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Everything You Need to Know to Install Tiger

by FJ de Kermadec

Editor's note: There are two basic ways to install Mac OS X 10.4. One, you can insert the DVD into your optical drive and follow the prompts. Nothing wrong with this approach at all. Apple engineers have gone to great lengths to make the Tiger installation as easy as possible.

The second method, which is the subject of this tutorial, involves a little preparation, some specific choices during the install, and a bit of testing afterward. As I've discussed in an earlier article, an OS upgrade is a great time to tidy up your Mac and optimize its performance. If you're thinking along those lines too, this piece covers just about everything you'd need to know. In fact, you may want to print it out and have by your side as you tune up your machine for maximum Tiger performance.

Oh, and by the way, it you've already installed Tiger and are ready to start playing, then come back to Mac DevCenter on Tuesday afternoon. We'll start our series of tutorials that cover Dashboard, Automator, and all of the other goodies from this exciting new release. Plus, don't forget to read our Mac weblogs that explore all the intricacies of Tiger technology.

More Than Just an Upgrade--A Performance Boost!

Every year it is the same: you rush to the Apple Store, grab a shiny box with a big "X" on it, zoom back home, crack it open, inhale the sweet silicon smell that seems to ooze from about any Apple product you buy (seriously, this stuff is addictive), and, blissfully, pop in that tempting DVD into your reader to install the latest version of your favorite operating system.

Well, let's make this year different, shall we? Let's make it better. With just a little bit of organization and some light thinking, we can turn this relatively mundane step (installing an operating system) into a pure moment of machine-tweaking, Mac-optimizing hypomania.

Simply put, my goal today is to give you pointers on how to best install Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, Apple's latest release, so that you will be able to enjoy it for the months to come, without ever needing to play around with disk utilities or swap kernel extensions, and generally speaking, without pulling out your hair.

Erase and Install

In today's article, I'm going to discuss Erase and Install (most commonly called "clean install"). This choice is different than the Upgrade and Install that many Mac users select at installation. Since our whole process will be shaped around this decision, I thought it was worth mentioning right up front.

Why choose clean install? Well, for many reasons, the first being that, after nearly a year and a half of tweaking and playing around, your system probably isn't in as good a shape as you'd like. Sure, Mac OS X is an extremely stable operating system, but over the course of Panther, you've probably accumulated hundreds of unused preference files, a few dozen cache folders, and a gazillion "dot" files in your home directory--these invisible configuration files favored by UNIX command-line utilities and many X11 applications.

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While these elements are unlikely to cause trouble, they are guaranteed to slow you down, make scanning for viruses or optimizing a nightmare, and immediately nuke any chance to do any effective troubleshooting. Also, if you have for any reason installed more serious applications, you might have a few plugins (come on, think about that download manager) or Kernel extensions (you a Virex user?) lying around that, if forgotten and not disposed of properly, are almost guaranteed to cause trouble. Since the arrival of a new operating system is a chance to start fresh, why not grab it?

But there are other reasons why I favor clean installs! For one, clean installing an operating system is so much faster than upgrading--we're talking 15 minutes versus two hours sometimes--and it will more or less ensure that your system's state is as close to what is described in the user manual as possible. Other installation methods sometimes introduce discrepancies that, although minor and good in a way (the engineers try to preserve as many of your existing settings as possible) might confuse you at times.

By the way, Archive and Install does share some common traits with Upgrade and Install in that it keeps many, many potentially cluttered folders in place. I know it's become increasingly trendy over the past year but it still isn't my method of choice.

Getting Ready

The first step when clean-installing Tiger is to ensure that your Panther installation is in good shape, as strange as it may seem. Indeed, in the very unlikely event that something goes wrong with your Tiger installation, it will be a comforting thought to know that your Panther setup is there, waiting for you, ready to be installed again while you research what might have gone wrong.

For this reason, I recommend you start by performing a few maintenance steps and take a few minutes to organize your files and folders--make sure that what you have on your Mac opens and displays properly, that there isn't any leftover clutter that you don't need and that would only slow down backups.

