Planning and Executing a Smooth System Upgrade

With every major OS release, there is a plan that I follow to ensure that (1) no files are lost, (2) no applications are lost/forgotten, (3) a Clean Install is placed on my hard drive and (4) important files are archived to CD/DVD.

Now that the arrival of MacOS X (10.4) Tiger is imminent (according to UPS.com tracking), I’m in the process of performing another one of these upgrades. This tutorial will focus on upgrading a MacOS system, but many of the tips, if not the software involved, could be used for an upgrade or clean install of any operating system (OS).

Archiving Important Files: The single most important part of any upgrade is locating all of the important files that are on your computer. The computer I am prepping for this upgrade is a PowerMac G5 that is used primarily for business.

If you’ve implemented a common sense approach to saving important files (and by common sense I mean saving them in their proper folders), then you should be able to locate many of your most important files.

For most everyday Mac users, all of your important files will be located in your Home Folder. The home folder includes all of your Desktop files, and the following folders;

If you’ve done a good job of using these folders as they were intended, then your backup should be a breeze. For those that have .Mac accounts, Backup (a free download for .Mac users) is a perfect way to maintain an archive of your most important files.

Using Backup: Backup pre-selects certain packages of items for backup that you may or may not want to use when doing a complete backup like the one that we are currently doing. I would suggest that you deselect any of the packages that are selected (like desktop files, or purchased music) and instead select your entire home folder by clicking on the plus (+) button in backup and then navigating to your home folder.

When using Backup, it allows you to select folders for backup by selecting and deselecting check boxes for each folder. The only folders that I wouldn’t recommend you backup are folders that do not contain any files that you have created or want to keep (i.e. Public folder, Sites folder, etc.).

Additionally, I wouldn’t suggest that you backup your entire Library folder. Instead, I would suggest that you selectively backup folders that have vital information that may take time to recreate or that could never be recreated. This would include your Safari folder (which includes your favorites), Mail folder and maybe even your Fonts or FontCollections folders (if you’ve added fonts that you’ve downloaded and installed and no longer have the originals or if you taken time to organize your fonts into collections). Other than that, the rest of your Library files will be recreated once you reinstall the OS and your applications.

NOTE: If you have a .Mac account and use the iSync feature, then your Safari Favorites should be saved on your .Mac server but I would still recommend saving them to a backup CD/DVD.

Other files that are easy to lose track of, or that I’ve lost track of, include Quicken Data Files, VersionCue files (Adobe Creative Suite Users know what I’m talking about), game files that may not be found in your home folder but in your Applications folder and files that for one reason or another are saved outside of your home folder.

Finding / Saving Applications: Before we actually burn our backup CD/DVDs, we should move on to our second goal which was to make sure none of our applications are lost during the course of our reinstall. I would recommend that you go through your applications folder and make sure that you have the original installation disks of each of the apps that your use regularly.

If you are like me, then you have a number of applications that you’ve downloaded from websites like MacUpdate or VersionTracker that, while they may not be expensive, they have become an integral part of your daily workflow. It also doesn’t hurt to download the newest versions of each of these applications. You may be pleasantly surprised by new features that have been added.

In addition to making sure you have the applications installers, you also want to make sure that you have all of the serial numbers for applications that you have paid for. Many of the serial number for shareware apps arrive via email, so you should double check to make sure that you have them hand when you go to reinstall your app.

I would recommend creating a folder within your home folder for these types of applications and their serial numbers. I have a download folder, which is in my Home folder, which includes a folder called keepers. Keepers contains shareware or freeware applications that I’ve downloaded from various websites. My serial numbers are stored on my iDisk.

Once you have found all of the files, applications and serial numbers to archive, use Backup to save the files to CD/DVD or a hard drive. Depending on the amount of data that your are backing up, this may be time (and CD/DVD) consuming. My Home folder archive took 11 DVDs. Depending on the sensitivity of the data that you have, you may want to make duplicate backups and store one off site. You can never be too careful, can you?

Now that we have everything backed up, we are ready for a clean install of our new OS.

Have a question about the backup process? Have something you’d like to add? Think I missed something? Share it with the rest of us, using the feedback form below.