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Fixing Find My Mac

Although I have numerous Macs buried at various levels of strata in my Midden Heap of Antiquity, I have only one that is running Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: the 27-inch mid-2011 iMac that I purchased last summer. Lion, in fact, was my main reason for buying it; my main machine before the purchase was an older aluminum iMac, a 24-inch Core 2 Duo model that was capable of running Lion. But I wanted to keep that one around to run 10.6 Snow Leopard and, with it, all the Rosetta software that Lion was promising to kick quietly to the curb.

When I got the new machine, though, Lion was not yet out: the new iMac came with Snow Leopard installed, which made (or should have made) migrating to it from my older iMac a snap. As it turned out, though, the Migration Assistant failed repeatedly with both FireWire and Ethernet connections. Instead, for some reason I still don’t understand, the Migration Assistant was able to work only via an AirPort connection, so it took me a couple of days and a few false starts before my new iMac was ready to rock and roll. This all happened right around the time that Apple made the GM (“golden master”) version of Lion available to developers for download.

This, in fact, seemed perfect timing: I could see what Lion was like on a Mac that was not a test machine but one that was configured with my usual working environment. Fortunately, the GM release installed without problem, and I was able to try out Lion with all my apps and workflows, but still switch back to my comfortable Snow Leopard iMac at need (such as when I wanted to use my copies of FileMaker 8 or Word 2004 or Photoshop CS 1). When the official release version of Lion came along a few days later, I discovered that the GM I had installed really was the same version, so I had no reason to reinstall: I was already running the real deal, with all the quirks and foibles of a point-zero Mac OS X release.

Why am I taking you on this meander down memory lane? Because of a problem I encountered when Mac OS X 10.7.2 appeared several months later, bringing with it support for Find My Mac via iCloud (see “Meanwhile, Back at the Lion Ranch…,” 15 October 2011). The problem was this: the Find My Mac option in the iCloud preference pane was dimmed, with a note saying that I needed to update the recovery system. What’s more, the Update button that accompanied this warning launched Software Update, which frustratingly returned with a message that all of my software was up to date.

I figured that my somewhat abortive migration from my older iMac and my subsequent install of the GM developer release of Lion had somehow bollixed things up, but I didn’t want to spend the time right then tracking the problem down and possibly having to back up and reinstall everything on my new iMac. After all, aside from the inability to use Find My Mac (a feature that is almost useless for me because my desktop Mac never goes anywhere anyway), everything else continued to function well.

Then, right around the same time, Apple released Lion Recovery Update 1.0, and I thought, “Aha! This could fix that Find My Mac problem.” After all, it was an update for the recovery system itself, which is exactly what the error message was telling me I needed. But it didn’t work. The dimmed message and tantalizing-but-useless Update button remained in my iCloud preference pane. It was annoying, but had no real impact on my day-to-day use of the iMac, and I quickly forgot about it.

I remembered it recently, though, when Apple released OS X 10.7.3 (see “Mac OS X 10.7.3 Fixes Bugs, Improves Lion Server,” 1 February 2012). I dutifully installed the update and then I thought to check whether this version finally fixed the problem. After all, it was an update, and Find My Mac wanted an update; maybe it was this update for which Find My Mac yearned. But it wasn’t. I still had the dimmed message, and the accompanying Update button still mocked me.

Finally, last week Apple released EFI firmware updates for certain recent Macs including my mid-2011 iMac (see “Firmware Updates for iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro,” 24 February 2012). “Aha!” I thought. Maybe what my iMac really wanted was a firmware update to fix the problem. So I installed it, and, lo and behold… nothing. Find My Mac was still missing in action.

“Enough is enough,” I thought (well, there may have been a couple of expletives mixed in). I was going to get to the bottom of the problem! I did what I should have done long before and undertook one of the simplest of troubleshooting exercises: I copied the error message and did a Web search for it.

Color me chagrined: the problem was a well-known one, and one that had been long solved. The top hit on my Google search for the phrase “recovery system update required” took me to a post on Apple’s discussion boards from October 2011, and, in it, the solution to my unfindable Mac issue.

Here’s what I had to do: Reboot my iMac with both the Command and R keys held down so it would boot into the Recovery partition that Lion installs on the Mac. Once booted, I had to run the Disk Utility program included in the recovery system and have it check and repair my system drive. I did so: Disk Utility found one small problem (a one-block file allocation mismatch) and fixed it.

That wasn’t quite all. I still needed to download and reinstall the Lion Recovery Update that I had installed months previously. Interestingly, though the download was hundreds of megabytes in size, when the time came to install it, only a few dozen kilobytes actually had to be installed. Once that installation completed and my iMac rebooted, Find My Mac was finally enabled in my iCloud preferences. The entire fix took about an hour from start to finish.

What did I learn? Nothing that I didn’t already know, but I repeat it here because it’s an important lesson I relearned: when you see an error message and you aren’t sure what it means, it only takes a few moments to do a Web search for that message. In a large number of cases, you’ll find others bedeviled with the same problem who have found a solution.

What kept me from doing this earlier was what I think of as toothache terror: one’s imagined fear of the dentist (that is, my imagined fear of having to back up, reinitialize, and reinstall all my software on my iMac) can keep you suffering from a toothache far longer than is necessary, and the trip to the dentist usually ends up being much less unpleasant than the weeks of pain you spend avoiding it.

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