600: Mac Migration & Settings

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Okay… I am driving home from the Apple Store this afternoon. The repeating N key on my wife’s 2016 MBA was a $500 repair, so instead I opted to spend $1K on a new, M1 MBA.

Both the old and the new computer are in the back seat, and I’m wondering how I want to move over the data. I get a PocketCasts notification on my iPhone that the new episode of Mac Power Users is available. “Mac Migration & Settings.” While I’m wondering how I’m going to migrate data between these two Macs.


We have all had the experience where we talk about something and then get a Facebook or instragram ad, but this is a whole other level!!

Just finished listening and am using migration assistant now. Guys, thanks for pre-cog’ing my problem and solution!


Wow! Now that’s a new level of customer service!

I didn’t get nearly that kind of attention. They just gave me the advice not to have your Time Machine velcro’d to the back of your Mac “like some people we know” if I drop my Mac into Lake Tahoe – which appears to be about 2800 miles away, so I think it’s unlikely to happen, but…

A) I think Stephen is still just jealous of my ingenuity.

(Narrator: “What Stephen feels is more accurately described as being ‘horrified at your offense against all that is good and holy’.”

B) I didn’t use Velcro (I think it’s actually @MacSparky who does/did that!) and it wasn’t my Time Machine drive. It was a 2 TB SSD so that I could have my entire Dropbox stored locally and didn’t have to rely on “Smart Sync”. What I should really do is just clean out my Dropbox so it fits on my internal drive.

C) Since I now use my M1 Mac mini as my primary Mac, I don’t do that any more… I mean, I suppose I could tape a couple of those T-5/T-7 SSDs to my Mac mini.


RE: Applications to install on a new computer or after a nuke and pave.

I don’t use Migration Assistant. All my important stuff is in the cloud or on an external SSD and nothing is in my computer except apps and stuff that can be obtained from iCloud, Dropbox, pCloud, etc.

I always work from a list apps that were in my “old” computer. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Applications folder and do a Cmd-A, Cmd-C.
    Note: If you’re using something like Setapp, you can either “favorite” all the installed apps in Setapp or redo Step 1 for the Setapp folder in Application.
  2. Open a plain text editor. Text Edit works fine but remember to set the format as Plain Text (in the Format Menu).

At this point, you could print it out. However, I prefer to copy this text into a word processor and create columns…just more pleasing to my eyes.

I then print it out as a reference. I cross out all the Apple system-installed apps (if I feel really energetic, I’ll do this by deleting them in the word processor). Then use a red highlighter to highlight the must-have-immediately apps (1Password is first so I can get to the passwords and license numbers for all the apps I’ll be installing), followed by a yellow to highlight the ones I know I want but can wait. Then, for all the others, I take the @MacSparky philosophy…earn your way back into my computer. Then I keep the list handy because I always get to a point where I think, “I had an app that would do xxxxx. What was it?” Usually, just looking down the list will jog my memory.

I’ve had a couple of computers where I’d do a nuke and pave about every month due to this problem or that problem. I’ve even done it when I wanted to roll back to Big Sur on my M1 MacBook Air when I had gone to the Monterey public beta.

You can usually get back to a fully functional computer within a few hours, then bits and pieces of time for a few days while you pick up the apps you realize you need.


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I’ve done nuke&pave more than most people probably should. I used to do it for each major version of macOS (i.e. Catalina to Big Sur).

The biggest problem is apps purchased from Paddle which often have activation limits. I now keep a list in Notes of which apps need to be ‘deactivated’.

Then there are all of the little settings.

Like Hazel rules.

Like BBEdit’s preferences.

Like my default font in Pages.

Honestly, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t install a lot of apps that I don’t actually use, so not bringing them over was just a hassle.

Eventually I realized that I was just giving myself 1,000 paper cuts by doing this.

I did do clean installs for Intel-to-M1 but I’m not even sure that was necessary, but it did seem like a good time to do it.

However, most people don’t get new hardware as often as new versions of macOS come out, so, if you feel better doing a ‘nuke&pave’ obviously it’s up to you, but I don’t think there’s much need to do it any more.

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During another restless night’s sleep, I decided to pop one Airpod Pro in and listen to this episode.

In what was clearly a insomniac’s grey area, I found myself listening to Stephen and David whilst sat next to them at the back of a school classroom (I am 53 years old for goodness sake), whilst they whispered, schoolboy-like, about their latest tips and tricks for rebuilding their home computers.

The most bizarre revelation? @MacSparky has stupendously hairy forearms for one so young! Who would have thought?

Maybe I’ll listen to Calm tomorrow night.


I think it’s likely I may not go the nuke and pave route in the future, barring any catastrophic
problems…I’ll also avoid public betas on my daily machine! :wink: I feel comfortable enough with the way Big Sur is working on the M1, so I’ll probably just do an upgrade when Monterey releases or a migration if I ever get a new machine (which is highly unlikely).

