The Practical Mac

10 Forward, Part 2

And How I Crashed OS X in One Easy Step

- 2002.01.29 - Tip Jar

Last week, I shared my experiences upgrading my wife Kay to OS X on a new TiBook.

Shortly afterwards, I became very envious of Kay. I don't know if my envy was directed toward her new TiBook or OS X. At first, I thought it was just the TiBook. Every time I walked by her office, carrying my iBook/466, and saw her working away on that 15.2" screen, my covetousness increased.

I learned to placate myself. "Well," I would say, "you probably think you're really something with your shiny new notebook - but yours doesn't have a handle! Ha-ha!"

After a while, I decided that it was not so much the notebook as the OS. I really like Aqua. It looks sleek and modern, and I don't find it all that much different from the Classic Mac OS, at least not after I found where they had moved all the commands.

I decided it was time for me to take the plunge into X. My iBook had become my primary - and indeed almost sole - computer over the last few months. Did I dare update what was very much a "production" machine? I had heard many stories about the problems experienced if you did anything other than wipe a hard drive and install a clean copy of OS X.

I considered this for several days. I needed almost everything that was on my hard drive, so wiping it without a backup was out of the question. My external USB hard drive was not big enough to hold everything. I could copy it across the network to my Power Mac 7500.

I could even copy it to my Windows 2000 PC, which had PCMacLan installed. I decided against the last option. I really don't trust my valuable Mac data to reside on a hard drive controlled by Windows.

In the end, I decided to throw caution to the wind. I would do (what I hoped would be) a straightforward upgrade of the iBook. Win, lose, or draw, I figured it would at least give me material for the column.

The first thing I did was update OS 9 to the latest version and install all other software updates. Then I took out "the" CD. I stared at it for a few moments. "Well, big fella," I said, "looks like it comes down to just you and me."

Throwing caution (but hopefully not good sense) to the wind, I inserted the OS X CD. Play ball!

What happened next is very much a matter of one's perspective. From a user's standpoint, there was much rejoicing. From a columnist's point of view, however, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. I experienced every user's dream and every writer's nightmare: The install went absolutely, unequivocally, fully, and totally without incident.

I started the upgrade and went downstairs to get a snack. I came back about 25 minutes later to find my iBook staring at me with a new face: OS X 10.0.3. A cursory check of the hard drive revealed that nothing important appeared to be missing. Once I had answered the initial questions ("Yes, I most certainly want a typical install!"), the entire upgrade was automated, even to the point of rebooting the computer twice.

Figuring this was my lucky day, I knew what I had to do. I went out and bought a lottery ticket.

When I returned, I thought, "Well maybe I should go ahead and put the 10.1 update on while I'm on a roll." I popped in the CD. Maybe this time I would get something to write about. I answered another series of eerily familiar questions ("Yes, I still want a typical install. You think I've changed my mind in the last hour?!?"), it was off for another snack. If Apple keeps releasing updates, I'm going to have to start exercising more.

Twenty minutes later I snuck quietly in the room. "If it doesn't see me coming,maybe I'll catch it in some shenanigans." But no, there was the now slightly different Aqua face staring at me again. Everything was still there. Well, only one more thing to do: 10.1.1 and dessert.

Two pieces of cake and one cup of coffee later, and we are back at the same screen. This time I had to check "About this Mac" to tell anything had changed. Yes, 10.1.1 was present and accounted for. At the time, this was the latest and greatest, so now we're off for a test drive.

Ooops! I forgot one minor detail - installing all my software updates. Updates (or in some cases, new versions) of Office v.X, AppleWorks, iTunes, Fetch, LimeWire, Adobe Acrobat, Virtual PC, as well as a few pieces of brand-new software (iCab, anyone?) all went on without a hitch.

Now for that test drive!

The purpose of this article is not to review software, so I will just say that everything worked as expected. Apparently taking their cue from Apple, Microsoft managed to relocate just enough commands (from Office 2001) to keep you on your toes. The totally revamped Entourage is well worth the minor irritation, however. And in agreement with what some others have written in these pages, iCab with its Image Filters feature really is the best all-around browser for OS X.

