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Articles: My Experience with Lion - Part 2

While I like some of the features, I do not like the changes to Spaces. It is now too easy to accidentally invoke a screen shift while difficult to drag items from one to another. I also find it increasingly obvious that this is not really ready for prime time and one should wait for 10.7.1, at the earliest. Since I can't use Eudora, I discovered I really hate AppleMail. I am seriously thinking about blowing off Lion and returning to SNL myself.

Recently I had my first repair call for a OS X Lion installation gone bad. Recovery from this is much worse than I imagined. First the warning:


Even a TimeMachine backup is not sufficient because full recovery from them is very difficult. You want to be able to boot off of your backup drive and clone it all back, killing Lion completely.

This client had broken all the rules. He left his startup items in place (System Preferences, Accounts, Login Items) instead of deleting them all. Each restart automatically launched incompatible apps, causing crashes. He did not do a Repair Disk and Repair Permissions with Disk Utility first.

He did this on his production Mac Pro, without a clone backup. All of this made his Mac's Murphy chip glow hot with excitement. If he had the clone, the chip might have let his installation succeed, but due to the other factors he would still have had problems. Without a clone it is impossible to return to Snow Leopard without erasing the drive before installation, and since TimeMachine had already run, all he could have recovered were his documents.

Lion installs an emergency recovery partition on your drive that contains a copy of Disk Utility and a minimal system. You access this by holding down the Option key at startup and choosing it from the icons that immediately appear. At the moment that is the ONLY repair program available; DiskWarrior will need an upgrade to work on a Lion system.

Oh, the icing on the turd: his drive was 98% full. You should never let a startup drive go beyond 80% because the rest of the space is needed by virtual memory for swapfiles, printing for temporary spool files, caches and the like. I was able to get him down to 92% full, which helped, and set him about clearing off the rest of the space hogs to an external drive. Then I had him go buy another drive for SuperDuper and get that running. I believe, but am not certain, that SuperDuper's latest version is compatible. (2.6.2 is not.)

Disaster story

Speaking of that Murphy chip, another client has suffered hard drive failure on a production iMac with NO backups. This is not repairable due to actual disk damage. I am able to rescue files with DiskWarrior, but that particular iMac does not use industry-standard drives (special heat sensor built onto the drive) so I could NOT keep the old one for later recovery (which I had started to do using DiskWarrior). To fix under warranty Apple wants the dead drive back immediately as an exchange or they want $340 cash for the new one. They give only 48 hours slack for the old drive to be returned. Mac shops do not keep extras of this drive in stock. Oh, and she had deadlines to meet. Those deadlines are now dead.

Most of you already know this and are doing it now, but for those of you who are not, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Would you feel badly if your Mac woke up dead and you lost every document on it, including your email, web bookmarks, Documents folder, iTunes music, etc.? Some people only use their Macs for Web browsing and email and keep the email on the server (Gmail, for instance) so they could lose their data without worry.

Do you use your Mac for production? Could you do without it for a week? With a clone backup you can boot from the clone and finish critical work before taking your Mac in for repair, or move it to a 2nd Mac, if you have one. That 2nd Mac would need to be able to boot from the same drive, impossible if your main Mac is Intel and the other one is PPC. You might have problems launching applications from the clone on the 2nd Mac if the registration is tied to the machine (Adobe is the killer here).

Do you have a lot of documents you do not want to lose, but can do without your Mac while it's being repaired? A TimeMachine backup is sufficient for you. A daily clone is much more convenient because a TimeMachine backup will still require you to reinstall your applications. If you have CS5 purchased as an upgrade from an earlier CS version, you will need the older disk, or at least the serial number, to install the upgrade. Can you find it?

The answer for all Mac user except the extremely casual user cited above is this: Go buy an external drive now. If you want to combine TM and Clone on the same drive, it should be a terabyte, partitioned into two volumes. Check your internal drive now - how much data is on it? Highlight it with a click and type Command-I. It will tell you the capacity of the disk, how much data is on it now, and space remaining. If you have a 500Gb or 1Tb internal drive but less than 100Gb full, a 500 will do you.

The clone volume can be 200Gb with the other one serving TimeMachine, which does not delete older versions of documents, needs more space. Powered drives are usually 1Tb and are cheaper than unpowered portable 500 drives, but if you have a laptop and want to take your backup with you, the portable is better. Be aware that both could be stolen! Better to leave the backup drive at home or have ANOTHER cloned backup stored elsewhere. Hardcore paranoids rotate backup clones each week, keeping one in a safety deposit box.

It's your data. DriveSavers charges $1500 and up to recover a dead drive. How lucky do you feel?

Michael Pearce is a friend of PowerMax and can be found at
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