With release of Tiger less than a week away and the OS X 10.3.9 Panther update wreaking havoc across the countryside, it’s time to begin taking a few steps to get your existing Mac ready for the Tiger upgrade. Little in this article is original by the way. Most of the tips and tricks have been culled from several years worth of newsgroup posts and articles by others on the appropriate steps to take in preparation for a Mac OS X upgrade.
Backing Up Your Mac. If there is one fundamental rule that shouldn’t be violated under any circumstances, it would be this. Don’t attempt to upgrade the operating system of an existing Mac on which your livelihood or sanity depends without first making a full system backup and testing it. By testing I mean, “Can you boot from your backup drive and run all your applications?” The better rule of thumb would be this. Don’t upgrade any Mac without first making and then verifying that you have a working, full system backup. Stated another way, only back up the data you wouldn’t want to lose … permanently. That doesn’t mean an OS upgrade will wipe out your system. It won’t unless you tell it to. But don’t take the chance. We’ve previously covered Backing Up Your Mac on our Nerd Vittles site. So, if you need help with the process or need recommendations on backup hardware, read this article. The bottom line is that a $100 firewire drive with a complete and tested duplicate of your existing Mac’s hard disk eliminates virtually all risk of disaster. It’ll be the best $100 you ever spend. The remainder of this article assumes you already have made a backup. If not, start there and come back.
Checking Your Mac’s Hard Disk. I learned a few decades back (the hard way) that checking a hard disk should come after making a backup. It may sound like you’re putting the cart before the horse, but any software that bangs around on your hard drive has the potential to cause problems even though vendors will always tell you otherwise. Once we finish checking and repairing (if necessary) your hard disk, we can always make another backup. And, if problems are found and resolved, I’d recommend you do just that. So we’ll begin checking your hard disk by assuming you have a good working backup.
Now locate your existing Mac OS X boot disk and insert it in your drive. Then shut down your system, disconnect your backup drive, and turn it off. We won’t be needing it for the time being. Now turn on your Mac and hold down the C key to boot your system from the OS X boot CD. Once Mac OS X boots from the CD, go to the Installer menu and run the Disk Utility program. When the Disk Utility menu appears, select your Mac’s internal hard disk by clicking on it, and then click Verify Disk under the First Aid tab. If problems are found, click Repair Disk to fix them. Once it completes, reboot your Mac from its existing hard drive. Open Disk Utility again and click on the First Aid tab. Now click on Verify Disk Permissions. If problems are found, click Repair Disk Permissions. Do this after booting from your hard drive to repair disk permissions properly. If no problems are found with either the verify disk or verify disk permissions steps, you can move to the next section without making another backup. If problems were found and repaired, reattach your firewire drive and turn it on, make another backup, and verify that you can boot your system from the new backup before proceeding. If problems were found but could not be repaired, write down the problems and consult an expert by visiting the Genius Bar at an Apple store near you before proceeding any further.
Final Preparations for Tiger Installation. Once you’ve made a clean backup, established that you can boot from your backup drive without disaster, and tested and repaired your hard disk and disk permissions, your system is primed for loading a new operating system. If you’ve reconnected your firewire drive, dismount it now and unplug it from your Mac. We don’t want to take any chances that it will get corrupted during the upgrade process. The steps that follow need only be taken just before you actually are ready to install Tiger. The trick here is that we want to turn off or disable as many running applications as possible before we start the Tiger upgrade, and I don’t mean just exiting from your word processor, web browser, and email client. I mean everything. This not only conserves memory, but it also eliminates many potential sources of problems once Tiger is installed and boots your system. The bottom line is, before beginning the upgrade, shut down every application that you possibly can, whether it’s running in the foreground or background. Then do the Tiger install and make sure things run smoothly. Then gradually restart the apps you disabled.
