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#915: To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade, Recovery HD, Another Potential Test of your Backup


I’m sad to say, this will be my last Tech Tails intro that I write. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to touch on so many of my interests from musicians and video games, to blogs and of course, the Apple products that I use everyday. But I’ll be honest, I wasn’t always so smitten with with iPhones and iMacs.

It wasn’t until I started working at Small Dog that my knowledge of Apple products increased so dramatically. Sure, I had a base understanding of technology going into the position, but I would argue that I learned so much more from just tinkering with the computers and devices than any training materials I read or videos I watched. Opening up the settings menu or system preferences and just going through all the different windows, showed me how easy of a user experience Apple had created. Everything was laid out in check boxes and drop down menus and I never felt like clicking something was going to screw up my system. And it never did.

Having said that nothing ever went wrong, I will follow up with the one thing we try to tell every singe customer: Back it up! And once you have all your important items in another place, get in there and go to town. You may discover a feature that you never knew existed. If you get stuck, Google it. Chances are, someone has already had the same problem as you and the answer is neatly laid out online. And if the worst should occur, and you’ve found yourself lost in all the 1s and 0s, stop by Small Dog Electronics and we’ll try our best to give you a hand.

Today we’ll talk about Apple’s latest operating system, OS X 10.10, Yosemite, an old article about how you can reinstall your current OS, and the always popular topic that is backups.

-Mike D

  To Upgrade Or Not to Upgrade  

To Upgrade Or Not to Upgrade? It is a question I have been getting more and more often recently, as well as a question I have been having to ask myself.

I am stuck on the fence on this one, and it really seems to be a matter of opinion on who you ask. From what I can tell, most of the answers, with sufficient explanation, are correct and personally reasonable.

It gets confusing with all the different devices, manufacturers, software, versions, features, compatibilities, technologies, etc. Doing this day in and day out as a full time job, as well as being very passionate about this topic gives me a lot of information and experience to draw on, and unfortunately, I frequently find myself in no less of a pickle of information overload than the folks that are minimally invested in all this technology stuff.

Computers are made up of both hardware and software, you can upgrade software without upgrading hardware (buying a new computer/device or installing an improved component). I’ll focus on software upgrades here, and talk about hardware another time.

I am torn between two camps of thought on software upgrades:

The latest and greatest is best, you’ll get new features and the most out of your device, developers have worked hard to get rid of all the bugs, and it’s the best way to ensure you’ll keep everything running smoothly. Always update the first moment you have an opportunity.

And the other side of the software upgrade argument, in direct opposition:

New software and new features mean new opportunities for bugs and other problems to arise, always wait a little while with anything new, they will work out the kinks, and you will not have to deal with any of those issues.

I am personally regularly battling with this question for myself (on my many devices) and with all the people I know. The answer can be different depending on the circumstances. Sometimes it’s just best to leave it alone- if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I have known a few software upgrades to change something I used to understand perfectly and now I have got to relearn it. With the help of google, this learning curve is much easier to ride, but it’s still an extra step. Another issue is features going away, it’s not unheard of, or even uncommon for an often used feature to no longer be present in an update. A perfect example of that is Apple’s own iOS iPhoto app no longer functioning in iOS 8. Frequently the loss of functionality is not a permanent loss, it is generally part of a bigger picture, and that feature is no longer needed with new ways of doing things. Other times developers need more time to get all the functionality built back into an app, and these come with updates. The iWork suite in Mavericks lost all sorts of features that some users were complaining about, but over time, and through a series of updates many of those features came back.

Back to the question of to upgrade software or not – the first question is “Why?” Is there a feature you need? Is there a program that requires the new version? Are there security considerations? On the cases where you can not give an actual reason of why you absolutely have to, sometimes it is just good to wait until you have more solid reasons, frequently that is what I do. I have an old MacBook that is running Mac OS 10.6.8 Snow Leopard, it runs beautifully, smoothly, and is more than capable of performing all I need it to do. It does not have iCloud support, and I can not run the latest apps on it, but what it does have, it works with quite nicely. If I need a computer and that is all I have, I can work with it.

What I am getting at is that you generally do not need to upgrade your software. It is an option, but generally not a requirement. If it is a requirement, then you do need to upgrade because you will be unable to do what you need to do.

  Recovery HD  

This was originally published on 09/24/2013 by former technician Jeremy Holt.

Reinstalling a computer’s operating system (OS) should not be a foreign concept to you. Whenever your computer experiences severe software issues, an effective solution is to reinstall a known-good (KG) version of your OS.

As standard as this might seem, there isn’t a day that goes by when someone doesn’t contact us about software issues and has absolutely no idea where the install DVD is.

