Simple steps to move away from MobileMe

[Edited on 18th October 2011. If you are looking for information on how to switch from Gmail to iCloud, go this post.]

After the announcement of iCloud at WWDC 2011, the majority of Apple users can’t wait to get their hands on the new service.

There is a minority of users that for many different reasons would like to switch to a different product to manage email, calendar, contacts etc. Many of these users think that a free product like iCloud is not going to offer the reliability that they want or maybe they simply are worried by the fact that up to now no web interface has been announced for iCloud. I have touched on this subject right here.

In my opinion, iCloud will be the best service to integrate all our Apple devices together. In spite of that, I thought that users that are afraid to put all their eggs in one basket could benefit from a post on how to safely move away from MobileMe.

The main concern when you migrate your data to another platform is to avoid data losses at all costs and at the same time reduce the disruption to a minimum. When you delete MobileMe on an iOS device or when it simply expires you easily risk losing data. Nobody should come across such a scenario as Apple has extended, free of charge, the MobileMe subscription to all users until 30th June 2012.

Your MobileMe account can contain lots of data and you should employ different methods to move that data to your new account. Let’s check what your MobileMe account can store:

  • Emails
  • Notes
  • Calendars
  • Contacts
  • iDisk files
  • Bookmarks
  • Pictures
  • Keychain passwords
  • Application preferences and settings
  • Back to My Mac
  • Find My iPhone

In this post we’ll go through each of these items and see if and how we can export that data from MobileMe and make it available in a standard format, ready to be moved to a different service (Google is the first that comes to my mind). Throughout the post I will assume that you have access to your Mac. All iOS devices are still closely tethered to Mac so if you want to move away from MobileMe you need to use a Mac. I believe that once iOS 5 is out, similar steps will be available to iOS users too.

Warning: Don’t log out of MobileMe in System Preferences on your Mac or delete the MobileMe account on your iOS device before exporting the data you want to preserve.

Email

To move your emails away from MobileMe your best friend is mail.app on your Mac. The process you need follow is straightforward:

1. Download all messages and attachments to your Mac

a. Open mail.app b. Go to Mail –> Preferences c. Highlight the MobileMe account and go to the Advanced tab d. Make sure that the Download messages and attachments option is checked

At this point, if the option in d. was not selected you might have to wait for all messages to download locally. You can check the progress by clicking on the Show Mail Activity button on the bottom left corner of mail.app (second button from the left):

The reason you need to start with this step is because MobileMe email is an IMAP messaging system where your emails reside on a remote server and are mirrored on all your devices. In order to view those messages while off-line you need to tell the mail application to download a local copy of the email message stored on the server.

2. Copy your emails from MobileMe to local mailboxes

Now you should have all emails stored locally on your Mac.

a. For each MobileMe folder in mail.app you need to create a local folder. Go to Mailbox –> New Mailbox b. When prompted give an easy to remember name to the folder so that it reminds you of the folder in MobileMe. For example, if you have a mailbox called Apple call the local mailbox Apple Local or similar c. On the Location pull down menu choose On My Mac d. Once you have created the local mailbox, go to the MobileMe mailbox that you want to copy locally. Select all messages (cmd+A) and choose Message –> Copy To –> The local mailbox you created in step c. e. Repeat for all your MobileMe mailboxes

Note: In step d. I chose to use Copy To instead of Move To. I prefer to leave the originals untouched in case something goes wrong during the copy.

What you’ve just done is to create local mailboxes (i.e. stored on your Mac) that are independent by MobileMe. Now your emails are safely stored locally on your Mac and even if you deleted your MobileMe email account, you’d still have them.

3. Copy the emails to the new email provider

If you have already chosen your new email provider (for example Gmail), make sure to setup the new account in mail.app using the IMAP protocol. The instructions are simple, just google “gmail IMAP mac setup” or something similar.

If your new Gmail account has just been opened, you will have to start creating new folders in it, with the same name as the mailboxes you have worked with in step 2.

To copy your emails from your local storage to Gmail you need to repeat the steps in 2. but choosing the source emails, the local ones and the destination the new email account.

Depending on the number of emails you need to move to the new service, this process can be very long. When I tested it for an archive of around 2.5GB, it took me almost one night.