Once you are satisfied that the software side of your Mac is in good shape, have a look at the hardware side. Have you experienced any kernel panics lately? Is your fan spinning up and down all the time like crazy, potentially hinting at an overheating or firmware issue? Is your hard drive's S.M.A.R.T. status in the green? Should you notice anything unusual, be sure to write it down and, if applicable, to have it checked before you install Tiger.

Your Apple Hardware Test CD--the one that came with your Mac--can help you answer some common hardware-related questions. Why do all this? Because installing a new operating system is very demanding on your hardware. It implies intensive disk spinning and optical drive usage for a long time, followed by processor-intensive tasks with very little opportunity to cool down. This is why, by the way, it sometimes looks as if an operating system "killed" your hardware. In all of the cases I have seen so far, the computer simply wasn't in good shape and didn't respond well to the spike in usage intensity.

Now that you're pretty sure that your Mac is in good shape, inside and out, let's take the time to check your surroundings. Make sure that you have all the hardware you need, namely a known-good FireWire cable, an external FireWire drive (with or without a separate power supply) and your Tiger installation discs. If you are using an iBook or a PowerBook, ensure that it is connected to a (working, please) power outlet and that the battery is either charged or charging. Indeed, there is nothing worse than launching an installer you cannot stop and seeing your Mac go into sleep to preserve your data, ruining at the same time any hope of a quiet evening.

Also, turn your TV on and check the weather forecast. No, no, it's not stupid: in case there is a thunderstorm coming, you don't want to leave your Mac plugged into an outlet that doesn't have a very good UPS--and even then you might want to just unplug it and postpone the whole thing altogether.

One Last Thing

Security-conscious users who have turned on firmware protection on their Macs might want to disable it temporarily, as the following steps are going to involve many, many restarts. While having a firmware password interfering with these restarts is not likely to cause any issues, it can be annoying. Plus, it's not possible to boot from an optical disc when Open Firmware protection is turned on--at least easily.

In order to do so, follow these steps:

  • Restart your Mac while holding the Option-Command-O-F key combination--as in "Open Firmware."

  • Keep these keys depressed until you boot into Open Firmware directly. You might even see a line that says "Release keys to continue!" Note that users who use the full security setting won't even have to use the key combination, as their Macs will boot into Open Firmware no matter what.

  • Type "setenv security-mode none" at the prompt and enter Return.

  • Type your password and enter Return.

  • Type "reset-all," followed by Return to end the session and restart.

To reactivate the protection once you will be done installing Mac OS X, simply replace "none" in "setenv security-mode none" by the appropriate level ("command" or "full") and repeat these steps. Open Firmware will have kept your password in mind, so you won't be asked to enter a new one.

Note that Open Firmware systematically assumes that you are using a U.S. keyboard--it does not have the necessary information at hand to customize your experience--so you might have to do some remapping in your head.

Get Serious About Your Backups

If there ever is a time to perform a complete backup, it is without doubt when performing such a major upgrade as this one. So let's get backing up--you have already cleaned up your files, right?

The first step is to make a simple copy of your most important files, including (but not limited to) the contents of your Documents folder, your Address Book database (the application now features a great "Back up database" menu), your Mail folder, your iTunes and iPhoto libraries. In other words, all of the documents you cannot live without.

I would recommend burning them to a CD-R or DVD-R, as these backups have the advantage of being "set" in plastic once and for all. Should these documents contain any sensitive information of any kind, you can put them into an encrypted disk image--use Disk Utility, located in your Utilities folder to do that--and then burn the file to the disk.

This first backup will be used in case something goes horribly wrong--you really shouldn't need it, but who knows. As it is relatively complete, it might also be a good idea to store it somewhere safe and keep it for the coming weeks.

Here is a tip for FileVault users: you can use the excellent Carbon Copy Cloner to back up your home folder directly to an encrypted disk image.

