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I Don't Think We're in Kansas Anymore

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Life isn't as simple as it used to be in the Mac world. A few weeks ago, I decided the time had come for some fall cleaning on my Mac. A few things were happening on my hard disk that I couldn't quite explain (disk accesses at strange times, primarily), and I wanted to install System 7.5, a SCSI Manager 4.3-savvy driver, and generally fix things up. I'm not a fan of optimization software since I've found that in many cases, it doesn't make much difference (but for those of you who like to optimize twice a day, more power to you - keep good backups). After a year or so, I prefer to reformat my hard drive, eliminating any nastiness that might be lurking at a low level and eliminating fragmentation in the restore process.

Backing up -- This was the first time I've reformatted my current hard disk, an APS 1.2 GB drive with an Quantum mechanism. I back up to an APS DAT drive with Retrospect 2.1, and I've retrieved files from the tapes on ten or twenty occasions, so I'm fairly confident of my backup scheme. Nonetheless, relying on a single backup scares me, so first thing in the morning I backed up the important folders from my files partition onto other hard disks on our network, and it was a good move. More on that later. I also copied my entire system partition to my Centris 660AV's internal 230 MB drive, which I mainly use as scratch space, so that I'd have a familiar boot environment once I'd reformatted the main drive. Luckily, while copying, I thought to copy my entire Retrospect folder to the internal drive as well; if I hadn't I would have not only had to load Retrospect from master floppy again, but I would have had to rebuild the catalog file to my latest backup tape. Not good, and if I had read the Retrospect manual more carefully first, I would have seen Dantz's warning to copy catalog files before reformatting.

Reformatting -- With everything completely backed up (this took a few hours all told, I'm paranoid about backups), the time came to reformat the disk. I chose Drive7 from Casa Blanca Works because it has received good reviews and supports SCSI Manager 4.3, which wasn't true of the version of La Cie's Silverlining I'd been using (and I hate playing their "update of the hour" game). Using Drive7 to reformat the drive was trivial, or at least it would have been if Drive7 hadn't crashed while trying to close the Silverlining driver. Thankfully, Drive7's manual mentioned that specific problem, and its solution - turning the external drive on after running Drive7 and then rescanning the SCSI bus before formatting - worked perfectly. Still, I had a brief moment of panic, which would have been worse if I hadn't seen that comment in the Drive7 manual.

The formatting process was a little strange. Since Drive7 supports the SCSI Manager 4.3's disconnect-reconnect feature, I clicked on the Format button, answered the usual "Are you really sure you want to do this?" dialogs, and then Drive7 issued the AsynchFormat command and let me work again. The strange part was that not only did Drive7 allow me to work in it or in other programs (something that's never been possible before while formatting), but the drive didn't seem to be accessing at all. The access light was off, the APS SCSI Sentry's lights indicating SCSI activity were off, and I couldn't hear the disk doing anything. After about five or ten minutes, I chickened out and called John Catalano of Casa Blanca Works, who assured me that this process could take a while sometimes. Of course, about a minute after he answered, the format finished and all was well.

Partitioning -- Next was the partitioning process. I have four partitions on my hard drive, a 20 MB test partition that doesn't mount by default, a 250 MB boot partition, a 250 MB files partition, and a large partition for applications that takes up whatever space is left. It seems reasonable to me, and I used this scheme (minus the test partition) even back when my hard drive was only 105 MB. I still had John on the phone as I started to partition the drive and he got a little nervous as I began having trouble, mentioning that he doesn't like the interface for partitioning and plans to have the programmers change it. We chatted briefly, and then I hung up to concentrate on the task at hand.

The Drive7 partitioning interface uses a rectangle to represent the disk and four smaller, resizable rectangles inside the rectangle represented my four partitions. To resize a partition, I shrunk its corresponding resizable rectangle (you can only decrease the size, since there is no free space inside the main rectangle). When I shrunk one partition, another partition increased in size to account for the size change. There is no way to predict which partition will change, and sometimes more than one changes.

This interface stinks. I even went so far as to reformat the drive and repartition with Silverlining, hoping to get Drive7 to take over the partition sizes (it didn't work). I then tried the same thing with a program called DriveForce that comes with Microtech drives, but DriveForce wouldn't let me click on the radio button for setting custom partitions. So, I reformatted one more time with Drive7, and this time went about the partitioning process meticulously, throwing out the Drive7 Prefs file (which stores your mistakes) each time I screwed up. Eventually, by resizing the bottom partition to approximately 250 MB, the second to last one to approximately 270 MB, and the third from last one to about 20 MB, I succeeded in sizing my partitions. Drive7's partitioning graphical interface should be junked in favor of that old standby, typing numbers in edit boxes, which would have taken about a minute.

Restoring files -- Once I'd managed to reformat and partition the disk, the time came to restore from backup. As I said earlier, I'd remembered to put Retrospect and its files on my internal scratch disk, so restoring was easy, although it also wasn't all that fast even with Retrospect 2.1's SCSI Manager 4.3 capabilities, because I had a lot of data to restore. After restoring, I started to poke around in some of the restored folders since I'm paranoid, and I don't trust even well-respected programs like Retrospect to do exactly what I want.

