Preparing For The Inevitable: An OS X Update

With some of the major (albeit, predicted) changes to OS X and iOS announced on Monday, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited. In fact, I'm so revved up for some of the updates, I'm frantically taking inventory, cataloging and cleaning up my MacBook Pro (and iPhone/iPad) so when it comes time to make the switch, it will be as seamless as possible. So how does one prepare for a major change like a major revision to an operating system? Read on.

The Backup

Despite my best efforts, let me just say that my OCD doesn't always extend to the contents of my hard drive. Which is unfortunate because when you're preparing for a major upgrade to it's operating system, the best thing you can do before starting the install is what should happen right before it: the backup.

My hard drive capacity is 320GB, with 183GB of available space left. Discounting the fact that my current operating system consumes about 8GB of space on my hard drive currently, that leaves 128GB of files that I need to back up. No small task when you consider the lack of precision that Time Machine on OS X gives you (translation: there is no precision). So what's a nerd to do? Well, for one thing, it's high time I took a look at the massive amount of crap I've been storing on my HDD and decide if it's something really worth keeping on my laptop. I have an array of three external hard disks attached to my home network which I can use to store non-essential files instead of lugging them around with me all the time. (How many archived copies of my resume does a guy really need, after all?) Tax files from 2 years ago don't need to follow me around like a lost puppy - they'll get alone just fine with a local copy on my network and one in cloud storage.

My next target was the obvious folders: Music and Pictures. I've recently switched to Spotify and I love it. I'm really wondering why I've been able to survive this long with having 14GB of music I rarely listened to on my MBP and iPhone. It became such a problem, I had to dump everything into my iTunes Match storage so I could keep all my music with me on my iPhone. With the amount of apps I had on my phone, keeping the files locally was not an option. I decided that enough was enough and I backed up my Music directory on my network storage and then deleted it from my hard drive. I justified it this way:

14.96GB iTunes library with 3,524 files running 6.4 days (153.6 hours) of playtime. The average cost of a track in my library is $0.99. This equates to a cost of $3488.76 for my entire library or $233.21 per GB, which in turn equates to $22.71 per hour of listening. Oh, and don't forget I already spent $25 for a year of iTunes Match ($0.002 per day for those of you counting)

A Spotify subscription is $9.99 per month ($119.88 per year). Over two years I will have spent $239.76, which is only a few dollars more than what it cost me per GB of my library. My average listening time per day on Spotify is roughly 5 hours. Assuming 720 hours in a month (based on 30 days), my Spotify subscription costs me $0.069 per hour, based on the number of available hours to listen against the number of hours I actually spend using the service. Now factor in the fact I have an unlimited number of tracks at my disposal versus being limited to 15GB and the amount of funds I have available to spend at any given time in the iTunes Store, plus the cost of annual cloud storage for the music files I "own". I think you can see why Spotify is a much more economical alternative.

With regard to Pictures, since I take and store a massive amount of photos with my dSLR, I always seem to have a space issue. Recently, I've offloaded a bunch of RAW files to my network-based storage in order to free up some space on my laptop. Any files older than 2011 were archived and stored on an external hard drive for later reference. Any junk RAW files that I won't use for processing are immediately deleted upon import, saving me tons of space up front. This resulted in me saving almost 10GB of space just in photos.

All this downsizing is necessary to ensure that when I do back up my important files from my laptop, I'm only copying essential files. Properly performed backups can take quite a while and at the rate i use my laptop, I can't afford to have it sit for a day on my desk while it copies files. At most, I can leave it overnight to run a backup routine. Every byte translates into time, which can work against me or with me, depending on how tidy I keep my file system.

The Clean Install

The reason I will be performing a backup is because this time around, I'll be opting to perform a clean installation of OS X. As with any operating system installation, there is always the ability to "install in place" or perform a "clean installation". An install in place usually consists of the installer script running an archive utility to crunch down the essential documents and applications into a folder for your later retrieval, while upgrading the files of the operating system. This is handy if you want to be lazy and don't wish to perform a full or clean installation of the operating system, which performs a reformat (sometimes a repartition) of your hard drive before installing the files of the operating system.
, The advantage of performing a clean installation is that you're essentially restoring your computer to how it was when it left the factory - no third-party applications or files - just a fresh install of the operating system, albeit, updated to the latest version of whatever OS you're choosing to install. The downside to that is the previous paragraph - keeping your file system in tidy order, purging files you don't really need and backing up the essential stuff you don't want to loose. This way, when you do a clean installation of the upgraded OS, you'll just need to copy back your files and reinstall your applications. (It's not as much work as you think - and oh what a performance boost you'll get!)

The original OS my MacBook Pro came with was OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). When I installed Lion, I was so eager to get it working, I did an install in place, rather than a clean install. Because of this, I've been noticing some glaring performance deficiencies in the past few weeks that has me clamoring for a fresh installation of Mountain Lion. I can't wait to get the original performance of my i5 processor back, minus all the crap that's been written, rewritten, overwritten, and rewritten again in file one on top of another. Ugh, just thinking about it give my brain a performance deficiency.

Cleaning Up For iOS6

I try a lot of apps for my iPhone and iPad. That's the understatement of the year, actually. I've been in a frenzy lately to try new services and applications for iOS and I haven't really had time to clean up my iPhone and iPad properly. Without taking the time to make sure all unnecessary files are removed from my devices prior to upgrading to iOS 6, the restore of those files from iCloud will be guaranteed to take much longer, since it has to restore each application and any backed up data from my iCloud account on to my device - wirelessly.

Usually the upgrade to the next iteration of iOS is pretty painless. Apple is pretty good about passing on delta updates to the existing OS when it's a dot-dot release. When it comes to a full iOS upgrade, Apple will make one last backup of your data to iCloud (if you have it - otherwise you'll have to restore files from your local Mac or PC backups), downloads the installer for the new OS, runs a bootloader to launch the install after a forced restart - all which essentially re-flashes the entire software contents of your device, be it an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. After that's complete, it will then ask you to sign into iCloud to retrieve your backed up data, or connect it to your Mac or PC to restore data from a local backup (if you choose that method or if you don't have an iCloud account).

If you're like me and have the basic iCloud storage allotment of 5GBs, you'll notice it gets eaten up pretty quickly with apps and any associated data, should you choose to have that backed up as well. With the amount of apps I'm testing and trailing, it's important that I keep my data cleaned up at all times, so I don't run out of room for my more important backups of email and essential applications I use on a daily basis. I managed to do this very successfully on my iPad, bringing a backup size of over 1.4GB down to several hundred megabytes, freeing up a ton of space on my already crowded iCloud account. Put simply, the pickier I am about what gets backed up, the less will be send to the cloud, which is less time it takes to restore after an upgrade.

Bottom Line

I know it seems like a lot of work just for a simple upgrade to a computer operating system. Sure it would be a lot easier just to install it as an upgrade, but the performance and user experience I'll achieve will be worth 10 times the effort I put into it.