I was gonna make this one long post but there are two parts that just don’t necessarily fit all that well together. Plus I have a hard time getting anything written down so if I keep it short I figure the odds are better.
So here is the setup. My daughters both have MacBook Air computers they’ve been using since high school and well into university. They’ve been phenomenal machines and I’m really happy with them. My MacBook Pro that I’m using to write this is a 2013 and it runs great. But stuff can happen.
One of my girls was updating hers to Big Sur and the machine got unexpectedly shut down in the middle of the update. When she brought it back up she couldn’t boot. She got the folder with a question mark in it.
One of the hard things was at the time she was in the US going to school and we were still living in Hungary. So it was very hard for me to help her from there. I told her to take it to an apple store, see if they could fix it, or at least get her data off. She’d been thinking about getting a new machine. So I told her if they told her it couldn’t be fixed, then she could just get the new computer she wanted.
She went down and I was online on chat to help her out. Sure enough they said there was nothing that could be done to recover the drive aside from wiping it and reinstalling the OS. So she went ahead and bought a new computer. I told her to hold onto the old one until I got home in the summer, so I could look at.
I finally got a chance to look at it last weekend. It took me not time at all to boot into recovery mode, access the data drive and move all her personal files off of it and onto a USB drive that I have. It was ridiculous how simple it is. The tools that recovery mode provides are very robust. Part two will be a run down of the exact process.
I see two (maybe three?) major lessons here.
The first is that good backups cover a multitude of sins. And nowadays it is so ridiculously easy to backup what matters to you. It used to take a ton of work to do it properly. Now you just pay a service provider a few bucks a month and let your stuff sync. I feel like this was a relatively soft way for my daughter to learn that lesson. All hardware can fail in one way or another - back up your stuff.
The second is that the tech help at retail locations is poor. They really don’t have any motivation to help you properly. And they often don’t know what they are doing. I mean in this case, either the person who helped her was woefully ignorant, or intentionally misled her about the state of her machine. Either option reflects poorly on Apple service.
I guess the third lesson then (maybe it’s just an extension of the second) is either be prepared to learn how to fix things yourself, or find someone you can actually trust. I feel like odds are this will be one of two people. Either someone who’s expensive but really knows what their doing - or a friend who knows what their doing and is willing to help you out. If it’s that last one, you should really go out of your way to show your appreciation. They are coming through for you in a much bigger way than you understand. Even if it looks easy for them, they are giving you a lot of value for free. More than you realize, certainly more than what some retail help desk people will provide at whatever their rates are.
OK, part two will be all the steps I took to get on her machine, identify that the data was accessible and then copy it off.