Evaluating the Tiger Installation Process
The first time I installed a pre-release version of Tiger, I was worried. Unlike most people, who may be concerned about whether or not their machine will work properly afterward, I had an entirely different worry: who would need my ebook about upgrading if the process works this well? Apple clearly paid a great deal of attention to the installer, which is far better in Tiger than in any previous version of Mac OS X. As a user, I was ecstatic; as an author, not so much.
Now, some 43 installations later (and counting), both my enthusiasm and my anxiety have diminished somewhat. I’ve gotten to know the installer and its trusty sidekick, Setup Assistant, rather intimately. Although the Tiger installation process was full of pleasant surprises, I’m happy – I mean, sorry – to report that there are still plenty of interesting quirks and questions that may encourage you to spend $5 for some expert guidance in the form of my new ebook, "Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger."
Tiger Media — The first surprise is, as Adam noted in his article, that Tiger ships only on DVD. To obtain a CD-based installer, you must return your Tiger DVD to Apple, along with $10, and wait for another package in the mail. I like the simplicity of a single disc that includes the entire installer (and Xcode Tools); it makes the installation go much faster and reduces clutter and confusion. But if you have an otherwise Tiger- compatible machine without a DVD reader, you may not feel as happy about that decision.
Installation Methods — Assuming you’re upgrading an existing installation of Mac OS X, the Installer, as usual, presents you with three installation methods: Upgrade, Archive and Install, and Erase and Install. I tried each of these methods numerous times and under a variety of conditions. Although the default choice, Upgrade, is generally reliable, you can achieve a much cleaner (and slimmer) system with one of the other methods. In the past, I’ve recommended Archive and Install for most people, as it provides a happy medium between the simplicity of Upgrade and the robustness of Erase and Install. I assumed I’d be reiterating the same advice this time (as numerous other Mac Web sites have done). Not so: much to my surprise, I found that Erase and Install – if used in just the right way – offers a significantly faster, more effective, and safer way to get your old stuff into your new system as long as you have good backups. I urge everyone to have at least one, if not two, backups before erasing your hard disk; if you’re uncertain of the best ways to make reliable backups, see my "Take Control of Mac OS Backups" ebook.
The key to this new way of thinking is Migration Assistant (the same tool that Apple provides to facilitate moving files from an old Mac to a new one). You don’t have to run this program separately; all its capabilities are integrated into Setup Assistant under the auspices of "File Transfer." After you perform an Erase and Install and restart, Setup Assistant offers to transfer your files and settings from another Mac or partition. As long as you have a bootable backup of your old system on another partition – or, preferably, a second internal or external hard disk – Migration Assistant does a brilliant job of integrating your old files into Tiger. It does not do a perfect job – some manual copying or reinstallations will still be necessary – but the amount of extra work you’ll need to do is far smaller, and less scary, than what would be required after an Archive and Install. I cover all the details of restoring files (for both methods) in "Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger."
Optional Software — During installation, you can select or deselect several optional software packages. I found Apple’s default choices rather odd. For example, language translations, which take up over 1 GB, are all enabled by default – yet relatively few people need to be able to use Mac OS X in more than one language, and almost no one needs to be able to use it in every available language. Overall, there are fewer options to choose among than under Panther. You cannot, for instance, deselect the BSD Subsystem, as you could in earlier versions of Mac OS X (a good thing, as many third-party applications rely on it).
After the Installation — After installation, Setup Assistant takes you through the usual process of selecting a user name and password (if necessary), configuring your .Mac account (if you have one), registering with Apple, and so on. This portion of the process seemed much clearer than in the past. On your next restart, however, you may discover that important startup items were disabled due to changes in file permission requirements. A more helpful approach would have been to fix these items’ settings automatically, or at least indicate on the first launch of Tiger that they are unavailable and why they were disabled.
Minor Shortcomings — As much improved as the Tiger installer is, I could certainly wish for more-intelligent behavior. For example, both Upgrade and Erase and Install (if followed by File Transfer) leave all your login items (formerly known as startup items) enabled; some of these caused problems for me because they pointed to old applications that are incompatible with Tiger. A better tactic would be for the installer to disable those items – but provide an easy way to turn them back on, one by one. Similarly, File Transfer copies some applications and preference panes to your new system but not the kernel extensions they frequently rely on, leaving you with half-installed software that doesn’t work, but no clues as to why it doesn’t work. Although the installer helpfully warns you about some of these (Virex, for example), in most cases it does not. And I encountered some interface oddities, especially in the File Transfer portion of Setup Assistant. For instance, it’s not clear that "partition" means "partition or external hard disk," and the screen where you choose individual components of your old system to transfer doesn’t provide enough information to make informed decisions.
You Can Take Control — On the whole, the Tiger installer still gives me relatively warm and fuzzy feelings, these few gripes notwithstanding. Even at its best, though, it leaves plenty of questions: What steps should I take to prepare for an upgrade? Which upgrade method is best for me? Should I partition my hard drive first, and if so, how should I do it? What files do I need to copy after Archive and Install? How do I fix the things that don’t seem to work afterward? You can find the answers to these and many other questions in "Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger" – an 87-page ebook that details everything you need to know about the upgrade process, with free updates as more information becomes available.