Computing's Past, Present and Future


By Samuel Greengard

Last week, I set up a new computer for my home office: an iMac. The process was time-consuming and frustrating at times, yet it offered remarkable insights into the state of computing's past, present and future.

First of all, let me say that I could have automated the entire process by using Apple's Migration Assistant. It works really well--unfortunately, too well. It ports over the existing state of an old computer. As a result, a new computer sometimes inherits problems from the previous system.

To avoid that, I installed every application manually and transferred the data using my home network and an external hard drive.

I don't think it was a fluke that the most difficult programs to migrate were Microsoft Office and Apple Mail. It's beyond perplexing that Microsoft still doesn't offer an easy way to copy customized user templates from one computer to another. You have to dig into system folders, which oddly enough, reside in different places on different computers.

Even worse, I couldn't find a way to transfer the Normal.dotm template, which holds custom keyboard and menu structure settings for Word. And I could not find any way to copy over the autocorrect library from Word. They were completely lost.

Why wouldn't Microsoft offer a way to export and import these settings more easily? Talk about user-unfriendly!

Apple, meanwhile, doesn't offer a simple way to port over Apple Mail. A call to tech support resulted in the need for a callback from a senior specialist, which took a full week. In the meantime, I wound up manually exporting the inbox and more than two-dozen folders and then importing them into the new computer. Can you say really big time suck?

But give Apple credit for iCloud. After I signed onto the new computer, my calendar, reminders, notes and address book data popped up immediately.

Several other applications were incredibly simple to migrate. Some required no more than installation along with exporting the data from the old computer and importing it into the new system. Others, including Evernote and Things, simply required installation and logging into an account. The software imported and synced data automatically via the cloud.

The takeaway? In a business and IT environment that's changing at light speed, it's obvious that cloud-synced software and data represent the future of computing. In fact, my experience offered an intriguing glimpse into which vendors fundamentally understand today's need for speed and agility and which ones cling to a hopelessly outdated 1980s model of software and computing styles.

You might want to peer inside your own organization for similar clues.