New, Delicious 20" iMac and Bringing it Back to Life

So, it arrived. My new Core 2 Duo 20″ iMac. I upgraded to 2GB of RAM and the 256MB video card, making this machine a real whopper. I may post a short review here later.

What I really want to talk about is rebuilding a Mac from zero. When I moved from the iBook to the MacBook Pro, I used the Migration Assistant, which is an amazing tool. Unmatched by anything in Windows, you literally plug it in and let it transfer everything – apps, settings, files, etc – to the new Mac. You log in, and – boom! – OS X feels like the same thing you just left behind, from your desktop wallpaper to your keychain to your browser bookmarks.

But this time, I sold the MBP weeks before the new iMac arrived, so I had no migration assistant to work with. What I did have was

1) an external Firewire drive, but the data was two weeks old.
2) an external USB2 drive with a current exact copy of the drive (via CarbonCopyCloner).
3) A copy of my home directory on a USB2 drive.

So, I booted up and set myself up as a user. Nice to know that a Mac wil detect Bluetooth mouse and keyboard as part of the setup process. Windows never did that before!

First things first: I copied all of the apps I wanted over from the external USB2 imaged drive. Step 2, I copied over the contents of the “Application Support” folder in ~/Library. Then a few more library folders, such as ~/Library/Mail and ~/Library/Application Enhancers.

The next step was restoring my keychain. This was done via a simple replace. I simply overwrote ~/Library/Keychains/login.keychain with the copy from my external and it was restored.

iTunes was a bit more complex – but only a bit. First I copied over my music library, which I do NOT keep in the default location of ~/Music/iTunes Library. I changed the preference in iTunes to point to my prefered location and then quit iTunes. Then I copied over two critical files: ~/Music/iTunes Library/iTunes Library.xml and ~/Music/iTunes Library/iTunes Library. Relaunching iTunes had everything there in one shot: playlists and all of my music. Now, since I had backed up on iTunes 6 and this Mac came with iTunes 7, it had to update my library data AND determine gapless playback for over 5000 songs, which took some time. The nI fetch cover art, which took some time too. After that, I got a very odd error: “Cannot launch iTunes. There is not enough free memory.” Hmm… that’s odd. I have 2GB of memory, of which I’m using less than 300MB, but iTunes can’t open.

Long story short – after some internet searches, I had to download and reinstall iTunes, which is more complex than you’d think, because if you don’t remove AND the iTunes components from /System/Library/Reciepts/, it won’t install at all. That fixed the problem, which was odd. One site suggested it was because of a haxie I use called UNO.

Anyway, after that, I launched iPhoto and guess what – it worked perfectly on the first shot. How satisfying.

All in all, it took about 2 hours of actual work time to get myself back up and running and that was with fooling around in the middle. I’m extremely happy with how quickly one can rebuild a Mac without using the included tools.

In truth, at its core, if you just back up your home directly and your /Applications folder, you will have everything you need for the most part. Having done a rebuild of Windows machines more times than I’d care to remember, this is just cake. Absolute cake.