That said, I guess I don’t have a lot of “little settings.” It’s never been much of a bother getting everything tweaked. Can’t you save settings files on apps like Hazel or Pages?


Hey @macsparky! I’m one of the few of them who actually uses the announcement time feature in the clock pane. Since I’m a VoiceOver (blind) user, I appreciate this feature a lot. Lets me explain.

As a sighted person, you can easily glance on the corner of your menubar and check what time it is. For us, who are blind, this feature help us be aware how fast time goes away. It was actually @RosemaryOrchard who wrote a great piece about announce time on TSS and thereafter, I opened system preferences and turned on hourly announcement of time.

In addition to that, I also have an AppleScript which announces current time. Triggered by a keyboard shortcut.

So yeah, David, you can look at this as accessibility/automation feature for them who need this.

While I wrote this answer, it came to my mind that I have different announce AppleScripts in different areas e.g., word count, name of current playing song etc. Possibly, I will turn this topic into a blog post. Thank you for inspiration, David!


I’ve literally set up or rebuilt hundreds of Macs so I was very interested in hearing what David and Stephen had to say. IMO, this was one of the most complete discussions on the subject that I’ve ever listened to or read. Great episode!

When it comes to settings my rule is “Change all All Apple Defaults” and for those discussed I almost always agreed with one host or the other. For the record I use: Tap to click, Mission Control in the lower right corner and NO NATURAL SCROLLING. And I add the Library to my Sidebar.

I think the Migration Assistant is a very useful app, but I always do clean installs. This normally takes 1-2 hours plus whatever time is needed to transfer files. My preferred settings are burned into my memory from all the setups, etc I’ve done and I keep a folder containing the installer for my all non-App Store software. (Yes, all my users started out with my preferred settings :grinning: )

And I always turn on FileVault before I transfer sensitive files to my Mac because it is impossible to secure wipe an SSD. This may not be necessary since Catalina but it’s been my habit since Apple started using solid state drives.

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Thanks for another great episode of MPU!

A couple of tips to add.

I use the CustomShortcuts app to add keyboard shortcuts to apps. It’s much more convenient than digging into System Preferences and menu items autocomplete as they’re typed, so I don’t need to remember the exact wording.

It’s developed by Houdah Software (the same developer as HoudahSpot) and is FREE. Keyboard shortcuts defined in CustomShortcuts are visible in System Preferences (and vice versa), so I could uninstall CustomShortcuts without losing any keyboard shortcuts.

Secondly, in the General panel of Systems Preference there’s a “Prefer tabs” setting that’s set to “full screen” by default. I opted to set this to “always” to cut down on window clutter.

For example, if I’m composing an email and Mail and use ⌘N to create another draft, a new tab will be added to the existing compose email window instead of a new window being created. If I like, I can easily move this new tab into its own window by choosing Window > Move Tab to New Window. For convenience, I’ve assigned a global shortcut of ⌃⌘W to this menu command.

This behaviour takes a little getting used to, but having used it for several years I can’t see ever going back to the default setting.


i always go for a fresh install ~ i don’t have a new mac that often so would rather just take the opportunity to start again, with no (potential) hang overs from prior installs


I don’t recall which app it was, but I did find that enabling “Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls” messed up the behavior of one of my other apps. So, just FYI if you enable this and find something doesn’t work like it is supposed to elsewhere in your system, this may be the culprit. Sad, because I would prefer to leave this on.

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@RDK Thanks for this. I’m adding it to our feedback outline. I you do make that post, please send me an email.


Two small things:

A) Unlock with Apple Watch does not only work, when I am on my desk. It also works when my kids are poking on my keyboard and I am going by the the room in the hallway.

B) I can’t live without the 3-finger-drag, which can be found in the accessibility menu. It allows to “grab” windows, making me feel like I can touch the sky, eh, screen.
But I guess, that’s more for those in the tap-to-click camp.

Edit: I am totally in the fresh install camp, even just for new major os version. I once started a script for the non-negotiable settings, but setting settings programmatically is quite a pain.
That would be a very nice automators episode!

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It’s sad that three finger drag isn’t a default setting, and is hidden away in an Accessibility menu. I use it all the time but don’t use tap-to-click :woman_shrugging:

Ah, so it’s really sad, that it’s hidden away.

I believe that there was a time, where the three finger tap actually was in the trackpad settings … old days … where everything was better :wink:

Guys, thanks for the tip on stopping Spaces being rearranged while I’m not looking. I have a further bugbear, however. Is there any way of ensuring that app windows go to the correct Space after a restart? Most seem to just open up in the first Space and have to be manually relocated.

If you right-click on the app’s dock icon, then click Options, you’ll see options to assign the app to a desktop, or all desktops.


Thanks, but I frequently have multiple windows for the same applications on different desktops - Safari and Excel, for example.

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It looks like Moom might do what you want.

And could be used in conjunction with Bunch to launch and set up multiple applications (if that’s something you need too).

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