It was several days before I discovered the first glitch. In Location Manager, all of my locations seemed to have disappeared! I travel quite a bit and had nine or ten different location settings. Luckily they were still there when I booted into OS 9. I copied the numbers and set them up in the OS X equivalent of Location Manager. The new Location Manager works well, and I am pleased with it. I just wish I had known that all the settings would not transfer from OS 9.

To say that the whole experience has been positive would be an understatement. There are days that I really can't believe it was that easy. Since that time, I have also performed an OS X upgrade on the iMac DV that I inherited from Kay. That upgrade also went pleasantly and without incident. The Apple engineers have done an extraordinary job of making this major OS upgrade seamless and painless.

Since the upgrade over a month ago, I have not had a single system crash (with the exception of the "human interface" mishap described below). Unlike Kay, I have not even had a program quit and have to be restarted.

As an IT Director, I fix Windows problems all day. It is nice to come home and get to enjoy my computer, rather than constantly fixing it. Since I also use OS X on my primary computer at work, I can devote more time to cleaning up Windows problems for users and doing it more quickly.

Ironically, by freeing me from my own computer problems, Mac OS X has actually increased the efficiency of Windows users in our office. I'll bet that's a side effect even Steve never pondered.

Epilogue: What Is a Kernel and Why Is Mine Panicked?!?

Supposedly, OS X is pretty much crash-proof. It can experience what is referred to as, "kernel panic." This is a Unix condition where the OS kernel gets locked in some sort of loop or otherwise quits responding and has to be restarted. At least that is as technical an explanation as I can give for it. The condition is rare (this is Unix, after all), and I have never seen it on OS X. I saw it once on a Unix machine we had which was running our firewall.

True crashes are almost nonexistent in Unix and OS X is, under the hood, BSD Unix. However, I managed to crash it with a single action.

As background, one of the programs I use on a regular basis is Umax' VistaScan. It drives my Umax Astra 6400 FireWire scanner. There is not an OS X version of the software, and it won't run in Classic mode; I had to reboot into OS 9 anytime I wanted to use it.

Needless to say, I quickly got in the habit of using the scanner exclusively with my Power Mac 7500. Lest you think I'm loopy to say I use a FireWire scanner with a 7500, I should tell you that I have installed a Sonnet Tango USB/FireWire PCI adapter.

I lamented the scanner's lack of OS X compatibility in an earlier column. The next day I received an email from alert reader Jay, who did not give his last name. He directed me to the Apple site and a shareware program called VueScan. It is a native OS X program that allows me to use my FireWire scanner. It has tremendous functionality. This is one shareware registration fee ($40) that am definitely paying.

VueScan does not provide a TWAIN driver to allow me to directly import a scan into Adobe Acrobat. However, I can scan a document as a TIFF and then open it in Acrobat. This minor inconvenience is a small price to pay for the use of my scanner in OS X.

In addition to my Power Mac 7500, I have a Windows 2000 PC as well as an old PC on which I installed Caldera Linux. I have a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch which allows me to use one monitor, keyboard, and mouse to control all three. I have a power station under the monitor, and it has several buttons, each controlling power to different PCs and peripherals. I have each one labeled, but after our recent move, not everything got plugged back into its correct location.

One evening I was scanning along, minding my own business with not a care in the world. I was scanning a rather lengthy document, so while the scanner was doing its thing, I was periodically occupying my time by switching over and exploring the Linux box.

When I was almost finished scanning, I shut down the Linux PC. This is an older PC that does not have the functionality to allow itself to be automatically powered off by the OS. After I shut down Linux, I have to power off the PC manually. As I reached for the power switch under the monitor, I momentarily forgot that the scanner was now plugged into the receptacle controlled by the switch labeled "Linux."

I pushed the button. The scanner quit right in the middle of its scan. My Aqua interface was rudely interrupted by over a dozen lines of Unix command-line error messages. I had crashed OS X.

I have spent the last 12 years writing and speaking on ways to minimize crashes on your Windows PC. I might have a second career coaching on, "Ways to crash your Mac!" After 10 months of use, this list finally has an entry.

By the way, if this ever happens to you, the secret to recovery is the power button.

Fortunately, in the brave new (Aqua) world, chances are this won't happen to you. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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