How to prepare your data for the transition from MobileMe to iCloud

Apple customers will face some changes when the iCloud service is released in a few weeks. Don't wait until the last minute to prepare your data for the transition. Wil Limoges offers some tips.

In preparation for iCloud's imminent release, I spent my weekend thinking about what I will need to make the transition from MobileMe to iCloud smooth and simple. It’s unlikely that iCloud will be available for several more weeks, however, I figured it would be a good time to consider what may be involved in the process and how to prevent any data loss along the way.

What to expect when iCloud is released

First, let's talk about what to expect when iCloud is finally released to the public. Keep in mind that Apple hasn’t discussed any specific details regarding iCloud just yet and so it is possible that anything we discuss here may change. As it stands, the only documentation that is available to the public can be found on Apple’s website which covers just the basics, explaining that iCloud will in essence be a sync service much like Mobile Me only extending beyond syncing calendars, contacts, and email to include images, documents, music from your iTunes collection, apps and application data, as well as backups of your iOS devices. iCloud is expected to work in very much the same way as MobileMe, taking files that are created on one Apple device, pushing those files out to the web, and then pushing them back down to other devices that are tied to your iCloud service in the background. What will separate iCloud from MobileMe is that iCloud will now handle all conflicts automatically without the need for user interaction. It is likely that when the service goes live users will be given the opportunity to migrate their existing MobileMe accounts over to iCloud, which I suspect should be fairly painless.

How to prepare for the migration

I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely with MobileMe in the past and one thing I’ve learned from that experience, regardless of the service, is it’s always a good idea to have a plan when it comes to your data. Thankfully I’ve learned to plan when it comes to my data and it has certainly saved me from a total meltdown on many occasions.

Back up iDisk

The first thing that I did in preparation for my personal migration is to make a backup of my iDisk. Apple will be discontinuing the iDisk service in June of 2012 and though that is still a long way off, I decided it was a good idea to start the hunt for an alternative service, and in the mean time, create a back up of all the files I store on my iDisk. To do this is really quite simple.

  1. Start by opening System Preferences from the Apple icon in the Menu Bar and click on MobileMe.
  2. Then, click on the iDisk tab of the Mobile Me preferences pane and enable iDisk Syncing by clicking on the Start button located toward the bottom of the window. This will create a local disk image of your iDisk provided you have enough hard drive space available for your iDisk to fully sync locally. The process may take some time depending on how much data you have stored on your iDisk. It took about an hour for my sync to complete just to give you a reference.
  3. Once the sync has completed, go back into the MobileMe preference pane and click the Stop button. Doing so will create a disk image of your iDisk which will be placed on your desktop. Now all you have to do is create a backup or migrate the file to a safe location, and you now have a backup of your iDisk.

Back up other files you currently sync using MobileMe

The easiest way of accomplishing this is to create a backup of your Mac using Time Machine, which in turn, will back up any files that are used by the MobileMe sync service. However, not every one has access to Time Machine or, maybe, you just want to put those files on a thumb drive temporarily until your migration is complete. That being said, you will want to back up your files individually. Here is what you will want to back up in preparation for iCloud migration: Keychains, Calendars, Contacts, and Email. Note: It is not clear as of yet whether Keychains will continue to be synced by Apple’s iCloud service. To back up these files:

  1. Navigate to the Library folder located in your home folder. To get there, open a Finder window and click Go from the Menu Bar then Go To Folder. This will open up an address bar where you can type in ~/Library and press enter, which will take you to the Library folder that is now hidden under Lion.
  2. From within this folder, you want to copy five specific folders: Application Support, Calendars, Keychains, Mail, and Mail Downloads. Select these items by holding down the command key while clicking on each folder.
  3. Right-click (control click) and select Copy from the menu. Create a folder on your Desktop, name it something you can easily identify, navigate into that folder, and paste your copied folders inside.
  4. Place your folder containing the copied data somewhere safe like a thumb drive or server share. You have now successfully created a failsafe which you can easily recover from in the event your iCloud migration doesn’t go as planned.
Once iCloud has been publicly released, and I’ve had an opportunity to use it in its intended form, I’ll be providing more specifics so if you have any questions in advance or would like to know how to restore your data, feel free to post your questions in the comments below.