Restore Stability to a Troubled Mac with a Clean System Install
- 2008.01.15 - Tip Jar
In the spirit of renewal, and to make up for already abandoned resolutions, I set out to reload my iPod and iBook from scratch. Both were showing signs of minor weirdness that I suspected were related to my recent in-place upgrade from Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" to 10.5 "Leopard".
Since performing an in-place upgrade from Tiger to Leopard on my G4 iBook back in November, I had experienced a couple of oddities. One was with my iPod nano, where some songs were not showing up in the Artist index. There were also some applications - Mac and open source alike - that would either not run correctly or not run at all. I was curious to see if reloading OS X from scratch would fix some of these issues.
Reloading the iPod
I decided to start with the iPod, and if things went well, proceed to the iBook. Reloading an iPod is easy using iTunes. When attached to a Mac, the iPod appears in the left pane of the iTunes window. Clicking on it shows the details of the iPod, including a handy "Restore" button. It gives you fair warning that using Restore resets the iPod to factory defaults and wipes out all the music, pictures, and other data.
I proceeded with the restore and let it synchronize with my iTunes library again. When it was done, I verified the song count and started browsing through the Artist index. The cognitive dissonance between iTunes and the iPod was gone. Every song and podcast was in its proper place.
Whether this issue had anything to do with the in place upgrade is hard to tell. There are other ways the iPod index might have gotten damaged. I had taken this particular iPod on a journey from Mac to Linux and back over the last year, though I didn't really notice any issues until I did the Leopard upgrade. Whatever the root case, it gave me the confidence to continue on and reload the iBook.
Reloading the iBook
Before starting the reload, I backed up my Documents and other data that lived outside of the Documents folder. I did not back up my iTunes library, reasoning that I had a complete backup on my iPod. I later learned that the iPod was not really an ideal backup, and it would take extra work to recover from that mistake.
The initial iBook reload went without a hitch. I booted from the Leopard DVD and followed the instructions for an Erase and Install. It erased my hard drive, and a couple of hours later had installed a fresh copy of Leopard. After registration, I ran "Software Update..." from the Apple menu and joyfully watched patch after patch downloaded and installed, some with a reboot in between. That part of it felt Microsoftish, but it worked.
Finally, I was able to install my third party apps, and by the end of the day the system was up to date and my data had been copied back, except for the music.
Rebuilding the iTunes Library
The last step was to restore music from the freshly baked iPod. I plugged it in and was notified that the iPod was synched with a different iTunes library. The helpful dialog box offered to delete everything from the iPod and sync with the new (empty) iTunes library. I carefully canceled the action and wondered how I was going to get the music back into iTunes.
I did have a backup of all the music files on an external drive, but it was a few months old. Some web searching confirmed my fear that the sync between iTunes and iPod was one way only. There is no built in option for going from the iPod to iTunes. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for wanting to do so, like mine. This useful article on iLounge, Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer, dug into the details and provided links to third party software that could solve the problem.
After downloading a testing a few, I settled on the free Senuti. Senuti lets you copy individual tracks or all tracks from the iPod to iTunes. I did have to set the option to use the iPod for data storage so it would stay mounted. It worked like a charm, and about an hour later iTunes was once again a thriving hub of music and media.
If I had to do it again, I would back up the iTunes directory and copy it back instead of relying on the iPod as a backup device.
With the music scare behind me, I started to poke around and see if any of the iBook issues were resolved. One issue that went away was a segfault with the Opera browser. The fresh Leopard ran Opera happily when the upgraded Leopard would not. Some other applications, like Gimpshop, still would not run.
As a whole, I think the system is more reliable, and it was worth the time to do a fresh install. This mirrors my experience with Windows and, to a lesser extent, Linux. Yes, OS X and Linux upgrade better than Windows, but in the end, a small number of niggling problems creep into the best laid upgrades.
Given the choice between a fresh install or an in place upgrade, I recommend a fresh install. If you are an upgrader like me, you might want to set aside part of a weekend to freshen up your own Mac. It could save you time and trouble in the new year.
Keith Winston is a recent Mac convert after five years of Linux on the desktop. He also writes for Linux.com and created CommandLineMac to focus on the Unix-y power of the Mac. If you find Keith's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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