Mac migration, part 2


So, yesterday, I took the plunge and migrated.

I’d bought and been using a mac mini for a while, but hadn’t actually committed to making it my main writing computer, mainly because it involved transferring a lot of stuff I wasn’t 100% sure I could transfer.
But my venerable, four-year-old Windows XP laptop being on its last legs, something had to be done (the aforementioned computer has a broken keyboard, a DVD player that can’t read DVDs anymore, and was taking about 30 minutes to start, from the moment I turned it on to the moment I could launch Word or Firefox).
I do have another Windows laptop (the eeepc 1000H I bought a year ago), but the screen is way too small to do some serious editing on a long-term basis.

Hence the switching over to the mac, which took me most of Sunday and Monday evening.

For the curious, here’s the stuff I installed/transferred:

  • Text editors:
    • MS Word isn’t really negotiable, because I receive a bunch of edits via the Track Changes function. I don’t really like Word for writing, because it offers me the equivalent firepower of a bazooka when all I want is a penknife, but I haven’t really found any third-party software that can handle Track Changes in a satisfying way. Also, the comments functions are rather handy to have (I know Pages has that as well, but I haven’t invested in Pages and see no need to when I already have Word on my machine).
    • For actual writing, I like Apple’s default text editor, which is pretty and launches in less time than it takes me to blink. Wordpad did the same on Windows, except that it usually managed to muck up my formatting pretty badly in the process: it did this weird thing where it right-justified all the text, and never let me undo it no matter how stubbornly I fought with it.
  • More advanced writing software:
    • My little brainstorming tool, Freemind, is also available for the Mac, which made me no end of happy. It’s reasonably zippy and as handy as ever.
    • I bought Scrivener, and I’m planning to make use of it at some point: it looks great, and has lots of cool functionalities. My main reserve is that I write on several computers (the eeePC, and whichever computers I can borrow from other people), and that a Scrivener project isn’t really readable on anything other than a Mac with Scrivener. Unlike, say, a RTF file.
    • Also installed the synching software for my alphasmart neo, which runs fine
  • Email
    • This is one of the three things that took me the most time (if you’re curious, the other two were Music and Movies, and Submissions Tracking). Seeing that Thunderbird was available for the Mac, I decided to use that, and to somehow transfer my data from the PC to the Mac. It looked like a pretty straightforward action on paper (as described at the bottom of the page by Bob Singleton: find a weirdly named subfolder of Thunderbird/Profile, copy its entire contents into the other weirdly named subfolder of Thunderbird/Profile), but the execution was a bit less straightforward. For starters, I lost my way in the maze of the Mac hard disk, and ended up trying to transfer files to and from the same location (apparently, Mac OS doesn’t warn you when you do something idiotic like that, which is a shame). When I did get it right, Thunderbird wouldn’t recognise the new files for some reason: I had to erase everything into the Profile directory and start over again. But in the end, it did work, and I managed to import my folders, email accounts, and associated passwords. Coolness.
  • Browsers
    • I installed Firefox in addition to the default Safari, just in case navigation turns out problematic.
  • Submissions Tracking
    • Ah, another thing that took time. I have a database of about 350 items: all of my submissions history from the last 5 years, complete with comments. It’s been made by Sonar, Simon Haynes’ nifty .NET software. Of course, the .NET framework isn’t exactly a standard part of OSX, leaving me a bit dry.
      I hesitated for a while on how to handle this one. There’s an existing piece of Software, Manuscript Tracker, which does pretty much the same as Sonar. Except… well, you knew it, didn’t you? The databases are not compatible (indeed, Sonar and MT don’t quite encore the same data: Sonar thinks in terms of submissions, and MT in terms of events such as “query” “submission”, “acceptance”, “rejection”…).
      I seriously gave some thought to manual import, but decided that my brain was going to fry long before I was finished.
      Fortunately, there’s a solution: the .NET framework is emulated by Mono, and Simon provides a Mono-compatible version of Sonar to run on Linux. I downloaded this one, and it runs all right. Right now, I have to launch Sonar from the command line of a terminal (with “mono Sonar3.exe”), which isn’t optimal, but I’m sure there’s a way to encapsulate everything in a script. When I understand more about the system…
      Anyway, so far it seems to be working. It throws a few warnings at me, so I’m not entirely convinced it’s a foolproof method, but I guess time will tell.
  • Backup
    • Dropbox is cross-platform, so moving my entire writing folder was one of the fastest items ever: just downloaded and installed Dropbox, let it synchronise with the online repository of all my stuff, et voilà!
      Had a number of issues with decompression of files (I can’t remember, but I think I was trying to untar something), so I ended up downloading StuffIt, a freeware that, like WinRAR, handles most formats you’re likely to come across.
  • Music and movies
    • Third pain in the neck: moving my entire music library. Again, you’d think it was going to be simple, since I used itunes on Windows, and had already managed to transfer the library from the big laptop to the eeepc without trouble.
      Yeah, right.
      I have about 30% of my music that I imported from CDs into itunes. The rest is mp3s that I downloaded over the Internet (not from the itunes store, but from places like Magnatune [?]). I’d put every one of those mp3s in “My Music” on Windows, and I’d stuck the itunes folder in “My Music” as well. It turns out that when you import the entire “My Music” folder from a PC to a MAC, itunes will only find those pieces of music that are already in the “itunes” folder (I suspect that for music outside the itunes folder, the program writes down the entire path to a song, and not just the relative path, making the architecture totally not transferrable from one OS to another).
      I could have indicated the address of every one of those hundreds of unlocatable pieces of music, but again, my brain had no intention of being fried. So I just erased everything that itunes couldn’t locate, and did a manual import.
      That was only after itunes had protested that I didn’t have the same version on my PC and on my Mac, and that it couldn’t read the library files).
    • Movie-wise, Quicktime isn’t stellar, because there’s a lot of formats it doesn’t support (even with plugins, it doesn’t really go beyond MPEG and AVI files). I downloaded VLC instead, which is much more flexible.
  • Stuff I have to install at some point but haven’t got around to:
    • HTML text editor (though, with the new WordPress-based website, most of what I do is online).
  • Misc.Remarks/Issues with migration
    • For some reason, at some point OSX wouldn’t let me empty the trash. The only fix I’d found involved erasing the trash from the root account, which, well, isn’t something I want to do unless I absolutely have to. The issue fixed itself, but it was still odd.
    • The number of hidden files is staggering: I tried displaying them (which requires an actual terminal command: OSX obviously doesn’t want you so much as touching them), and gave up because it made everything illegible. The main difference is that Windows creates its hidden files mostly in Application Data and system32; OSX stuffs all the application data into your home.
    • OSX does baby you a lot, which is something I’m not used to: the hidden files are symptomatic of what the OS doesn’t let you see. I’ve given in, and left a shortcut to the terminal in the dock, since it looks like line commands are the only way to do a number of things I took for granted in Windows. Thankfully, the terminal syntax is bash (like Linux), which means I can handle most of the everyday commands.


