After an 18-month wait Apple is finally shipping a new range of iMacs, and very nice they are, too. I bought one of the 27-inch iMacs because our home iMac bores the pants off me when it tries to handle a few hungry Adobe programs and bad-boy iPhoto at the same time. See: Apple iMac (27-inch and 21.5-inch) review (Late 2012)

First you get the excitement of unpacking, setting and backing up, and finally migrating all that data from your old Mac to the shiny new Mac.

Also read Apple A-Z.

At this stage everything is new and you should linger a while before your new Mac takes on the screen looks of your old one. Mac newbie and Windows switchers are in for an elongated treat but upgrading Mac users can enjoy the newness sensation only fleetingly.

Apple’s Migration Assistant is so friendly it should have a less prosaic name. Bob would be nice. It’s one of the few Apple tools still to use the smiley Happy Mac face – indeed it uses two!

Apple Migration Assistant

It’s a breeze to transfer user accounts, applications, network settings, and files from an old Mac to a new one. The new Mac’s screen ends up looking and working just like your old one, only a lot quicker.

You can choose to migrate using several cable options: FireWire 400 or 800, Ethernet, or Thunderbolt. Gigabit Ethernet is the fastest, so I chose that option.

[The speed advantage of Ethernet over FireWire 800 is muddied somewhat by how fragmented the directory catalog is, and, theoretically, FW800 can be slightly faster than Gigabit Ethernet for sustained data transfers due to its lower overhead and latency. Technical bit, over.]

Even though Ethernet offers the fastest transfer speed the whole process took a massive 12 hours.

All that remained to do was transfer some bits and pieces from a couple of external hard disks I use for backups and archiving. I have an oldish 750GB Iomega drive (looks like a white Mac mini) and a newer 3TB Western Digital My Book drive (looks a bit like a Mac Pro). See: Mac hard drive reviews

This is where I was stumped, and some of that new-Mac Apple love started to drift away.

The new iMac has only USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports – no FireWire. I’m not too bothered about the lack of FireWire – I use my iPhone for videos so have no need to connect a camcorder any more. But I was faced with transferring data between old tech and new tech, and Bob couldn’t help me, no matter how much he smiled.

I couldn’t even transfer via DVD, as new Macs are devoid of optical drives.

As much as I like visiting my local Apple Store – once the world’s largest so fully stocked – doing so in the middle of the post-Christmas sales was not one of my holiday priorities.

But needs be, and off I shuffled through the mulling crowds to buy a Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor – not cheap at £25.

But, rats! The Iomega disk is old enough to boast only 6-pin FW400 ports, which meant I also needed a FW400 to 9-pin FW800 adaptor, too. Luckily my big bag of tech cables stuffed at the very far end of the cupboard under the stairs provided me with one – otherwise it would have been back to the Apple Store, and another £15 out of pocket.

The need for adaptors has been with us for years but Apple’s stripping out of old hardware standards and rush to embrace new connectivity standards has led to ridiculous levels of adaptor addiction.

When you buy a new MacBook Air Apple suggests up to eight adaptors you might need (£25 Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet, £25 Thunderbolt to FireWire, £21 Mini DisplayPort to VGA, £25 Mini DisplayPort to DVI, £70 Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVA, extra £65 45W MagSafe 2 Power, £9 MagSafe to MagSafe 2, £30 Mini DP to HDMI) plus the £65 DVD SuperDrive to hand off the back, too.

While the archived files made their way slowly over the FW400 cable, plugged into a FW800 adaptor, connected to a Thunderbolt adaptor I let myself be transported on a nostalgic trip down Mac connectivity memory lane…

ADB Apple Desktop Bus logo

ADB

The 10kbps Apple Desktop Bus was Apple’s main connector for decades. The company needed a simple, inexpensive connection system. Co-founder Steve Wozniak needed something to do, so he went away for a month and came back with ADB. First seen on the Apple IIGS in 1986 it wasn’t superseded until 1998’s Bondi Blue iMac, which moved to Intel’s USB 1.0. Older Apple users will remember that the one problem with ADB was that you weren’t supposed to unplug your mouse or keyboard while the Mac was powered on, although most of us risked frying the keyboard every now and again. Life’s too short, and all that.

