My Travels with OS X Lion & iCloud: Purrs and Bliss

From time to time, a technical columnist needs what I call a lab day. There’s a break from writing, and one just digs into whatever technology needs exploring. That’s what I did last Monday with Lion and iCloud.

I should point out, however, that this isn’t a how-to. That would run long and tedious, and you’d probably rather watch paint dry than read it. Along the way with Lion, TMO has published a boatload of how-tos and tips, so I’ll refer you to TMO’s coverage if you’re looking for step by step directions on any of these items. Instead, this is more of a travelogue. A journey. And it was a good one.

Country Road

The Mac Pro Goes Lion

When Lion was launched in July, 2011, I made a conscious commitment to upgrade my iMac that I use for The Mac Observer to Lion, but leave the family server, an early 2009 Mac Pro, on Snow Leopard. I wanted to leave a Mac on Snow Leopard for reference as a writer, and I also wanted to leave that family server undisrupted, in a stable mode until I sized up Lion more completely.

After using Lion for seven months, I had enough confidence that I could take the Mac Pro from 10.6.8 to 10.7.3. But first I needed to remind myself on the best practices for preparation. Here’s the checklist I used:

  1. Disk Utility: First Aid -> Check directory structure.
  2. Disk Utility: Check permissions.
  3. Check integrity of Time Machine archive by recovering a deleted file.
  4. Start manual Time Machine backup.
  5. Check /Applications against
  6. Update to the latest version that’s Lion compatible or delete it. Use /Applications/Utilities/System Profiler. Select Software -> Applications in the sidebar and sort by Kind. Look for Classic and PowerPC apps that are not simply archived on external drive. Rosetta is gone in Lion, so, if necessary, figure out substitutes. For example, AppleWorks -> EazyDraw.
  7. Check /Library and ~/Library for any Input Managers, a frequent source of crashes and problems. I don’t use them.
  8. Check for and delete Adobe Flash from /Library/Internet Plug-ins (Optional).
  9. Check System Preferences -> Accounts -> Login Items for Lion incompatible or undesired items. For example, Hyperspaces.
  10. Check System Preferences -> Software Update. Have the latest updates.
  11. Run Activity Monitor and look for any suspicious process not recognized. Investigate.
  12. Halt Time Machine
  13. Shut down.
  14. Disconnect unnecessary USB devices. Printers, hubs. Leave only Apple keyboard and mouse.
  15. Reboot.
  16. Upgrade to Lion with USB Flash drive.
  17. If everything checks out, turn Time Machine back on.
  18. Mail will auto-reconfigure. Make post changes (see below).

My first try was to upgrade to Lion with the Mac App Store because I had already done that with another Mac. I got a Mac App Store error message (later resolved), so, gritting my teeth, I moved on.

mac App Store Error

Next, I tried the Lion installer app that I had archived on the iMac. After I launched it, it complained that something had been altered. Perhaps a bit dropped during the AFP transfer hosed the digital signature. Anyway, it declined to continue. As a third option, I used the USB Flash drive that I had prepared previously with 10.7.0. When Lion was released, several websites, like Macworld and SubRosaSoft wrote very good tutorials on that. I’m glad I did it at the time.

The only remaining task was to download the 10.7.3 Combo updater. That went perfectly as well, and my Mac Pro is now purring with Lion.

One final task in the Lion upgrade was to deal with the new Mail app. I had forgotten how long it takes to migrate the mail data, and then the mail app has that new look. I like the classic look, so I had to remember:

  • Mail Prefs -> Appearance -> Classic.
  • View -> Show Mailbox list.



Soaring in the iCloud

The next task was to get moved from MobileMe to iCloud. The first thing I did was to mount my iDisk and download all the important files in preparation for the loss of iWeb publishing, which terminates on June 30, 2012. First, I reviewed the Apple support document on the encryption of iCloud data. Then I went ahead and used the iCloud pane in System Preferences of my iMac. After logging on with my Apple ID, I was taken to a webpage that stepped me through the migration. It was fairly straightforward because my wife and I share the same Apple ID.

A side note. The reason we share is that first, she stays really busy at work and doesn’t have time to maintain a Mac, an iPhone and an iPad. Secondly, she gets the hand me downs, so we simply share all the same apps and books. For example, when I get my iPad 3, her iPad 1 will be sold to a friend, and the iPad 2 she inherits will pretty much look identical in terms of apps and content to what she’d been using. She’ll like that.

My wife does have her own e-mail account, but other than that, we share everything. If I buy a book from Amazon or Apple, she sees it in Kindle or iBooks. If she buys an app, I see it on my iPad. So the only thing that’s separate is music and email. (Bookmarks and reminders aren’t worth fussing with right now.)

iCloud Bliss

After I upgraded to iCloud, I went to every iOS device, logged in, and pretty soon all our contacts were synced across every device*. I could check that by looking at the number of cards shown at the bottom of the “All Contacts” list in the Address Book. Watching that for a few seconds, I could see the card count jump as all the Macs synced in realtime. Ah, bliss. Every Mac and every iOS device now has the same contacts list.**

Except for the initial glitch getting started with Lion, these two migrations were a piece of cake. It feels good to have all the Macs on Lion and every device synced up, well contacts anyway, on all our devices with iCloud. I’m still using BusyCal (a fabulous calendar app, by the way) to publish calendars, and I haven’t sorted that out yet. It’s part of my strategy to only let iCloud handle some simple tasks, email and contacts, before I get more ambitious.

So far, so good. I was braced for disaster, well backed up, but I was pretty darned happy with how things went. Perhaps I lead a charmed life, but a big contributor to the success was because I keep the family server, the Mac Pro, simple and unencumbered with add-ons. In part II, I’ll talk about my adventures with the iCloud Calendars, the new Parallels Desktop, Mountain Lion DP1, and the Messages beta.


* I never used MobileMe to sync across Macs. I used Mark/Space’s SyncTogether for Macs and Wi-Fi sync from the family server to the iDevices. But SyncTogether doesn’t work in Lion. DOA.

** And because SyncTogether doesn’t work in Lion, my contacts across Macs got seriously out of sync.


Image credits: iStockPhoto and Shutterstock, respectively.