  1. Hi,
    Congratulations on your migration to a Mac! And thanks for buying Scrivener. Although Scrivener files cannot be read on non-Mac platforms, it can import to and export from RTF well, so anything you write on other machines can always be imported into your Scrivener project, and vice versa.
    You mention text editors – TextEdit is great for most things, as you say, but there are another couple of great free text editors, including Bean ( and, if you need to do anything in plain text such as HTML, there is TextWrangler ( If you want a more dedicated and advanced HTML editor, Coda ( is superb, allowing you to preview the web page in one pane while working on the HTML in another.
    As for OS X “babying” you – actually I think Windows is more guilty of this (on both systems hidden files are hidden by default but I agree it is more difficult to see them in OS X). I think the feeling that it is “babying” you is normal at first though. When I first switched to a Mac a few years ago, I spent the first couple of weeks feeling like it was a bit toy-like. After a couple of weeks, though, I started to realise that this feeling was just uncomfortable surprise at how easy everything was, and how I wasn’t forced to go through ten menus every time I wanted to open a program or file.
    All the best,
    (Scrivener developer)
    P.S. If you have any questions or comments about Scrivener feel free to e-mail me at contact AT literatureandlatte DOT com, or join the active forums of course.

  2. Hi Keith,

    No problem! Your software came very highly recommended by a number of fellow writers, and from the little I’ve seen so far, I’m very happy with it. I know I can import/export to RTF, but it does seem a bit of a hassle, to be honest. We’ll see…
    Thanks for the text editors! I’ll make sure to check them out.


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