If you have chosen to move to Google Apps for Domain you can automate step 3. by using this handy tool.

During this process your email will continue to be active so you will still be able to receive/send emails.

Notes

Depending on the number of notes you have stored on MobileMe, you might just want to copy them manually onto text file. There is also an Applescript created by Veritrope that automates this process and creates a text file for each note.

This is really handy if you decide to store your notes on Dropbox or like me using nvALT and Simplenote sync.

The script works very well and the website contains precise instructions on how to export your notes.

Calendars

Calendars are not difficult to export but you need to be careful because they are stores only on MobileMe. If for some reason you delete your MobileMe account before backing them up, you’ve lost your data.

The best source on how to export (Apple calls it back up) your calendars is this KB article by Apple

Contacts

This is a very simple process and well documented by Apple here. Remember to export your address book using the vcard format which is recognized by most vendors.

Be aware that if you decide to move to Google, and more specifically to Google Sync some details will not be moved across. It turns out that Google puts a ?limit of three email addresses that can be stored in a contact on your iPhone. The limit also applies to Home Numbers (two records), Home Fax (one), Mobile (one), Pager (one), Work (three records and one will be labeled Company Main) and one Work Fax number.

iDisk

The best way to copy the documents from iDisk to your filesystem is to use a software like Cyberduck (donation-ware) or Transmit which is available at € 26.99 from the Mac App Store.

With both applications the transfer is reliable and fast.

Bookmarks

You can easily export your bookmarks from Safari going to File –> Export Bookmarks. Not much to say here beside the fact that you might have a hard time finding a solution that sync bookmarks across devices so seamlessly and transparently. There are solutions out there (I’m thinking of Xmarks but they all require some manual steps.

Pictures

Chances are that if you are using MobileMe to store your pictures, you probably use iPhoto. This makes the whole operation of leaving MobileMe very simple. You already own those pictures and they appear in your iPhoto library. If you can’t see them, there is an easy solution:

a. Log in to https://www.me.com/gallery/#home b. Double-click on the Gallery you want to export to your Mac
c. Click Adjust the settings for this album (second button from the left in the center of the screen) d. Make sure to select Allow Downloading of photos, movies or entire album and click Publish e. Now click on the Gallery link that appears on top of the window to go to the published album

f. You’re almost done. On the gallery page that is displayed in Safari you will see a Download button that allows you to download the whole album as a handy zip file

Keychain passwords

Nothing to do here, keychains are only synced across devices via MobileMe, they are not stored in MobileMe. That means that when you disable MobileMe from your Mac you still own the logins.

If you still want to sync password across devices, just use 1Password that combined with Dropbox allows you yo keep the login/passwords in sync on your devices.

Application preferences and settings

Same as above. MobileMe simply syncs these settings across devices so you don’t need to manually set the preferences of your second Mac. Again, if you disable MobileMe you simply cut the cord to the sync with other devices.

I am not aware of any other sync service that allows you to that.

Back to My Mac

When you decide to ditch MobileMe, this feature disappears and you need to find an alternative software. The first that comes to my mind is LogMeIn

Unfortunately I don’t have any experience with this service so I am not able to tell you if it’s a valid alternative to MobileMe or even better.

Find My iPhone

There’s no data associated with it. The tracking is in real time and if you really want to move away from MobileMe you should at least keep this service. Find My iPhone remains the best service to track, lock and wipe your iOS device remotely.

iWeb site stored on MobileMe (edited)

You can read this post that I have published a day after this one for the simple instructions.

Conclusions

I am going to stick with iCloud for the time being. I think that Apple’s vision for cloud services is both fascinating and ambitious and I want to use the new services. What are you going to do? Use iCloud? Move to Google Apps for Domain maybe? Anything else?

Leave a Reply

  1. Is there a way to move my .mac account to another host? Keep the mac.com address and have another company host it on their server? That would be great if we can…

    Ken

    • Hi Ken,

      Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately that is not possible because mac.com is owned by Apple.

      I’ve seen that you’re using Gmail. There’s an option in Gmail settings that allows you to send emails through their service using any email address you want, in that case your .mac address. Maybe it’s worth looking into it if you haven’t tried it already.

      Ricky