MacBook Air migration gyrations

How to move 60GB of files and applications from MacBook Pro to MacBook Air in 5 hours

The first thing I did after pulling my new MacBook Air out of the box was to hunt for a FireWire cable to connect to my MacBook Pro. Historically, this is the way that Apple's Migration Assistant can pull files and settings from another Mac to a new one, saving tons of time installing applications and configuring all the moving parts of a new Mac. After about a minute (and miraculously, the discovery of not one but two FireWire cables), I remembered that this was pointless – the MacBook Air doesn't have a FireWire port.

[ See also: InfoWorld's MacBook Air product review ]

There had to be a way to do this, however, so I fired up the MacBook Air to see what options I had. The initial boot brought me to the familiar migration screen, but with a few notable changes – the MacBook Air (and presumably all new Macs) can migrate from an existing Mac using Ethernet. This required loading the Mac OS X Leopard install disc that comes with the MacBook Air into my MacBook Pro, and installing the Air's CD and DVD Sharing application on that system. This installation includes a new version of the Migration Assistant, which is capable of Ethernet migrations. Following that, I was prompted to select a wireless network, presumably to connect with the MacBook Air to perform the migration.

This wasn't a good option for me, however. I needed to migrate at least 50GB of files and applications to the Air, and doing this over 802.11g Wi-Fi would take ages. Luckily, I'd also purchased Apple's USB Ethernet adapter for the Air. I plugged that in, ran a patch cable to my MacBook Pro, and tried again – success. I started the Migration Assistant on the MacBook Pro, then entered the security key provided by the wizard on the MacBook Air, and the two systems began communicating.

Unfortunately, it didn't end as well as it began. The migration wizard crashed on the MacBook Air twice while calculating directory sizes from the MacBook Pro, and I had to quit and restart the Migration Assistant on the MacBook Pro. Not only that, but once I had a solid list of users, files, and applications to migrate, I discovered I needed 40GB more space on the MacBook Air. Because the migration wizard doesn't allow detailed file and folder selection, my only option was to move 50GB of photos, videos, and downloads that I didn't need to migrate to another location on the MacBook Pro's disk, then run everything again. This time, I made it under the cut and began the migration. It took around five hours to pull all 60GB of data across the 100Mbps Ethernet connection between the two laptops, but I was consistently able to hit 11.5MBps through that link, which is a very respectable number for a 100Mbps USB Ethernet connection and a 4,200-rpm PATA disk. My MacBook Air was ready to go.

In the days since, I haven’t had a lick of trouble with the Air, or any of the migrated files or applications – except for Microsoft Office 2004, which had to be reinstalled. Otherwise, all has been well, and I was able to get to work on the Air immediately without taking hours to reconfigure and reinstall everything. Even if it took five hours to migrate the files, I was able to do far more useful things in that time than reconfiguring a laptop. So overall, it’s a win.