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Waiting for Leopard Book VI: A Preinstallation Checkup

Across the world as I write this, tens of thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — of copies of Leopard are on their merry way to Mac users. The tech press, and even some mainstream news outlets such as The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, have had the Golden Master versions in their soaking hands for at least a week and have begun to publish reviews.

Regular people, however, unless you were lucky enough to get your copy early (and I’m thinking in terms of a legal copy here), will have to wait for your copy to arrive at your home or office. Or you’ll have to take a shopping trip to the appropriate dealer, or, if you like, attend one of the all-nighters at an Apple Store.

Regardless, before you sit down and install Leopard on your Macs, you’ve got to take a time out and make sure that you are ready for this major upgrade. While a Mac operating system installation is nowhere near as dangerous and troublesome as it can be on the Windows platform, don’t assume it’s seamless. Even if you’ve read that in the paper, or online, don’t take such claims seriously.

Reporters who were favored by Apple to get early access to Leopard also got at least one Mac preconfigured with Leopard. The computers on which they’re installing 10.5 are probably carefully maintained, and the chances that things will go badly aren’t terribly high.

If your Mac has lived a hard live, however, serving you day and night — and sometimes on the weekend — you will not fare well if you throw caution to the wind and go for the gold. Instead, take the time to assess your situation, and consider the following:

  1. A recent backup of your entire startup drive is essential. This doesn’t mean you’re in danger of losing a drive during the installation, but you can’t afford to take chances. In fact, if you don’t have a spare drive around, this may be the time to buy one, since you’ll also need one to run Time Machine.
  2. Check third-party software for compatibility with Leopard. You may have heard that such disk repair utilities as DiskWarrior and TechTool Pro may require updates, and there are a lot of other applications that have yet to be fully tested with the final version of Leopard. So if you depend on your Mac for your livelihood, proceed with caution. As I suggested in yesterday’s column, there’s nothing wrong in waiting.
  3. Let me remind you again that, as with all Intel-based Macs, Classic is history, which means those older Mac applications you’ve depended on all this time won’t work. I wouldn’t take the possibility of a third party solution too seriously, as it may only be useful for experimentation rather than reliable productivity.
  4. You might also want to take stock of all your files, and see if there are things you just don’t need, such as photos you want to discard because they didn’t turn out properly. If you have lots of versions of the same software installers, you’ll want to stick with the latest, assuming that’s what you’re using. Just be careful about what you trash, because you don’t want to toss out something you may need later, unless you have a backup that you can use to recover from your mistake.
  5. Before installing Leopard, run Disk Utility from the Leopard installer DVD. That way, you can fix minor directory damage, and stop the installation process if serious problems are found that can’t be repaired.
  6. Consider your installation strategies. If you have a fairly new Mac that hasn’t had tons of third-party software added, a simple upgrade installation might actually succeed. In fact, most times it does. But if you have installed a lot of stuff, you might want to consider the Archive & Install option, which survives essentially unchanged in Leopard. You can choose the option to preserve your settings, which should speed up the process of getting back to work, although third party software, such as peripheral drivers and input devices, will likely have to be reinstalled.
  7. If you’re Mac has been in service for a while, and you have a bootable backup, you might just want to erase your startup drive and begin using Leopard with a clean slate. Here, Apple’s Migration Assistant can grab the files from your backup drive and get you running in good order, but it may take an hour or two to transfer your data.
  8. After installing Leopard, take the time to check everything to make sure all your applications run properly. If you need to install third-party software, now’s the time to do it, one at a time, with a little time for testing between each step, until the process is complete.

That concludes eight reasons to proceed with caution in setting up Leopard. Whether you follow my suggestions or someone else’s, you really don’t want to confront this process without a battle plan.

In case you’re wondering, here’s my strategy:

For my 17-inch MacBook Pro, I will use the Archive & Install method, as outlined above. I have only one printer driver, for a Lexmark 780c color laser, which will have to be added once the installation is complete. My Power Mac G5 Quad has two internal drives, and I’m going to erase one of the drives and install Leopard fresh, and, as outlined in step six, use the Migration Assistant to restore my files. This computer has had heavy usage not only for writing, but as an audio editing and streaming station, so it’s high time that I clean things up.

You’ll get the full story of my close encounters with Leopard in this weekend’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter, ahead of posting on this site, so maybe you’ll want to subscribe.

And, once your installation is complete, I’ll be ready for your comments.