.2 to an Intel machine running 10.5.6 is likely to be an undertaking no matter what. And I’m sure Migration Assistant will improve as well. So while I bemoan the loss of FireWire on the MacBook, I’ll get over it, and it’s nice to know there is a solution in place.

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