It was a good thing I did, since I noticed a couple of important folders that contained different numbers of files. When I checked them against my secondary backups on my other Macs, I discovered that Retrospect, like all good computer programs, had done exactly what I'd told it to do, which was not exactly what I wanted. Like many people who use Retrospect, I suspect, I have a custom selector that avoids backing up certain files that are pointless to save (temporary files, automatically generated log files, etc.). Although I did not indeed want these files backed up every night, I did want some of them backed up once (I had failed to turn off my custom selector on the first backup session on that tape), and I also wanted the disk restored to exactly the same state before my reformat process. Luckily, my secondary backups retained those files exactly as I wanted them, so I didn't lose anything. The moral of the story is: Be paranoid about backups, it's safer that way.

Installing System 7.5 -- With the entire disk back the way I wanted it (aside from aliases and various preferences that always get hosed in a restore process), I set about installing System 7.5. First, I installed a copy on my 20 MB test volume, since I like being able to boot that volume with a clean System. I had no problems with that installation, so I installed a clean copy (reportedly a good idea with 7.5) on my main boot volume. If you press Command-Shift-K in the main installer window, the installer gives you the option to Install New System Folder, which then renames your old System Folder to Previous System Folder.

In the past, I've always recommended that people install for any Macintosh, but with System 7.5, I give up. If you select the "For Any Macintosh" option in the installer, it installs tons of garbage that won't even run on a specific desktop Mac, including all sorts of PowerBook-specific extensions. Sorting through the mess simply is no longer worth the effort (in the eventuality that you might use your hard disk to boot another Macintosh). It's also definitely worth customizing to avoid installing files you'll throw out immediately anyway, such as (in my case) Easy Access.

Rebooting with that copy of System 7.5 worked fine, as I expected it to. The next trick was to move the contents of my old System Folder over to my new one. My standard technique is to open the old Apple Menu Items folder and the new one, then to copy everything from the new one into the old one, replacing anything that should be replaced, like the old Chooser. Once the older files have been replaced, I copy the entire contents of the old folder back to the new one, which transfers all of my old files back to where they'll load. I then repeat this process with all of the folders in the System Folder and with the items in the System Folder itself.

Removing System 7.5 -- The theory is all fine and nice, but the next hour of inexplicable crashes in normally stable applications worried me. I ran conflict tests in Conflict Catcher, but since my crashes weren't reproducible, it couldn't help. I tried reducing the set of extensions to those I consider necessary, such as QuicKeys and Super Boomerang, but nothing I did made much difference. I couldn't figure out what was causing the crashes, and since it was now closing in on midnight, I felt tired and crabby. In a fit of pique, I decided that other than Apple Guide (which I personally won't use much, even though I think it's extremely cool), I had all the new System 7.5 features that I wanted in System 7 Pro. So, in a bold move, I rebooted from my internal drive, erased my entire boot partition, and restored the entire silly thing from my DAT backup once again. A few small tweaks later, and my Centris 660AV was working as I expected it to, with no weird crashes. Life was good, and I'd only spent about 17 hours on the entire process.

Lessons learned -- Why am I telling you all this? Several reasons. First, I did some things right and made some mistakes, and I hope my experiences and techniques might be of use to others. Second, there are times when discretion is the better part of valor, and for me, fighting with System 7.5 was unnecessary. I don't need the features it boasts over System 7 Pro, and I do need to use my Macintosh, so I think I made the right decision in immediately falling back to System 7 Pro rather than putting up with crashes. As I upgrade my extensions and control panels, I expect that whatever caused the crashes will go away, and at some point, I'll try upgrading again. In contrast, Tonya's Duo 230 hasn't experienced System 7.5 crashing problems, and my SE/30 fileserver has been running System 7.5 constantly for several months without a single unexplained crash.

Third and finally, as much as we'd like to think our beloved Macintosh is still an elegant and simple machine without obscure quirks and hassles, it just isn't entirely true. That's not to say that the Macintosh still isn't the best or most elegant microcomputer out there, but it's significantly more complex than ever before. I fully admit that I knew what I was getting into, and that it was a complicated procedure, but even considering the quantities of data I was moving and the safeguards I employed, 17 hours from start to finish is a lot of time. I don't regret that time, since I learned a lot and succeeded in my primary objective of installing a SCSI Manager 4.3-savvy driver, but still...

As a postscript to this article, and to my trials and tribulations, I did finally track down one irritating occurrence. I had assigned custom icons to the partitions of my disk, but when I rebooted with extensions on, I'd only see the generic hard disk icons that I specified in Drive7. It turns out that if I use Drive7's MountCache control panel to create a driver level cache, my custom icons disappear. When I booted without extensions the custom icons generally came back, but it took me a while to make the connection. I'm not all that attached to the custom icons, and since a 512K driver-level cache improves my disk performance (currently) by 122 percent, I think I'll stick with the faster disk and generic icons.


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