This feature, known as the recovery partition, was first introduced in OS X Lion. Apple refers to it as OS X’s new “safety net” and does not require a physical install disc. All you need to do is hold down Command-R during startup and OS X Recovery springs into action.

Once booted into it, you can choose from a lot of useful utilities like Disk Utility to check or repair your hard drive. You can restore your Mac from a Time Machine Backup, and even use Safari to get help from Apple Support online.

Perhaps my favorite utility that’s made available through OS X Recovery is Terminal. I strongly recommend against tinkering with this application for most users, as it gives you backdoor access to the system. Entering incorrect commands can cause major systematic issues with your computer.

However, the only command that’s easy to use is “resetpassword”. That’s right — you can reset your password free of charge! As many customers as there are who can’t recall where they placed their install discs, there are twice as many who forget their password (or worse, don’t remember even creating one).

So, when you’re in OS X Recovery, you can locate Terminal under Utilities < Terminal. Once the window opens, type in “resetpassword” and hit enter; the reset password utility will appear, at which point you can create a new one.

Please please please, write down this new one or save it in your notes on your iPhone/iPad. (Or, look into a password app or utility that saves passwords with high security.) Do whatever you need to never lose it. Do this and you can save yourself a car ride and/or phone call.

  Another Potential Test of Your Backup  

Yosemite is out and there are all sorts of nifty new bells and whistles. Should you upgrade?

That’s kind of a personal question. It really depends on a number of things. The first question that needs to be asked is: “DO YOU HAVE A BACKUP?” If the answer to that is “no” I highly recommend backing up before using your computer for much of anything else. The only time I can advocate not having a backup is if you have absolutely nothing that you care about on a machine. If the machine could be thrown off a precipice, never to be seen again, and a new machine would be given to you, and your only thoughts would be “Hooray, a new machine!” not the typical “all my pictures and stuff were on there :( “ response. Long winded digression cut short – if there is stuff on your computer that you don’t want to lose, put that stuff somewhere else. When you have put that stuff somewhere else you call that a backup.

The reason I ask, is that all sorts of things can go wrong when you upgrade an OS. Upgrading an OS generally means a great deal of data is going to be changed, many many read and write cycles. Enough read write cycles to kill a failing drive, or knock a seemingly healthy drive into failure. There are also some other rare things that can happen, they don’t happen to a large percentage of users, but no matter how rare it is, if it happens to you, it’s very significant and probably a great deal more inconvenient. Data loss is a painful thing. Any experienced computer user is well versed in data loss. The joke is that there are two types of people- those who have lost data, and those who will.

There are a lot of ways to backup your stuff. The more important your stuff is, the more backed up you want it to be. I am amazed at how many people assume they have a backup in the cloud. If you think this, but are not absolutely certain, do not trust it, and have something that you do trust and are absolutely certain about.

Back in my PC days (not too long ago) I took the files I really cared about and put them on external hard drives, sometimes shared them with friends. Sometimes I burned a bunch of pictures to CDs, sometimes I needed to burn many many CDs to get all of them. If it was something written I would print it out. To this day I have many of those CDs and old external hard drives and sheets of paper. It was a lot of effort, but it worked, and it’s held up to the test of time, close to 14 years for some of that stuff.

The Mac has some really wonderful tools for backing up. Time machine is a really great utility to copy all your files to an external hard drive. It will take a whole snapshot of your machine, with all your files in every nook and cranny. If any changes are made to those files, it will back up the complete file that has been changed, and you will have different versions of that file from different points in time. Time Machine is an app by Apple and has been bundled for free with the Mac OS since 10.5 Leopard, released in late 2007. If your machine is newer than that or has been upgraded to a Mac OS version newer than that, chances are that Time Machine is already on your machine. I use Time Machine in addition to my old PC backup methods.

For the first time, just last week, I did a clone of my HDD. I now have a bootable copy of my drive, copied onto another drive. What this means, is that I can plug this external hard drive into my many, or any other compatible machine, press and hold the option key during boot up, select my external hard drive, and the machine will boot from that hard drive instead of the drive built into the machine. This was a great move before I upgraded to Yosemite, my fears of losing any functionality or compatibility that I had with Mac OS 10.9 Mavericks is totally gone. If I need Mavericks, all I need to do is plug in that external drive and go through the contortions described above and my old OS is running on my machine that I upgraded to the newer OS.

There are a couple of well known programs for creating a bootable clone of your hard drive. Carbon Copy Cloner and Super Duper are the big two that we use here in the Small Dog service dept. I can not really get a strong fix on which one is better. I used Super Duper, and I’m happy with the results. Both programs are free, but offer more features if you register them for a fee.

I’m happy with Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite and it’s new look and new features, but I wouldn’t have been comfortable making the jump without having adequate backups.

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