08/13/12 20:20:13

Living in the cloud: how I lost a hard-drive and stayed productive while my MacBook was in repair

My main hard drive died recently. I probably won’t have to express how unfortunate of a situation that was. The reason why I’m writing this is that I want to share my “adventure” and hopefully someone will find something useful in here for his or her own backup.

My Setup

Setting up a spare machine

I realized there were four apps that I need to setup a new machine:

As I realized, just installing my other beloved apps like Keyboard Maestro or Hazel is useless without restoring from a backup. Since I was on a machine I had to give back, I didn’t want to install this machine as my computer.

The Mac App Store is a great convenient place. You just go there, browse the list of bought apps and go “I need this, this, and this.” Getting the app’ data back though, is a problem the App Store, unfortunately, doesn’t solve.

Restoring data

Bringing a Mac back to a state where you can use it for work is actually really easy. The Migration Assistant has several options for you. You can either setup the new machine the same as the old one was, keeping all your configuration, or you can be picky and choose only specific directories for restore.

Because my MacBook Air was only an intermittent solution, I didn’t actually restore anything. What I did restore, however, was my ~/Projects folder.
After the work day when I set up the computer, I opened the Time Machine backup in Finder and copied Projects to my Dropbox. It used to take some time, but once I had the folder in the cloud, I could work normally.

Working off the cloud is a big relief. Once a screencast is edited it is already backed up to multiple machines!

The machine could have died immediately again, it wouldn’t have been a problem.
You want to have as much of your stuff in the cloud as possible.

Getting the app data back wasn’t a big problem since I had my online backup. I had a download of my ~/Library so I could selectively decide which Application Support folder to restore. This way you quickly will be able to get all settings, keychains(!), etc. back.

Happy Ending

The week went by pretty quickly. The Hazel Tutorial is completely edited and everything was saved in the Dropbox folder on the spare machine, my editor’s Dropbox, Dropbox’s servers, and our little media server at home which also uses my account.
On Friday I got my machine back. This time I restored from Time Machine. The computer was set up in 4 hours. After that, it downloaded everything from Dropbox. I moved Projects back to ~/ and now I’m happy again – of course again with off-site and on-site backup.

PS: Backblaze

If you are with Backblaze I would recommend taking a look at CrashPlan. From this experience I can tell that Backblaze might have the nicer interface, but their restore is horrible. They provide only a ZIP that you can download. Downloading 70GB of data is a pain in the *** and takes a long long time. In fact it took so long that the ZIP file has been deleted by Backblaze while I was downloading it. (Thanks for that by the way!) They delete every restore file after a week.
Now that I have downloaded everything, I also see what’s wrong with their backup. They restore almost nothing of your old metadata. Which means that you have the data, but not the things you had assigned to them. Finder labels? Gone. Spotlight Comments? Gone. Permissions? Gone. Time stamps? Gone. Your brew installation? Gone. Apps? Gone.