I had to swap my hard drive a few days ago and the experience was quite a different one from similar accidents that happened to me in the 1990s. What is different?
First of all, the total lack of panic. After I diagnosed the problem, I did not have to think long about hitting the delete hard drive button. All my data is in Dropbox.
A hard drive crash would have been an excuse to splurge on a new machine a decade ago. Then, there were dramatic performance degradations in just a few years as PC software become more powerful, especially because of the improved graphics. No such thing in 2013, software does not get more complicated, often the opposite is true as PC software is replaced by web applications.
I decided to rebuild my computer from scratch rather than recreating it from a Time Capsule backup. The machine got a little slow and cluttered full of applications that I tried once but never used again afterwards.
One decision: I did decide not to re-install my virtual Windows machine that I put on my machine the first day I bought my Mac to calm down my fears that the whole transition just might not work. PowerPoint 2013 for Windows is better than PowerPoint 2011 for Mac, but not enough to justify breaking my Mac file system workflow and colour picker, and to sacrifice disk and CPU performance to a huge virtual machine (Parallels).
Some things to remember with Dropbox. Move the default photo directory of your Mac inside Dropbox so you have your personal pictures backed up. (But then again, 99% of my personal pictures are actually sitting on my cell phone now, and the reason that it is very important to back up your phone, personal photos on your phone are more important than PowerPoint files on your PC). And secondly, move your Mac download folder into your Dropbox. Some software that you bought online do not allow for re-downloading the installation file (stupid).
I am now moving my software licenses for Adobe and Microsoft to a subscription model, making it easier to manage software installations across multiple machines, although I fear that we users might end up paying more for our software once the developers have forced us all to move to the new pricing model (probably in a few years from now). Adobe upgrade offers end on August 31.
The Mac app store is great to get an overview of what software you bought and quickly reinstall it on your new hard drive.
One final thing to get right, store your passwords and logins in a central place. I use 1password to sync this data across all my computers, phones, and tablets. Essential software.