Three quick tips on installing 10.4.10

  1. Back up your system before you upgrade. Not just two or three files here and there, but the whole thing. The traditional “most people don’t need to back up regularly” conventional wisdom is no longer operational in a world of fast Internet connections and security threats (MDJ 2007.01.03). That way, no matter what goes wrong, you can get back to square one within a finite amount of time.

  2. If you went futzing around with files owned by Mac OS X while running 10.4.9, go put them back they way they were before you run an updater. We’re not talking about things like installing Safari 3 Beta, but rather things like opening old updaters and installing one or two files from them here or there to fix real or perceived problems. It’s your system, put whatever files you want wherever (take a sledgehammer to the thing if you want, it’s your money), but don’t expect installers or updaters to work when you’ve created a system configuration that Apple could not have anticipated.

    This generally includes moving files out of the /Applications folder because you’re more anal-retentive organized than Apple is. Sorry about that, but the system puts things where it wants, and it really doesn’t want you to move them. Welcome to the perfection that is Unix and 1970s software design.

  3. Don’t go overboard. Of course you can use Software Update. MacFixIt tends to go off the deep end with these things – just about the only thing missing from its recommendations is preparing a brew of eye of newt and lizard tongue, so you can drink three sips of it from a mug made of ancient Egyptian marble while dancing in a counterclockwise circle at noon repeating “I wish I could rebuild the desktop!” five times before pressing the “Install” button.

    Maybe that’s coming for Leopard, thought.

    MacFixIt has a couple of decent ideas. Don’t launch new applications once you start updating the OS, because that wonderful 1970s Unix design (using only pathnames for shared libraries) means they may crash trying to load the updated versions while already-running programs are still using the older versions. But you don’t need to restart twice, and you don’t need to restart in “Safe” mode unless you know you’ve got some skanky kernel extensions loaded. Feel free if you want, but it’s all superstitious nonsense unless you know why you would need to reboot without optional kernel extensions, which is what “Safe” mode does. MacFixIt doesn’t seem to know why you should do this, either, except that the very scary mysterious installer will eat your children if you don’t!

    (We have a long-running dispute with MacFixIt over the difference between empirical data and supported design, as in “we see that this works but we don’t know why” vs. “it’s documented that it works this way.” See this previous entry for some other examples.)

    If you’re just really determined to clean up first, try using a tool like TinkerTool System or your command-line savvy to empty all of your caches before installing. Quit all applications, delete the contents of both /Library/Caches and ~/Library/Caches, then install and restart.

    Our own production system tends to have cascading crashes after OS updates – all login items crash, the crash reporters for them crash, the system crashes explaining the crashes, and on and on. Emptying the cache folders and restarting fixes it every time. We suspect it’s something to do with the font caches. (We do horrible things to fonts around here. You don’t even want to know.)

We meant to have MDJ and MWJ out last weekend, but there was so much stupidity associated with WWDC 2007 news that we actually broke our keyboards, and are waiting for replacements. One arrived today, D.O.A.; the replacement’s replacement is supposedly on the way, but we don’t know the scheduled arrival date. If it doesn’t work, we may dig out the USB-ADB adapters and some old Apple Extended Keyboards – but we might need bigger desks to hold them.

If you heed only one of these three tips, make it the first one. Back up your system before updating the OS, every time. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to feel glad you did it.