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Reinstalling an operating system is probably one of the most vexatious procedures one can do on their computer. Firstly, it’s a lengthy process which require you to be in front of the computer but do nothing at the same time. Secondly, a lot of the time, users overlook many things that needed to be backed up before beginning. Hence, some data gets lost along the way and is usually unrecoverable.

Using Time Machine would normally ease the pain since everything goes back to the way it was after the operation is performed. But if you were reinstalling your Mac to deal with an issue with the system, using Time Machine would defeat the purpose because then you would technically re-introduce the issue back to the freshly-installed system. Instead, performing a clean install of the operating system and its applications is a much better choice.

I have a checklist of things to do before I head off to reinstall my Mac and I’d like to share it with you. Hopefully, it would make your next reinstall a smoother and less theatrical occasion.

1. Back up your Documents folder

Location: User Home Folder

Commonly known as “~” (The user home folder is the one with the logo of a house and labelled with your username.

If you’re like me, all your important documents will be in the aforementioned folder. It brings peace to mind when all I have to do is back up that folder and all of my documents will be safely transferred.


2. Back up your Music

Location: ~/Music/

One good thing about being an iTunes user is that it automatically arranges my music library neatly within the iTunes folder in the location above (provided that the option to let iTunes manage your music is checked). Backing up the iTunes folder will retain your music ratings, playlists, tags and album art for your entire music library.

3. Back up your iCal, Address Book & Safari bookmarks

These are pretty simple to do but often overlooked. That’s because these are neither applications nor documents, they’re just databases.

  • To backup your Safari bookmarks, click on the File menu in Safari and choose ‘Export Bookmarks’ and select a destination for it.
  • To backup your iCal, do the same in iCal as what you did for Safari.
  • To backup your Address Book, select ‘Export’ from the File menu and click on ‘Address Book Archive’.


4. Back up your Mail

Location: ~/Library/

If you’ve set Mail to retrieve your mail and cache it on your hard disk, reinstalling your Mac means that Mail would need to download it again. That takes a very long time if you have a mailbox with thousands of correspondences. Simply backing up your Mail folder makes it easier to get started again.

Location ~/Library/Preferences

Also, you wouldn’t want to forget your rules, signatures, mail account preferences and smartboxes. Backing up “” from your Preferences folder maintains the Mail structure.

In order to restore these files after reinstalling your Mac, simply drop the Mail folder back in ~/Library and the .plist file back into the Preferences folder before you launch Mail.

5. Back up your licenses

If you’ve paid for certain applications and received license keys for them, you ought to remember to back them up. I use RapidoSerial to keep all my license keys safely. All I have to do is backup the RapidoSerial application and my license keys will be backed up together with it.

6. Backup your website login and passwords

After spending a lot of time online, I’ve accumulated a multitude of different logins for individual sites. I’ve heard some people refer to passwords as underwear: You should have different ones and remember to change them frequently.

Instead of relying on Keychain to maintain a copy of your passwords, I’d suggest the use of a PIM manager. They’re easier to use and lot easier to manage and backup compared to Keychain. Keychain is ridiculously difficult to backup and restore and I would advice against it if you’re not technologically inclined/talented.

There were 2 online password managers covered here on MakeUseOf i.e. PassPack and Clipperz. Check them out if you haven’t already. Also, Lastpass is cross-platform Firefox extension 11 Firefox 3 Extensions That I Can't Live Without 11 Firefox 3 Extensions That I Can't Live Without Read More and IE plugin password manager worth looking into.

A particular password manager which comes very highly recommended is 1Password. It can run on both the iPhone (and iPod Touch) and Mac. Unfortunately, the Mac version goes for $34.95 but there is a free demo available. The one which runs on the iPhone is currently free for a limited time so grab it while you can! A free alternative is KeePassX.

After reinstalling your Mac, you might want to read up on the applications which I deemed essential 10 Essential Mac Apps to Install After a Reformat 10 Essential Mac Apps to Install After a Reformat Read More to have, it may help you get a push start on your fresh Mac.

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