Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My long promised Restoration Saga!

A while back, I mentioned that my Mac had suffered the death of its Hard Drive, and Apple was going to fix it under warranty.  I also promised that I would come back here and relate the experience.

Here I am!  Sorry for the delay, things have been a bit hectic recently.

Anyway, on to the story.

Apple performed magnificently, returning my iMac to me within the promised time period, ironically the same day they released an update to OS X, version 10.8.4.

I went to the Apple store in the Montgomery Mall on Democracy Boulevard, dragging my large suitcase with me. (I was certainly not going to carry the thing, it weighs a ton - 27 inches of screen space comes with a heavy weight penalty - literally!)  I got some odd looks coming in the door, but I wended my way through the crowd in the store easily.

I checked in, having made an appointment to pick it up.  (Note to Apple customers:  If you drop off an Apple product at an Apple store for repair, you do NOT need an appointment to pick it up, they immediately take you to the front of the line.)

I was in and out of the store in ten minutes.

Got home, plugged everything in, turned it on, and...Nirvana!  It worked, as advertised.  They'd loaded 10.8.3 on it, which was no surprise, as the .4 version was released the day after they'd finished the repair.  They never put an unreleased version on repaired machines.  So, I had to do it myself.

As the machine had logged in automatically to an admin account, I simply went to the Apple App Store app and hit the selection for updates.  There were more than one, but the main one I saw was the 10.8.4 system update.

I clicked the "install" button and typed in the password for my iCloud account.  The download began, and took about 18 minutes.

The install itself didn't take long, less than 15 minutes, a restart and the Apple Menu showed in About This Mac that it was running 10.8.4!  Easy-peasy!

Next, I opened the app folder and the enclosed Utilities folder and started the Migration Assistant.  As part of the set up for it, you are asked first if you want to migrate data from another Mac or a backup.  I chose the Time Capsule backup, since that is where mine lives.

Less than two hours later (I've got over 680 gigs worth of data to restore - that takes time, even at Gigabit ethernet speeds), it was finished.

Perusing the files and so forth, I was glad to see my data had been restored, but there were issues.

1.  Missing apps.  A lot of apps I'd bought and installed were missing.
2.  Settings.  Many of my settings, for system and apps, were also missing.  Safari history, settings, extensions, etc., were also missing.

Desktop stuff was right where I expected them to be, though, and my account password, etc., appeared to be correct.

Well, it was late at night, so instead of doing the geek thing, which would have been to blow it away and start over, I had to wait a couple of days for the time to present itself again.

A few days later, that is exactly what I did.  I had NOT re-started the Time Machine backups, especially for this, to avoid any mixups.

I DID go into Time Machine to make sure it could "see" my backups.  They were there and readable.

I booted from a recovery disk I'd made last year, and opened Disk Utility.  Going to the Partitioning Tab, I repartitioned the disk.  This has the laudable and desirable ability to "erase" all the data on the disk in just a few minutes, instead of waiting for it to drag itself through all 680+ gigs of data to do that file by file.  MUCH faster, I can tell you!

I renamed the disk Macintosh HD.

Back at the desktop, I went back to the App Store, opened the Purchased Tab and downloaded Mountain Lion again.  That took another authentication of my iCloud account.

Launching the installer, I installed ML on the Macintosh HD.  This had the desired effect of installing the current version, which was 10.8.4.

After the restart into the newly installed system on the Macintosh HD, I again went to the Migration Assistant and again told it to restore from the Time Capsule backup.

THIS time, around two hours later, my system was back to where it was the hour and day it last did a backup before the HD died.  Settings, apps, data, everything, exactly where it was supposed to be, as if the drive had never died.

What was the difference?  Why did it not restore perfectly the first time?

While I cannot attest to this under oath, I'd bet that the reason is that the first restore was done on an upgraded system instead of a fresh, clean install of the latest and greatest.  In my experience, clean installs are best, as even a system freshly installed that is then updated can introduce glitches in subsequent operations, especially a restore.

Don't get me wrong, upgrades and updates are perfectly fine, and I've had machines that were updated and upgraded for sometimes years in between clean installs without so much as a single glitch.  But this attests to the fact that a major operation like a complete system restore is best done with a nice, clean new install.

So, for those with the stick-to-itiveness to still be reading this far in, here is the take away from my experience:

1.  No matter what your chosen Operating System, Mac, Windows or Linux, BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP.  None of this would have been possible if I'd not done a backup.

2.  Backup consistently.  Doing it occasionally is a recipe for the disaster of lost files.  Do it regularly.  Be religious about it.  Set your backup app to do it automatically, and CHECK periodically to ensure that it is still doing it right.

3.  VERIFY your backups.  Periodically, find a file at random on your disk, move it to another location and restore it back to the original location using your regular backup app.  This will ensure that when the inevitable happens, your data is still there to be restored.  If the backup is corrupted or somehow been deleted, you may as well not be doing it at all.

4.  Keep a separate off-site backup.  What will you do if a natural disaster destroys your house?  If you have no off-site backup, you may as well have not bothered to waste your time.

5.  Use the Cloud.  Besides the Apple iCloud offerings, there are other companies which offer Cloud-like functionality to allow you to keep email, photos, music, and so forth stored in their servers, completely away from the possibility of anything which might happen to your computer.  This can reduce considerably the amount of local disk space you may need for your backups, too!

Last and not least, I will always, unless Apple does something immensely stupid, advise my friends, family, and readers to buy Apple products.  I can attest to the fact that their normal, standard offerings for regular users like you and me are robust, easy to use, compatible with most other platforms and offer an easy but powerful backup technology to keep your data safe.

There, Mr. Cook, I've earned the two bits you guys still owe me for advertising your products.

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