Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Safe and Sane Updating

By Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

Every time Apple releases an update – a security update, or a “decimal update to, say, take you from Mac OS X 10.3.7 to Mac OS X 10.3.8 – a wave of horror stories erupt on the Web about how the update destroyed people’s computers, wreaked their marriages, and caused unexpected eclipses on Saturn. But if you follow these simple rules, you should have nothing to fear:

Wait a day

Any update worth doing is worth waiting a day. It is rare, but Apple has been known to make mistakes. For example, the correct spelling of Macintosh is actually “McIntosh.” Oops.

Check your computer’s health

If your computer has been acting strange, Don’t Update! Fix the problems first. You can’t fix a leaky roof by remodeling your floor, or repair a blown head gasket by installing fresh spark plugs. Fix the problems first.

What, exactly, do these activities accomplish? Verify Disk verifies the catalog structure. Since the catalog tells your computer where everything is stored, it is vitally important, and you can’t verify the catalog on the boot drive. Hence, the need to boot off the Install 1 CD-ROM.

Verify Permissions has a different function: it checks to see what users and processes can talk to one another and under what conditions. You really don’t want Mac OS X to play with your photos without your help, for example. And you also don’t want the Mac to allow you to interfere with storing files on the hard drive. You do your job, Mac OS X does its job, and Permissions make sure you don’t step on one another.

By taking the extra steps to Verify Disk and Verify Permissions, you ensure your computer is happy and healthy before doing an update. Many people think that updating an operating system will "fix" a balky computer, and this is definitely not the case. Don't update anything until everything is working. Perfectly.

Download the update

There are two ways to download an update. The first and easiest is to use the Software Update pane in System Preferences. But there are times when you might want to download an update manually.

Under normal circumstances, Software Update prompts you to download a minimum update. In other words, you won’t be required to download more than you need. But on occasion, you might find it worthwhile to download the (much larger) Combo Updates.

Why the Combo Update? It is much larger, but the Combo Update is a comprehensive package of patches, updates and tweaks for everything Apple has developed since the operating system was released. If you have cause to doubt that some patch in the distant past was properly installed, the Combo update should take care of the problem.

Whichever route you go – running Software Update or manually downloading updates from Apple’s Web site (http://www.apple.com/support/), make sure you give the update a fighting chance to install properly. Remove suspect peripherals, shut down other programs, and exercise a bit of patience as the update installs. Depending on how much disk space and RAM your machine has, and how fast a processor, an update could take an hour or more – or just a few minutes. Be patient; don’t interrupt the process.

Several Mac Web sites suggest you Verify Permissions again after doing an update. Since the update verifies permissions as part of the installation process, this is unnecessary, but go ahead if you wish; it won't hurt anything.

Most people who have a problem doing an update either have prior damage that hasn't been repaired or have strange peripherals plugged in. So, if you have some old scanner that you salvaged from the Titanic or a USB flash drive that draws too much power or an old Teletype converted to work with ASCII -- disconnect all this stuff, first. And have a happy update.