Saturday, October 25, 2014

Adventures in using Migration Assistant to move one User from a Lion Mac to a Mavericks Mac

When my G5 iMac finally died (1995-2014) I first thought we’d need another machine - like Apple’s top-secret max value DVD containing laptop. As it turned out, we didn’t, which is probably not great news for Apple. I did have to reconfigure our existing devices and order an external display, but we ended up with a better hardware distribution than we started with.

The reconfiguration did require migrating a user from an older machine running Lion to a Mavericks machine [1]. That’s what this post is mostly about, so feel free to skip the hardware refactoring discussion.

The hardware refactoring

Before the G5 iMac (2005-2014) died our family of five (not counting Kateva) had 1 iPhone apiece, no iPads, a 2009 27” iMac [2], a 2006 MacBook Core 2 Duo (Lion) [3], a 2011 11” MacBook Air [4] and, of course the G5. (And two of the kids are getting school iPads in a few weeks.)

Each machine had its constituency. 

The SSD revitalized 2009 iMac is our family server and my personal machine — thanks to its 1TB Samsung SSD power I’d need to spend $2,800 to replace it with a better machine. The 2005 G5 iMac was used by the boys for writing and light web browsing, and it was a DVD playing / iTunes streaming entertainment center. The Air has always been sadly underutilized — it’s my laptop but I usually travel with a corporate winter thing. The 2006 MacBook (Lion) is the main homework machine and my wife’s laptop [5].

We played around with a few options, most of which involved spending about $1,600 and dealing with the pain of a new Mac [6], but we realized that we actually had everything we needed. 

So the 2009 iMac stays where it is, the 2011 Air will become Emily’s primary workstation (hence the account migration need), and the 2006 MacBook with its DVD player will get a $240 external 27” display with integrated speakers. It  will become the DVD/iTunes streaming media center and, with the new external display, a much improved homework machine [7].

All the hardware gets used, we save about $1,300 and weeks of pain (burning coals, pins in eyes, etc). 

Moving the user - quirks of Migration Assistant

I wanted to move Emily’s data from the MacBook (Lion) to the Air (Mavericks) and I remembered that Migration Assistant can move a single user account (or much more) [8]. So I hooked up the two machines with an ethernet cable and … it didn’t work. The User Accounts from the MacBook didn’t show up — only apps and config data appeared.

I did, however, see that I could move Emily’s data from the MacBook backup on Time Capsule. I hadn’t known that was possible. (Turns out this is also a way to restore User data to a new machine from the backup of a defunct device.)

Google told me the missing User option can be a permissions issue, so I did a safe boot (power up while holding shift key). That runs a number of cleanups including permissions repair and disk utility repair. 

Then I turned WiFi off - to reduce any network confusion.

This time it seemed to work — until it hung with the dreaded “Less than a minute remaining” message.

From my reading it looks like this might be related to disk issues, or file corruption, or the fact that computers hate us (it’s mutual). There are a few options:

  1. Run Disk Utility repair or Disk Warrior or equivalent, seeking the bad file. (I’d already done the safe boot, which I believe runs Disk Utility repair.)
  2. Wait overnight. Sometimes many hours later, the process may complete.
  3. Force quit Migration assistant on the sending machine.
  4. Use Time Capsule instead. (Yay!)

I decided to let it run overnight and try a force quit in the morning… but the MacBook closed its session. I noticed it was repeatedly trying to logout, and in user preferences security was set to logout after 8 minutes of inactivity. I wonder if the logout attempts were causing the problem. I ran fsck -fy in single user mode but the MacBook seemed fine.

So rather than try again I switched to Time Capsule using a direct ethernet connection. It took 16 min to move the data over. I ran into 1 (replicable) UI bug that’s hard to explain. If you don’t see a “continue” prompt, click somewhere else.

Then I tried email - and saw nothing. As I submit this post it appears emails are streaming in from Google - NOT from the backup. I may be running into Mavericks Gmail problems, compounded by a migration from Lion. I think that’s going to be a different post. (At least I have the original machine to work with!)

PS. The Air has an encrypted drive; Mavericks Migration Assistant does not automatically enable migrated non-admin users to unlock the drive on startup. That has to be done in security settings from an admin account.

- fn -

[1] I’m waiting a bit longer before going to Yosemite.

[2] Which, like the G5 iMac, had a troublesome youth, multiple hardware issues, and display discoloration — but has settled into a reliable middle-age. People wonder why I hate buying new Macs.

[3] Suffered from plastic case disintegration syndrome — I missed the recall notice for that one. Has had off-kilter hinges and 1 dead drive, easily replaces because it’s freakily easy to service. Yeah, I hate buying new Macs.

[4] Aside from the early demise of the power supply (replaced by Apple) this machine has been insanely trouble free. Reminds me of the remarkably reliable machines before Jobs and Ives. I can’t explain why the Air actually seems to work.

[5] She likes it, and she doesn’t like dealing with unreliable machines.

[6] Typically something between needles in the eyes and walking on hot coals.

[7] If the drive falters I can put in 250GB SSD for $120 or so and it will be supercharged. This was one of the last of the truly serviceable Macs.

[8] If an account of the same name already exists on the target machine Migration Assistant will help, but I prefer to delete the target machine account if, as is usually the case, it’s not worth keeping.

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