Reinstall OS X with a fresh install


Apple releases a major update of OS X every year or so and for the past 10 years I have just done an automatic update, installing the new OS X on top of the old version and keeping all the existing applications and settings.  When I upgraded to El Capitan I decided to do a completely fresh installation. I started with a new hard drive (SSD).  I installed OS X.  Then I copied everything across  manually.  This took about half a day and some things didn’t work but overall I think it has been a good spring clean. This article is not so much a step-by-step guide but a  rough summary of what I did.

If you are doing a fresh installation on a new Apple computer and want to copy your old settings across I would suggest using migration assistant.  But I wanted to do a  clean spring clean and get rid of a lot of junk that  had accumulated over the last 10 years.  Here is how I did it.

  1. Install OSX on a new hard drive.

    Firstly I set up a USB installer thumb drive. I disconnected my old hard drive which had everything in it, ( of course I had made a complete backup first!). I booted from the USB installer. Then I formatted my new hard drive (1 1 TB SSD drive), installed OS X El Capitan, and created a new user.

  2.   Enter your Apple ID and iCloud keychain info.

    Apple asked me for my Apple ID and iCloud keychain info so I entered all this information in.  This links my new computer with my Apple ID  and automatically sinks some important data across including my email settings,  my contacts,  my calendar etc.  Even though my email is with Gmail,  Apple stores my Gmail settings in iCloud keychain so that my Gmail account was automatically up and running as soon as I typed in my Apple ID and password.
    If you go to  System preferences: iCloud you can see a list of all the things that sink via iCloud:
    ICloud settings
    At this stage mail is working, calendar is working, but my photos are missing iTunes is missing all my applications are missing.  It’s time to connect up my old hard drive.

  3.  Copy all your applications and document files across.

    This was the most time consuming part. I connected up my old hard disk and started copying everything across.   I did this step manually because there are some things that I didn’t want to install on my new computer, for example old applications that I no longer needed.  Some things worked straight away, some things didn’t.  Here is a bit of a summary:


I copied most of my applications one by one across from my old applications folder to my new applications folder and they worked.  I checked each application as I went.

 These applications worked straight away without any problems:

  •  Quicksilver
  •  Burn
  •  Audacity
  •  FileMaker Pro
  •  iMovie
  •  Text Wrangler
  •  Things (All my things to do items automatically synced onto my new computer from the things cloud –  wonderful!)
  •  fonts:  I just had to copy across the fonts from my old system of fonts folder

 These applications needed me to reinstall my license information:

  •   Accordance
  •  Audio hijack pro
  •  CSS Edit
  •  Cyberduck
  •  Bento
  •  Devon think pro
  •  QuickTime player 7 pro

These applications needed additional files from application support folder or elsewhere:

  • Accordance.  I needed to copy files across from application support folder and I needed to log into the website to validate
  •  Adobe Acrobat Pro. Needed to copy across the application support Adobe folder
  •  Photo shop CS5, needed to install legacy Java runtime from the Internet and also  the library/scripting additions folder.
  •  Google Chrome. Needed to install all the extensions again.
  •  Apple Pages 08.  I needed to copy across Application support/iWork 08  and ~/application support/iWork and from the preferences folder.
  •  Cyber duck. I needed to copy my old  bookmarks across from library/group containers
  •  I lost all  my sticky notes but couldn’t be bothered finding out where they were  because there was nothing important in them.

The following applications needed a completely fresh reinstall for them to work:

  •  Devon think pro
  •  Microsoft Word
  •  Apple pages
  •  Apple numbers
  •  Apple keynote
  •  Java for Mac OSX
  •  Dragon –  I  decided to completely reinstall Dragon because I was having some issues with it crashing.  It’s  very stable now as long as I do not open it with Microsoft Word open.

The following applications did not work at all

  •  Aperture.  If you upgrade OS X  and Aperture stops working there is no way to reinstall it.  It has been discontinued, there is no new version, and you cannot install an old version  of Aperture on a new version of OS X even if you have the original installer DVD.
  •  AppleWorks 6.   Apparently Apple works 5 doesn’t work with newer versions of OS X.  Apple Pages no longer opens old AppleWorks files.   I am told that the workaround is to use LibreOffice  but I have not installed it yet.  It was very disappointing that Apple has not given the newer versions of Pages the ability  to open old AppleWorks and ClarisWorks files.  I am pretty sure you can open very old versions of Microsoft Word even back to version 3 and 4 with the newest versions of Microsoft Word.
  •  Virtual box. This just kept crashing and now that the Australian tax office software is Internet-based I probably won’t be needing to run Windows in virtual box anymore.

 Some other more complex stuff

  •  I needed to copy my ~/.ssh  folder across to my new computer because I had some automated terminal logins to some websites that I run.
  •  Movies stopped playing, I had to reinstall 3ivx  and divx  and Perian.
  •  I had to reinstall my new printers,  and I have to do reinstall my system PDF settings such as ‘Create Booklet’  which is accessible from my system print dialogue under PDF.
  •  I copied my photos library across.
  • I copied some of my iTunes songs across I wanted to have a bit of a spring clean so I did that manually.
  • I have had some trouble accessing my old iMovie files. I did want not want to copy my entire iMovie folder across, but there have been some issues trying to run iMovie and access my old movie files from my old hard drive.  I would recommend that if you have any very important movie files that you’d like to keep you export them to a separate hard drive and then manually copy them across to your you computer.  Don’t leave them in iMovie And expect to be able to access them.
  • A This installed easily freshly from the Internet and as soon as I entered my dropbox password all my dropbox files were synced onto the new computer from the Internet.


1Password worked fine. I just needed to type in my password and choose my old one password file in dropbox, and reinstall the browser extensions into Safari and Chrome.


I copied most of the folders from my documents folder across to the new computer, but I did a bit of a spring clean as I went.

 Concluding advice

If you are planning on doing a fresh installation my main advice would be to take your time and check each application as you go. Copy the application across, launch it, and make sure you can access your old documents.

My second piece of advice would be to keep your old hard drive handy in an external hard drive case, so that if there is an application or a document that you’d forgot to copy across and you need to access it it is relatively easy to go and retrieve it. I kept  my old external hard drive there for the first month or two until I was fairly confident that I had everything.



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