Nuke from orbit

I did my first clean installation of OSX today, which is weird, given that I’ve been using OSX Macs since 2005.

The reason I’m not in the habit of nuking a machine and reinstalling everything is twofold.  One is that I’ve bought three Macs in that time period (a Mini in 2005; a Macbook in 2007; a MBP in 2010) and each time, they were factory-new machines with the OS preinstalled.  Prior to that, all of my desktop machines were built from pieces, and involved me installing an OS on a bare drive.  Most of the time, it was Linux, and when I first started, I’d have to find every blank or blankable floppy disk in the house, bring them all to work or campus, and download all of the floppy images for SLS or Slackware, using rawrite to create disk A1, A2, A26, B1,B2,N1,N2, and so on.  And then I’d get them all home, and halfway through the 27th floppy disk, I’d hit a bad sector and it would crap out and I’d have to dig around for another AOL floppy disk I could relabel and reuse.

My two pre-Mac laptops were both Windows machines from the factory.  I reimaged the Dell laptop and reinstalled Win98 in a different partition, and had to re-re-install it a half dozen times over the years.  The Toshiba laptop stayed with XP for Tablet and never got a Linux install, which was good because when that XP installation rotted out and required re-installation, Toshiba’s factory install DVD did not work, which is fucking genius.  (It would install a version of XP and drivers that would immediately BSD on boot.  Stock hardware, stock DVD, all stock settings.)

The other reason I never reinstalled OSX is I never needed to.  Windows is like a carton of milk sitting on a kitchen counter: it works for a while, but it will eventually make you puke and shit blood if you don’t completely replace it on a regular basis.  I guess I’ve kept a copy of Windows 7 going for two years now without a reinstall, so maybe those days are over, but who knows.  (Windows 8 actually has a feature that completely reinstalls the OS, which seems like a cop-out to me.)

I screwed up my current machine, though.  I’ve been using the migration assistant to move all of my apps and libraries and prefs and files from old to new machines, and installing new versions of the OS on top of the old one.  I think it’s probably fine to do that here and there, but I think I did it too many times.  I started with 10.4 on a PPC Mac, then migrated that to a 10.4 intel Mac, then upgraded that in place to 10.5, then migrated to another machine running 10.6, then upgraded in place to 10.7 and again to 10.8.  Somewhere in there, I fucked up a library, and my machine started getting flaky.

So, reinstall.  I cloned my machine onto a USB drive, and then made a USB installer for the OS on a memory stick.  Apple doesn’t ship their OS software on physical media anymore; an install lives in a recovery partition, or you can create a USB installer, which is what I did.  The actual reinstall was painless, and a lot of my config and stuff like my bookmarks and contacts magically reappeared on the fresh install, because it just goes and grabs all of that stuff out of iCloud.  I then copied over a subset of my apps, without installing every single thing I’ve ever installed since 2005.  Most Mac apps are a single monolithic archive file, and don’t have a bunch of loose files scattered all over the place.  The one big exception was Microsoft Office (of course), which I had to reinstall from DVD.

The only major bummer about reinstalling was actually copying over my music and photo collections.  Actually installing all of the metadata for both libraries was easy enough; you just copy over the libraries.  But the copies themselves took a few hours;  there’s no faster way to sling a quarter-terabyte of data from one place to another.

The only real snag I ran into during upgrade was that after rebooting, my external monitor didn’t work.  I freaked the fuck out on this, unplugging and plugging back in things, looking at if I needed to reset the PRAM or whatever, before I finally found out that I’d knocked the monitor cable and it was just slightly ajar, half of the pins no longer connected.  When I plugged it back in, it was fine.

The machine seems to be fine now, and is running much better.  Battery life is back to the pre-Lion levels, and I haven’t seen a beachball yet.  So, knock wood.  (Aluminum, whatever.)

BTW I went to the local Best Buy last night to get a new memory stick, which is probably the first time I’ve been there in a couple of years.  The place looks pretty damn destitute.  It looks like maybe 40% of the floor stock had vanished, and they just widened the aisles and put in a big-ass customer service counter to take up the extra space.  The only thing that was still densely stocked was the pre-cashier chute of high-calorie snacks that they make you traverse before you pay.  Maybe Best Buy should stop selling electronics and media and just focus on 5-Hour Energy and candy bars.