How about a nice Hawaiian Punch? (AlohaBob Review)
July 24, 2003
As mentioned earlier, this being “Hardware Hell” week, I like to try to get in whatever hardware and configuration work that needs to be done around here done while I’m in the turning screws and installing stuff mode—after all, it doesn’t take noticably longer to be installing stuff on two or three machines than it does to be installing stuff on one (you still spend all of your time shuffling CDs and watching little status bars climb to full).
On the list was my desktop, and by the time I was done, I needed move to a clean install of XP Pro, which was probably overdue anyway (noticable signs of winrot had started to appear).
Of course, the most painful part about moving to a new install of windows (on the same machine or a different one) is reinstalling everything else. If you do a lot of things on your machine you probably have a fairly byzantine configuration of apps that must be installed, activated and configured…
A conservative estimate for my normal working environment is probably that it takes me three days to get it functional, and upwards of a month to get it right.
Enter AlohaBob PC Relocator Ultra Control. It won’t help if you’re just reinstalling Windows, but if you’re moving from one machine to another, AlohaBob promises to intelligently migrate your apps, data and settings from the old to the new, and even claims to be able to move to a newer version of Windows from older ones. Transfers can be done via parallel cable (slow), USB (faster), or TCP/IP (fastest).
It’s even got a reasonably innovative trial plan—you can use it for three days, after which you either pay $70 or it undoes all of the relocation. Not a bad price if it can save you a couple days, and if it doesn’t work, you don’t have to pay.
This sounded promising enough that I contrived to actually set up a mirror of my desktop in the new configuration in order to try using AlohaBob to move from the old.
I really, really wanted to like AlohaBob, and for the most part, when all was said and done, I’m rather impressed. What it proports to do isn’t easy even in simple configurations, and if it works with my convoluted environment, it’s not bad at all. I figured my litmus test was the core set of applications I need in order to get work done—if I could get those done quickly and painlessly, it was worth spending the money.
When the dust finally settled, it got the job done, but it was not without some serious annoyances. These were as follows:
Unexpected Failures—AlohaBob died in mid-process three times.
The first time it appeared that my network driver on the target system came unhinged, which might not be impossible in this configuration, so this may not have been Bob’s fault.
The remaining two times however, the target system died in the middle of transfering a file, the same file, in the MSOffice shared programs folder. From sketchy information in the event log, I get the impression that this was an XP security violation issue. I don’t know if it’s because I had to restart after the first lockup, or if it would have happened anyway, but it certainly should have been handled a bit more gracefully than just dropping over dead.
I finally got around this one by manually copying the directory before restarting Bob, which went without an error. Go figure.
Restarts—My biggest gripe with Bob was how it handled an interruption. When you’re moving 80 gig or so of installed applications over an anticipated 10 hour period, shit is likely to happen—if not the above, then network cables are going to get tripped over, somebody is going to reset a switch, a thunderstorm is going to blip the power, but the odds are too good for something to happen.
Bob has no provisions that I could find for picking up where it left off. Not only didn’t it go back to a log and just offer to continue, it didn’t even offer to remember my initial settings—I’d elected not to try to move some applications that I don’t use anymore, and others that I just wanted to reinstall for one reason or another anyway.
Even on a fast machine, going through and checking and unchecking the boxes for what you want to install, along with Bob’s having to stop and dredge through the current configuration two or three times, and then processing it all until it came up with the dialog with the “Do it” button on it took me 30 to 45 minutes each time it happened.
To add insult to injury, while some of the files that had already been copied it skipped (Good Bob!), others it decided to copy again for reasons unknown to me (Bad Bob!).
All together, this made what should have been (by the calculations the first time around) a 10 hour process into a 20 hour process, and it meant that I ended up either hanging out in my office babysitting it or shuffling back and forth to check on it, instead of getting 10 hours of snoozing overnight and coming in rested and refreshed to a newly configured machine.
I’d be much more wholeheartedly a Bob fan if it either hadn’t failed (which may or may not have been it’s fault), or if it had handled the failures more gracefully (which it does have to own up to).
The final result?
My core applications (MS Office, Studio MX and a couple of others) did make it intact, along with a number of other applications.
A couple of applications (Quicken 2003 for instance) claimed to be installed wrong but still work; they’ll probably require a reinstallation.
While some activated / registered applications made it over fine, some, like Handy Backup, completely forgot their registration and had to be re-registered.
Some didn’t make it at all—Cloudmark’s SpamNet, for instance (which Bob warned me it couldn’t move) had to be reinstalled. On the up-side, it remembered its configuration and registration once I did. Google’s toolbar beta is nowhere to be found.
Some things surprised me—after moving all of my cookie files and merging registries for a very long time, I expected that persistent web site logins would survive (they do not appear to have), and that forms-fill-in data would be intact (it does not appear to be).
I’m sure that I’ll probably be finding other odd things for the next month, as I get around to trying those apps that I use only once in a while.
On the upside, I’m ahead of the game by two days, and it was worth registering the program (which I did). I’m also very pleased to see that the signs of incipient winrot were left behind in the old configuration.
On the whole, I have to give Bob about a 3.5 out of 5, along with my well wishes and hopes for improvement. If they solve the issues in this tool, it’ll be amazingly handy—at the moment, it’s just handy enough to be better than the alternative.