How to back up files ahead of a MacBook re-image or refresh

My school is about to go through what technologists refer to as a “refresh” — new hardware is purchased to replace the old.  In our case, we are swapping out teacher and student MacBooks.  While our students are used to getting their MacBooks re-imaged every summer, our staff is not.  Four consecutive years of use (without imaging) means that there are a number of files and customizations waiting for the user when he or she logs in.  In many ways, teachers’ files are more important to save year-to-year than many of our students’.

Consumers would turn to Apple’s Time Machine or other backup services, but being a district-managed device makes our MacBooks unique.  The duplication process that Time Machine goes through is tremendously useful as a consumer goes through an upgrade.  However, we have management, content filtering and other network-specific software that is overdue for upgrade, and duplication could cause more harm than good.  So, how do I recommend going about this in a school environment?

Methods: Where to go with your files?

offers the best solution in my opinion, particularly since we expect to introduce Promethean ActivPanels next year to our classrooms.  OneDrive offers a terabyte of storage (try to fill that by the time you retire); has syncing apps that work between OSX, Windows, Android and iOS; and also supports file versioning (so you can roll-back to changes from a file’s previous  save to OneDrive). Other hardware-based backup methods come with their own risks.  Sharepoint users will also find that it’s easy to sync files between a devices and your Sites, now, too.  For more instructions on getting started with OneDrive’s sync client for MacBooks, click here.  (As you get started with this method, know that OneDrive is sensitive to file names with special characters (%, $, etc) and spaces before or after a filename.)

Click the OneDrive icon to go to the OneDrive for Business sync client downloads page.

External hard drives or USB flash drives are less favorable methods.  As we move forward with ActivPanels, there are not too many guarantees external hard drives will work.  Additionally, backing up to a Mac-formatted hard drive may prevent you from adding files on a Windows machine.  A final drawback is their safety and durability.  Both can be lost or stolen, and USB flash drives are increasingly susceptible to malware and viruses.  In fact, vulnerabilities in the design of USB flash drives have pushed many organizations to ban them outright.  (If it’s that serious for some organizations, then I heed the advice, especially for my most sensitive and necessary files.)

Locations: Where are those files anyway?

Most Mac-users will immediately turn to their Desktop and Documents folders for their work.  These are very commonly-used locations.  There are many other places to consider, too.  To understand how many places your files go to, just check out the Home folder under the Go menu in Finder.

There are some overlooked places, and just copying the Home folder may not back up what you want!

There are some overlooked locations, too.  Most people also forget that Photos (formerly iPhoto) creates a database of all photos, so you’re best off to export the pictures you want from Photos/iPhoto.  Moving the entire Pictures folder often causes irreversible corruption when trying to copy the Pictures folder to cloud services such as OneDrive.  Same thing for iMovie.  The Music folder is where you’ll find your mp3s, and do not count on an iTunes export to bring those mp3s with!  An iTunes export is just for the tagged information (band name, song title, etc.).

Finally, there are some settings and saved data that won’t necessarily have a file to it.  Look in the Notes app for any saved meeting notes (and… insert disappointed security gasp… passwords).  Safari does allow you to export bookmarks, too.  You can also look up saved passwords on Safari before they are deleted.

Final thoughts

This should be enough to get you started.  If you’re going to be using cloud services, it’s worth also saying that you should check their online contents every so often as well.  Additionally, keeping software up to date will improve the software’s performance when syncing your files back/forth from the cloud.  Leave a comment or get in touch if any questions arise!


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