Here are two good places to look to be sure everything is turned off. First, go to System Preferences->Accounts and click on the Startup Items tab. Write down each of the startup items on a sheet of paper. Check in your Applications folder and make sure you can find each of the startup items. If you can’t find it, do NOT delete it from the Startup Items. I would not delete the Microsoft startup items unless you want to have to reinstall Microsoft Office. For the remainder of the items for which you can find the application in your Applications folder, delete the item and mark it on your sheet of paper as deleted so you’ll know to restore these items after the update.
If you are running anti-virus software (this includes Virex from .Mac), then get rid of it unless it’s the latest version from Sophos in which case just turn it off until your upgrade is finished. For Virex, mount the installer image, click uninstall, and provide your password. Don’t just drag it to the trash. Here are Apple’s detailed instructions. None of the anti-virus apps (except Sophos) yet work with Tiger, and keeping anti-virus software enabled will just cause problems. Overheating and constant CPU pegging have been mentioned with Virex in particular. Finally, go to System Preferences->Sharing. Make a list of all the applications which are checked, and then turn off all of the running applications by unchecking them. This will shut down your web server, mail server, SMB server, FTP server, SSH server, remote desktop server, etc. If you are a UNIX guru and you’ve installed other startup items, shut them down for the time being. Finally, disable all screen savers in System Preferences->Desktop & ScreenSaver for the time being.
If you installed WebMin as one of our ISP-In-A-Box projects on Nerd Vittles, then it’s a good place to double-check your work above. Start WebMin from a Terminal window if it is not already running: sudo /etc/webmin/start. Access WebMin using your web browser: http://localhost:10000. Go to System->Bootup and Shutdown. The one we care about is the Postfix mail server. If it shows -YES-, then change it to -NO-. Once you finish, close your web browser and then from a Terminal window shut down WebMin: sudo /etc/webmin/stop.
Prerequisites for a Tiger Upgrade. Now that we’ve done the preparatory work, we need to get down to business. First, make sure your system meets the minimum hardware requirements for a Tiger install. Those requirements are available from Apple here. The bottom line is you need a Mac PowerPC G3, G4, or G5 computer with 256MB of RAM, a display, keyboard, and mouse, and 3-4 gigabytes of free disk space depending upon whether you wish to install the Xcode 2 developer tools. Firewire is required to transfer files from another Mac, and a DVD drive is required unless you have ordered the CD-ROM version of Tiger directly from Apple.
Tiger Upgrade Options. Before you begin the installation, it’s important to know that Tiger supports three different installation methods. The Simple Install upgrades all of the important components of your prior version of Mac OS X and preserves all of your personal files and most system settings. Archive and Install saves your existing files and settings in a special archive, then performs a clean OS install, and then provides an option to import all your user data and most system settings. The key difference in a Simple Install and an Archive and Install is that the latter gives you a 100% new operating system while preserving your user data and most system settings which are capable of being preserved. The final upgrade type is an Erase and Install. It erases your hard disk, wipes out all your data, installs Tiger, and then leaves it to you to reconfigure all of your settings and retrieve your existing files from another source, i.e. the proverbial monkey is on your back.
Which Upgrade Option Is Best? Like most things in life, it depends. If you have a relatively new Mac with very few personal files or applications other than those that came with your original Mac, then the Erase and Install may work for you provided you have backed up all of your data in advance. Our preference in previous upgrades has been the Archive and Install because it backs up all of your files, installs a clean copy of the operating system, and then provides the opportunity to copy back over your user data and most system settings. With Mac experts in general, this is the preferred approach. However, the Simple Install has matured with each version of Mac OS X and is now to the point that it handles most of the upgrade tasks reliably well so that no critical operating system pieces come up missing after the upgrade. Since we haven’t done a Tiger upgrade yet, I can’t tell you if the results are identical, but within a week or two, there should be ample activity in the Apple newsgroups to tell you which approach works best. By next weekend, there should be a new Tiger entry under Mac OS X at this Apple newsgroup link. If you can’t stand to wait a week or two, I’d recommend the Archive and Install. But keep in mind the Wild West adage that “Pioneers are those with the arrows in their backs.” We’ll have more to say about the process once we’ve performed a couple of upgrades on existing systems so come back soon for an update.