Tuesday, September 16 2003

Today is a good day

New PowerBooks are out. Must wet pants with joy. They all look good, but I’m leaning slightly toward a 15” model with an 80GB disk and 1GB of RAM; not sure I’m ready for a 17” boat anchor.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was definitely not a good day. For some time now, I’ve been installing Panther betas on my iBook with the Archive & Install option, which preserves almost all of my applications and customizations while completely replacing the OS. I’ve always backed up my home directory first, but haven’t bothered with an extra full backup. Cuts the total upgrade time down to about an hour, most of which is spent watching the disks spin.

On another day, I’d consider including a comparison to my last Windows upgrade horror story. Unfortunately, things went terribly wrong this time. Twelve hours later, my iBook is almost back to normal.

Before it does anything destructive, the installer runs a disk repair utility. It failed. The iBook’s internal disk, it seems, was corrupt in a way that couldn’t be fixed, but didn’t cause any problems in use. This was almost certainly caused by the 7B53 beta, but no version of Disk Utility could undo it.

I used Carbon Copy Cloner to make a full backup, which took a surprisingly long time. I wrote the performance off as another problem with 7B53, booted off the copy to make sure it worked, and then wiped the internal disk so I could copy everything back.

The machine hung after about 1.5GB (of 12GB). I had to power-cycle to get it back, but nothing would coax it into copying the files without hanging. Again blaming 7B53, I dragged the drive upstairs and plugged it into my dual G4, which was still running Jaguar. Same problem. I swapped firewire cables, plugged it into different ports, and seriously considered cracking the case open so I could install the drive on the IDE bus. I even stuck the drive into the fridge for a while, since it was getting disturbingly warm.

[ye gods, this is starting to sound like one of Pournelle’s old Byte columns; all it needs are goofy names for each machine, a few more pointless digressions, and the home phone numbers of VPs who will send me replacements for any hardware I manage to hose.]

At this point, I resigned myself to a fresh install of 7B68 on the iBook, which went smoothly now that the disk had been wiped. After I had finished restoring most applications from my pre-Panther full backup disk (why yes, I do have a lot of firewire drives around here…), I discovered something that was both annoying and reassuring: I could copy as much data from the cranky drive as I wanted, from the Finder.

Carbon Copy Cloner uses Apple’s ditto utility to clone disks, and something about the way it copies data is tickling a bug in my firewire drive. Just the one Que! Drive, though; the others are all SmartDisk FireLites, and I’ve dittto’d back and forth with them dozens of times. Guess which brand I’ll be avoiding in the future?

I can make at least one nasty crack about Windows, though: almost all of my third-party software could be restored simply by copying from the backup disk. I didn’t have to dig out the original CDs and reinstall from scratch (including patch and registration hassles). All I had to do was figure out where some of the licenses and support data were hidden on the old disk (/Library/Application Support), and then re-enter the registration codes for the four apps that detected the change: Suitcase, FontLab, TransType, and Jam. Everything else was happy.

But the new PowerBooks are out, and I’m going to buy one. After I get back from Vegas, but that’s another story.