Moving to a new iMac — seeking updated advice

Hello everyone. Thank you in advance for considering my question and any advice that you have. I know that this is not a new topic in TidBITS Talk, but it seems to have been a while since advice was given, so I thought I would ask for a fresh start. (if there is something quite current, I would be grateful if somebody could help me find it.)

It’s time to replace my family’s 2017 iMac. When we get a new iMac soon, I of course want to move everything over from the current iMac… well, not everything. I prefer not to move over all the stuff (a/k/a junk) in the library that’s left over from old deleted apps… some might even be from several Macs ago.

My hunch tells me that I should install fresh all the apps I use, of which there aren’t that many on this Mac, and templates I use in Microsoft Word, and then just move over documents, photos and music from my old iMac. Does this strategy make sense? I don’t know if the current version of Migration Assistant lets me pick and choose what to move.

I have three CCC backups running, and a very old Time Capsule backing up too (believe it or not).

Please share your thoughts and what you suggest I do to get something as clean and fresh as possible without too much hassle.

Thanks very much. Mrs W has been way too patient for way too long… she really does need a new computer.

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I’ve wrestled with this over the years, especially as time wore on.

As more of the data I created ended up on various cloud systems or on Raid backups or both, moving to fresh installs became an easier choice. Logins and software authorisation have become easier to move around too.

It’s the interdependencies, the watch folders, the scripts, Hazel and Automator macros that fall down. So my main iMac which is half built out of these has been Migration Assisted for a long time. My lengthy startup time I attribute in part to accumulation of cruft. My MBPro is a fresh install and after a busy day and a week of adding in as needed is flying it.

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I completely understand the desire to “clean out the cruft,” but if you have no issues you can pin on carrying old stuff over, the benefit of doing a from-scratch build of a new computer might not be worth the effort it takes to do it. Migration Assistant does a relatively quick and (usually) flawless job. OTOH, a clean build requires you have all the required resources such as product keys, installer packages, stored preferences, etc. and the time it will take to find and install/rebuild them.

Again, if like @tommy you have a specific issue you hope to mitigate with a clean install, it may indeed be worth it. But if it’s more of a “what’s all this crap from five Macs ago still doing here?”, you may want to just look the other way and push the easy button with MA.


Some help may be in this thread: How best to do a clean install?

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If you have a fresh Time Machine backup (IMHO a very good strategy) then you can do a clean install and then use Migration Assistant to just transfer your data and settings.
Check everything works and then go about deleting unnecessary apps and data (or do this on the 2017 iMac before using Time Machine).
This worked for me moving from an Intel iMac/Mojave to an M2 Macbook Air running Sonoma.

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…and this thread (even though the title sounds off-topic):

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Many years ago I started keeping license keys for apps in a text file to facilitate these kinds of os evolutions.

Then about 20 years ago I started using a password manager and keeping track of the license keys and app passwords there.

I now use 1Password, it has a specific category for software licenses (sure others do also) making it easy to track the license #, purchase date & price, urls for download and support, attach receipts, etc.

This has made migrations, upgrades and software reinstalls much less stressful, having all needed info in one place. Also eases responding to software update/upgrade notices by tracking version nums and purchase dates.

Only addresses one part of your question, but I recommend this for any of the methods. Particularly good for iPhones which don’t seem to transfer licenses and app passwords (assuming you don’t keep them in keychain, as I don’t).

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I used to always set up a new computer clean, and reinstall and reconfigure all my apps. My theory was that way I don’t carry problems into the new computer.

But that was just so much work that some years ago I gave up and switched to using the Migration Assistant. It’s not perfect but it makes it so much easier that I’m never going back.

For example, if you are doing a clean install and setup, you run into problems such as…

  • Not able to reinstall an application because the vendor no longer provides the download*
  • Not able to reinstall an application because the installer no longer works (such as, a 32-bit installer of a 64-bit app)
  • Not able to reinstall an application because the vendor’s licensing site no longer works
  • Having to find all the license keys, even though you were sure you saved them but apparently not
  • Have to go through all of the settings and reconfigure them back to how they were, but since your old computer is gone, you don’t remember how it was configured
  • Application or system bugs that you worked around before through some obscure procedure but now you can’t find the documentation of how you did it even though you must have saved that because it would be crazy not to, right??
  • Moving data used by applications where this is not a simple procedure. macOS Mail is an example

* I’ve been burned before so I keep a copy of the most recent download


I’ve done clean installs on my Macs for the last 15 years, and I’ve found it fairly easy… except for this situation Michael mentions above.

Certainly for Mac Mail; while I’ve now got methodologies that get me through it, it took a while to figure them out. And while it’s been much less painful in the past few new Mac purchases and/or macOS upgrades, the previous problems have left me cautious – which means I spend an extra hour or 2 after the migration, reviewing the local mailboxes to make sure everything made it over OK.

I haven’t encountered the application installation concerns others have mentioned; combination of having serial numbers, passwords etc. all in 1Password, and keeping an archive volume for storing the latest 3rd party software installers. But Mail is still the main hill that needs to be climbed each time.

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Any tips you might share?

Thank you,