The Triumph of a New Computer, the Agony of Migration

My first Mac was the original Mac; I got in March of 1984. It had 128K of RAM, a single 400K floppy disk drive, and a 68000 processor running at 8 MHz.

In 1985 I got a Fat Mac, the same machine with 512K of RAM.

In 1986 I got a Mac Plus, the same machine with 1M of RAM, a double-sided floppy disk drive, and some other minor improvements. I stuck with that Mac Plus for some years, souping it up with a ride-on board with a 68030 processor. 

Then in 1989 I got myself a Mac IIx. This was a new Mac entirely: it had color capabilities and was expandable. I set it up with a color monitor. Later I got a big black and white monitor to augment the color monitor. I added some more cards to it over the years. 

I can’t recall what my next Mac was. The next one I remember was in 1999 (I think). This was one of the Mac Pro tower designs; I bought it on eBay for $400. It had a 400 MHz processor and a lot more RAM. I set it up with this huge color monitor I got used from Fry’s Electronics; that monitor costs $150 and weighed something like 100 pounds. 

A few years later I got another Mac on eBay, I think it was 800 MHz. I had already moved on to OS 10.2. I had been wary of OS X when it first appeared; I knew that such a radical change would have teething troubles. So I didn’t move in until they were at version 10.2.

I bought a brand new Mac Pro in 2006. At the time it was top of the line: 4 GB of RAM, two dual-core Intel Xeon processors, 2.66 GHz. It has served me well for these last 8 years and I would have been happy to continue using it forever. But alas, the world outside my door keeps changing and my Mac began showing its obsolescence more than a year ago. In the last month, my trusty Mac has shown its obsolescence so many times that I finally had to break down and get a new Mac.

The new Mac Pros — the sexy cylinder models — are vastly more powerful than I need. My old Mac Pro was plenty fast for me. I balked at laying down $3000 for power I didn’t need. After a lot of research I made my decision and purchased a new iMac directly from Apple for $2,200. I ordered it on Sunday and had it on Thursday morning.

Apple does such a fine job with its “fit and finish”. Even the shipping box looks elegant. I had the new iMac running 15 minutes after the delivery truck drove away. That’s the way computers should be!

This baby is more powerful than my 2006 Mac Pro. It runs at 3.2 GHz and has one of Apple’s nifty hybrid drives containing a 256 GB solid state drive with a 1 terabyte hard drive, and internal processing to handle the storage with the optimum combination of speed and capacity. And the 27” screen is absolutely gorgeous – much better than the top-of-the-line Asus monitor I was using. I was none too pleased with the chiclet keyboard, but I find that my fingers are adapting to it quickly and it leaves a lot more space for the mouse, so I don’t have to suffer the lengthy traversals from mouse to keyboard that are so common with the 101-key keyboards.

A short honeymoon

I set to work migrating my files from the old Mac to the new iMac. Now, I didn’t want to use Apple’s built-in migration utility, because it copies everything over, and I didn’t want 8 years of accumulated digital crud gumming up my new computer. I decided that I would move things manually. But first I had to get my Internet setup running. The iMac found a bunch of Apple software that it wanted to download, so I let it do that while I attended to getting other stuff working. I had already set up a small hard drive with the bulk of my transferable files, so I simply plugged that into the iMac and imported it all lickety-split.

The next step was a debacle: I wanted to set up the Mail program. I have always had trouble getting my mail configured. Perhaps the problem lies with my ISP; perhaps they have some oddity in their system that prevents a simple configuration process. In any event, try as I might, I could not get my email account working. 

By now I had owned my iMac for less than an hour. I set to work making an Ethernet connection to the old computer so that I could transfer specific files more easily. Once again I ran into a brick wall. No matter what I did, I could not get either computer to recognize the other. Fortunately, there are plenty of places on the Internet where you can get help; I tried the Apple Support Groups and somebody suggested that I check whether File Sharing was turned on. Once I turned on File Sharing, it worked perfectly.

This illustrates a serious flaw in Apple’s software. One of my primary rules of sofware design is, “Don’t announce the problem, present the solution!” That is, when a problem arises, the software should tell the user what can be done to fix the problem. Instead, I got a short message saying something like “Error 0: could not establish connection.” That is an utterly useless error message, because it gives no idea of the nature of the problem. They should have instead added suggestions about what could be done: “Is the Ethernet cable plugged in? Is the hub operating properly (all green lights)? Did you turn on File Sharing in the System Preferences on the target computer?” But no, the Apple engineers screwed up. 

On the other hand, when I copied the music library from the old Mac to the new Mac, iTunes worked perfectly on the first try. That’s how software should work.