SCSI logo Apple

SCSI

Pronounced “Scuzzy” – its inventor tried desperately to persuade people that it could be pronounced “Sexy” – the Small Computer System Interface (starting at 40Mbps) was much faster than ADB, and so was better suited to peripherals such as hard disks and scanners. It came in various forms and speeds – Fast SCSI was bettered by Fast Wide SCSI, then Ultra SCSI, and, you guessed it, Ultra Wide SCSI. Frustrating cable choices and adaptors had entered our lives.

USB logo Apple

USB 

Starting with the very first iMac Apple began using 12Mbps USB in 1998. Being designed by Intel it was for a long time distrusted by Mac users, who preferred their technologies to be invented by Apple only. Currently we’re up to 5Gbps USB 3.0, which at least is backwards compatible with 480Mbps USB 2.0. If you’re using USB 1.0 to connect anything more than a mouse or keyboard you’re either nuts or very, very patient.

FireWire logo Apple

FireWire 

Mac fans cheered on Apple’s own FireWire connector because it was largely invented in its Cupertino labs, unlike that filthy USB. Sony called it i.Link, and techies used its IEEE 1394 title. It was first used in 1999’s Blue & White Power Mac G3. FireWire sounded cool, and was fast, starting at 400Mbps and moving up to 800Mbps in 2003’s Power Mac G4. Apple continued to mix FW400 and FW800 on its desktop Macs until 2008, which led to another set of adaptors hanging off the back of our Macs – often downgrading the FW800 port to work with all our more numerous FW400 devices.

Thunderbolt logo Apple

Thunderbolt 

So what’s faster than fire? Why a thunderbolt, of course! This new Apple interface – co-developed with Intel – had a pretty cool code name, too: Light Peak. It was first released on the MacBook Pro on Steve Jobs’ last birthday alive: February 24, 2011. Apple was so ahead of the game, though, that for its first year there was very few peripherals that used Thunderbolt – leading to, that’s right, more £25 adaptors…

(Thunderbolt is already under threat – from USB 3.0, which may double in speed later this year, and so match Thunderbolt. Intel has promised a faster Thunderbolt, but this will likely lag the more universal USB rival.)

Lightning logo Apple iPhone iPad

Lightning 

Apple really pissed people off when, after ten years, it changed its 30-pin iPhone/iPod/iPad connector, starting with the iPhone 5. Great, Lightning has a properly cool name (it’s the only flash allowed in the Apple universe), and is super skinny, and, yes, it fits in either way round… but what about all the millions of speakers, docks, battery cases and gizmos that require the old 30-pin connector? Does Apple care? Couldn’t it have at least used a similar-sized, universal micro USB plug? Of course not, but it does sell two adaptors (£25 and £30) as if it didn’t have enough money already!

Despite having a stormy name just like Thunderbolt today’s Lightning connector is closer to USB 2.0 than 3.0 speeds, so it’s not really any faster than the old 30-pin connector. It allowed Apple to make the iPhone 5 thinner, and, you know, sell a few more adaptors.

The slow death of once super-fast technologies

It’s very exciting when you name a technology after something super fast and furious… until later when it’s actually pathetically slow. Nowadays FireWire 400 is more like the fading, flickering flame of a tea tree light left out in the rain. FireWire 800 is like the constant clicking clatter of a desperate smoker’s lighter sheltering in the wind. One day Thunderbolt will be more reminiscent of a rumbling stomach, and Lightning will be match the glow of an eco light bulb.

There comes a time when we laugh at the relative slowness of all technologies. But we’re often tied to them for longer than we expect, forced to attach adaptors like zimmer frames between our new computers and old peripherals.

Grit your teeth, adapt and survive.

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