Spring Cleaning

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
April 19th, 2003 • 9:28 pm

After several weeks of workload-induced procrastination, I finally took the time yesterday to do a complete reinstall of Mac OS X on my startup volume, including the erasing of the existing contents of the partition.

This is the type of situation where HAVING partitioned your hard drive is important, in my opinion. While it is true that I could backup the entire contents of my hard drive, including my tens of thousands of document files, it is much easier to just have to backup whatever is located on the startup partition and is user-specific — i.e. mainly my home user folder, some of the contents of the main Library folder (mostly fonts), and a few files inside my Applications folder that contain, through bad design, user-specific information (mostly Radio UserLand’s folder).

I chose not to backup my application files — because most of the big applications I use are badly designed and require a reinstall from CD anyway: Adobe’s applications, Microsoft Office, FileMaker, etc.

Those applications that can be copied from volume to volume and back without breaking are unfortunately a minority. It really is a shame that most major Mac developers have (so far) failed to fully embrace the concept of application “packages” where everything essential to the operation of the application is stored inside the application itself. In some cases, it is due to annoying software protection schemes. In other cases, it is due to essential files being installed all over the place.

The end result is that one has to reinstall things from the original CDs, and, since the versions on the CDs usually are not the latest versions available, there is the additional need of applying all kinds of minor, yet essential updates: e.g. InDesign 2.0, 2.0.1, 2.0.2, etc. Some vendors have made “combo” updaters available, but they usually represent fairly large downloads and people on modem connections don’t necessarily have the time to download again in one combo package updates that they have already downloaded separately over the course of the past couple of years.

To make matters worse, some updaters still require you to “quit all applications currently open” before proceeding. Why on earth would Internet Explorer 5.2.2 need me to do this, for example? And what about InDesign 2.0.1, which asks me to do this, and then proceeds to install the UPDATE without quitting anything anyway?

Then there is the issue of serial numbers. There are so many of them to manage these days that the only solution is to store them in a special file. Then you would think it would just be a matter of cutting and pasting them INTO the serial number entry fields, right? Think again. Some installers deliberately disable Edit functions such as Copy and Paste, forcing you to retype things manually (as if that was going to deter piracy!). Others divide the serial number INTO several subsections, so that you cannot enter it in a single operation (again, I’m sure that deters a lot of potential pirates).

The procedure for installing/re-installing stuff is simply way too inconsistent from vendor to vendor and from product to product. Reinstalling Mac OS X 10.2 itself and applying the 10.2.5 combo updater was a matter of less than half an hour. Then I spent pretty much the rest of the afternoon reinstalling the rest, the third party stuff.

The only significant improvement I have found is that most installers no longer require a restart. But the fact that some require that you quit all other applications is still a pain, because it prevents you from really getting going, especially when it comes to third-party system enhancements.

For example, I use Default Folder X, DragThing, LaunchBar, and a few others. Even though they are system enhancements, they are remarkably easy to install. But then stupid updaters for things such as Explorer or InDesign require you to quit them again and again.

It is all rather frustrating. But at least today my system is reasonably “clean”, and things are humming along quite well. Why did I do this spring cleaning in the first place? Because Mac OS X 10.2.4 had proven to be a problematic UPDATE for me, and I had had to revert to 10.2.3. And the problem appeared to be with some essential parts of the system HAVING become “corrupted” over time (since last November, when I first installed my stuff on this new G4). I also had a problem with FileMaker Developer which had been associated with “user corruption” by FileMaker’s tech support staff. I still have to CHECK whether this complete reinstall has really eliminated the problem, though. (I have my doubts.)

The major issue I had with 10.2.4 was less-than-optimal compatibility with Spell Catcher X. Evan Gross, the developer of Spell Catcher, had indicated to me that Apple had done a number of changes, with some users being more vulnerable than others, for a variety of reasons (default keyboard layout used, etc.).

The good news is that Spell Catcher appears to be running fine now in 10.2.5 — not because 10.2.5 fixed anything that 10.2.4 had broken in that respect, but because of the clean install.

The bottom-line, however, is that the problem of file “corruption” has clearly become the main issue of troubleshooters, now that system crashes have pretty much become a thing of the past. And, as my own experience demonstrates, the corruption sometimes requires action that is just as drastic as what system crashes used to require.

Let’s just hope that this reinstall will last me a while.

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