Fifteen minutes later, I ran into a new problem: after copying the picture library from the old Mac to the new Mac, the new iPhoto refused to recognize the old iPhoto library. “Obsolete”, it sniffed. “I won’t dirty my hands with such filth.” OK, those weren’t the exact words, but they certainly reflect the spirit of the error message. 

This is a situation that calls for application of Crawford’s Second Law of Software Design: “When in doubt, shoot the programmer.” I have observed the progress of software for three decades now, and there is a universal rule: if you release a new version of the program, make sure that it can read files from versions at least ten years older. My iPhoto library was six years old and I had kept my copy of iPhoto updated. 

It really isn’t that hard to read old file formats. You use the same software you originally used to load it, then you modify the data to fit into the new format, then you save it using the save software already in your code. This isn’t that hard to do; it should take a few days of programming at the most. I have done this kind of thing in a few hours. But no, the Apple engineers responsible for iPhoto were so busy adding bullet point features that they didn’t have the time to handle the basics. With programming like this, Apple might soon be giving Microsoft a run for its money as lead junk software purveyor.

After lunch, I downloaded Eclipse. It installed and ran perfectly, even though the version I downloaded was one generation older than the one I was using on my old Mac. This is the way software should work.

The rest of the afternoon was wasted fighting arbitrary brick walls. I tried to move some files to Kathy’s computer downstairs; it took me five round trips to get the Ethernet connection working properly. I wasted an hour exporting pictures from the old version and importing them into the new version before I had a better idea. Sure enough, I found a file translator on the Web that converts old iPhoto formats to new iPhoto formats. Some generous soul decided to do the work that Apple was too lazy to do.

I got Safari (Apple’s web browser) running smoothly, but had a rude discovery: Apple changed the behavior of Safari. The old version would restore whatever pages you had left open when you quit Safari. The new version does not do this. This is especially frustrating if you have five different tabs open with five different web pages for cross-comparison.

After further exploration of the Web, I found a place where somebody explained that you can still get the old performance by asking for it with a new menu command. You cannot set this to be the default situation; instead, you must ask each time you launch Safari. Grr!!!

I conducted some speed tests on the three Macs in the house: my old Mac Pro, my wife’s older iMac, and my brand new iMac. I’m not concerned with megaflops or megapixels per second; my acid test is a simple one: how long does it take to restart? I measured the time between my issuing the “restart” command and the computer being ready to work with. Kathy’s iMac came in at 79 seconds. My old Mac Pro took 61 seconds even though it boots off the SSD. And my brand new iMac took only 36 seconds! Yowzah!

I was able to get Mail working after a thirty-minute call to Apple Customer Support. I was greatly impressed with the expertise and professionalism of the customer service rep. She was friendly and to the point; she understood me when I spoke techie to cut corners. It still took thirty minutes to get it working, largely because she had to wait for some slow software to deliver her the stuff she needed to do her job properly. Apple has a nifty-keen app that permits the customer service person to gain access to your screen and point to exactly where things should be. This is not new technology, I know, but the way this one worked was really slick. And it uninstalled itself as soon as we were done. The funny thing is, I still don’t know what we did right; we just kept doing the registration over and over until it worked. I think the Mac decided to cooperate when it realized that Apple was watching.

My only truly serious migration problem arose with Sandvox, the program I use to edit this website. It’s a fine program, but they have a fatal flaw in the purchasing process: you can purchase the program either at the Apple App Store or directly from them. If you purchase it from the App Store, then the App Store remembers your purchase and always allows you to re-download it should you wish. If you purchase directly from Karelia Software, then they send you a license key that you must use to gain full access to the program. I could not find my license key, so I used their automated system to send me a new license key — which declared that I had never purchased Sandvox! Perhaps my memory failed me, I thought. I went to the App Store and attempted to download Sandvox. Nope, the Apple Store won’t give it to me for free; I must not have bought it from them.

I spent a number of emails going back and forth with the Karelia customer support lady, and we got nowhere. In this situation, it’s all too easy for Karelia to claim that it must be Apple’s fault, and for Apple to blame it on Karelia, leaving me holding the bag. But the fact that I’ve been using the program for six months certainly demonstrates that I held a license key. I went to the place in Sandvox where you can enter a new license key — and the program promptly crashed! 

First thing Sunday morning I found an email in my inbox from the Karelia customer support lady — she must work late — explaining that she had found my account with the wrong email address: I had mistyped the address. I went to my ISP and created a new account with the mistyped email address. Then I went to the Karelia website and told it to re-send my license key to my official account. I then obtained the license key from the new email account, and used it to download and run the new Sandvox. I am writing this using the new, fully-licensed Sandvox. Problem solved!

However, when I tried to make an Ethernet connection between my old computer and my new computer, it once again failed to connect, despite my following exactly the same procedure as before. This is NOT the way computers should operate!

Isn’t this fun?