Now is the time to use your external FireWire hard drive to make a complete bootable clone of your current hard drive. The easiest and, in my experience, most reliable way to do so is to use good old Carbon Copy Cloner once again. The default settings should be fine--make sure that the "Make bootable" checkbox is ticked in the Preferences sheet, though.

Having a bootable clone of your installation will allow you to fully and painlessly revert to your Panther setup in the unlikely even of a catastrophe--short of aliens invading the planet and forcing us to use a DOS flavor of some kind. Once the clone has completed, try to boot from your FireWire drive and make sure that your system works--you don't have to test it for hours, just boot it up, log into your account, launch a couple of applications and try to open a few files.

You can now safely unmount the drive, disconnect it physically from your computer and move on to the next step knowing that almost nothing can happen--and who can say as much often in the computing world?

A Word About Applications

A commonly overlooked--but very unfortunate fact--is that most applications rely on copyright protection systems that require you to enter codes, or serial numbers. Before wiping your hard drive, make sure that you have all the codes for all of the shareware and others you use and rely on for your work--BBEdit, Transmit, LittleSnitch, Photoshop anyone?

Should you have lost one of these codes, most authors now have quick-retrieval forms that should allow you to get these back in the blink of an eye. Be careful about codes, as some are based on the name of your home folder or computer, making upgrading and tweaking your installation very difficult. These are relatively uncommon, but they unfortunately do exist.

Also, keep in mind that migrating an application's cache and preferences files to a new installation is extremely unlikely to work, as most DRM systems work with hidden files spread across your entire system.

You might also want to call up the developers of your most mission-critical applications and enquire whether they have been tested with Tiger or not. Should there be some known issues with some of your essential software, you might want to look into alternatives first.

Also, keep in mind that any disk-optimization utilities will most probably have to be updated and therefore will probably not be of much use for a little while. Developers of these applications are unfortunately usually a little late to release updates and it is better not to use any outdated third-party disk utility on a computer, as this is a recipe for disaster, even with the best applications.

Check that Firmware

As with any operating system upgrade, now would be the perfect time to make sure that your firmwares are up to date--and by firmwares, I mean all of them. Indeed, when the Mac OS X engineers develop the upgrades, they expect you to be running on current, up-to-date hardware. While the installer is usually able to figure out by itself whether you need a firmware upgrade, it cannot scan every component of your computer that might potentially be in need of attention and, in some rare instances, might perform the checks too late, leading to some scary (but luckily not hurtful) symptoms like flickery screens or strange sounds.

Where will you find all these firmwares? Well, they are usually available through Software Update, although you might also want to perform a quick search through the AppleCare Knowledge Base, for additional peace of mind.

The firmware that you will want to upgrade first is your computer's. Indeed, it is the one that will allow Mac OS X to interact with your hardware at a low level and, therefore, is the most important piece of the puzzle. Once this is done, keep in mind that Apple sometimes releases firmware updaters for optical drives, Bluetooth modules and, more rarely, hard drives. As these might be needed for smooth operation of your computer later on, now is a good time to install them.

We have luckily evolved past the scary firmware updaters that required to boot into native Mac OS 9 and stare at a jittery progress indicator hoping for the best (although these were extremely reliable too, just less pretty). The modern firmware updaters look increasingly like regular Mac OS X installers. It is nevertheless important that you read the "Read me" files that comes with them and follow the instructions to the letter--trust me, shutting your PowerMac down while you upgrade it ain't a good idea. It would leave you with a pile of components that don't even know how to start up or talk to the machine, thereby negating all of your chances or upgrading them again.

Often overlooked but equally important firmwares are the ones that power your peripherals and external drives. Do you remember the FireWire events that scared the Mac community when Mac OS X 10.3 was released? Well, the truth is that many of them could have been avoided by upgrading the drives' firmwares beforehand! The big problem is that there usually isn't one central source listing all of these updaters, so finding them might require a bit of browsing--but hey, we already spend most of our time doing that anyway, don't we?

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