The system’s babysitters?

I was reading this article on Macworld yesterday — Mac users say Yosemite 10.10.1 update did nothing to fix Wi-Fi — and a comment in particular got my attention, by user “BlueToronto”:

Most issues, if not every single one, that people are having with OS X updates & upgrades would be eliminated if you did a clean install. i.e. back up their Mac hard drive, initialize/erase it, re-install from scratch a clean OS X 10.10 from a bootable USB flash drive installer, then copy data back from backup.

DO NOT use Migration Assistant utility, as it brings back corrupt preferences and settings. (Apple includes it to make it easier to restore your data, but it brings with it a slew of issues.)
Hard drives, with age, get corrupt zeroes & ones. You want to eliminate corrupt files by not re-introducing them to your new clean Mac.
Yes, you will have to re-type passwords for wifi networks and email and instant messenger applications, but it’s a small price to pay.

I’ve never experienced any of the issues people complain about in the support forums, with a brand new Mac bought at the Apple Store. Why? Because they have a brand new clean installation on them without previous corruption.
(Now granted, if you buy a brand new Mac, then use Migration Assistant from your old Mac you’re replacing, some issues will still crop up because of corruption from your old Mac.).

Same thing with iOS8.
I had clients complaining that the iOS8 upgrade made their iPhone 5 & 5S virtually unusable.
But once I did a Restore Update (after backing up their iPhones first), wiped out the old data & initialized the iPhone’s flash drive, and installed fresh iOS8, all the issues, including speed issues, went away.

I had clients with mouths wide open in disbelief after seeing their Mac computers and iPhones/iPads working like brand new, nice & fast, no issues!

As someone who has done a lot of freelance tech support in the past, I do understand this point of view and I do agree that it’s possibly the best practice to follow if you want to keep your system tidy and your Mac in working order.

Your Mac is a tool, and like any other tool it works at its best if it’s properly maintained and taken care of. Yet, more and more often lately I’m wondering if perhaps the burden on users’ shoulders isn’t getting a bit too much to bear.

Back up the whole main drive, reformat it, perform a clean install of OS X Yosemite, copy back the data from the backup manually to avoid any issues… These are all sensible steps to follow, but part of me can’t help thinking: It’s 2014 — shouldn’t an operating system be smarter than that? Do we have to proceed like we used to do in previous decades, always babysitting systems and machines — the same systems that are supposed to make our lives easier?

I have approximately 350 GB worth of data on my MacBook Pro’s main drive at the moment. To upgrade to Yosemite following the ‘safe route’ outlined above means losing at least one day. It’s a slow, time-consuming, tedious procedure. Again, I agree it’s the most sensible from a pragmatic standpoint, but I feel this should be more like a last-resort, paranoiac scenario. Instead, especially with all OS X versions following Snow Leopard, this has become the best way to avoid surprises.

I don’t know if this kind of preventive measures before performing a system upgrade are needed now more than ever because Mac OS X has got worse (i.e. in the QA department) or simply more complex (therefore with more underlying bugs), or because the last releases of Mac OS X support many more Mac models and configurations than before; but while I previously felt comfortable upgrading to a newer Mac OS X version without having up-to-date backups or having to worry about possible side-effects, since OS X 10.7 Lion I’ve grown increasingly careful and wary. And I still haven’t upgraded to Yosemite because I’m really worried it could negatively affect the good performance I’m currently experiencing under Mavericks on my mid-2009 MacBook Pro.

What is worrying me with Yosemite more than previous OS X versions is that now, for the first time, a lot of people I know who already do a great job at maintaining their Macs and generally at babysitting their systems have experienced some issues after doing a simple upgrade to Yosemite (no clean install or anything). And the simple upgrade — open the Mac App Store, download Yosemite, and install — should be the way things ‘just work.’

Instead, some well-optimised Macs after Yosemite have been having serious issues with Wi-Fi connectivity, a marked decrease in battery life, a progressive performance worsening of the whole system after a few hours of usage (OS X getting more and more sluggish), random freezes and hangs… Very few people I know have told me their upgrade to Yosemite has been completely hassle-free, and a friend who said everything was alright told me yesterday that the update to OS X 10.10.1 actually screwed up his Mac’s Wi-Fi performance.

Having measures in place and good practice to protect our data is the least we can do today, and not having at least a Time Machine backup is just reckless and inexcusable. But I’m still convinced that one truly innovative thing would be to have more reliable, less finicky, operating systems’ installation processes. Users who have perfectly working Macs should be able to just click ‘update’ and wait for the process to complete without biting their nails in trepidation. But most importantly, users shouldn’t have to approach their computers as system administrators. It shouldn’t be up to the user to prepare the best possible ground for the system to update and work — the system should be smart enough to install properly, or at least to detect conflicts or data corruption during the installation process, alert the user about any problem encountered, and ideally point the user to a possible course of action to remedy the problem.

(I’ve focused on OS X Yosemite a lot in this article, but this applies to all current operating systems out there, whose installation/update procedures and maintenance are probably even more convoluted than OS X’s. I know a few Windows users who were basically forced to either reinstall their current system or upgrade to a newer version of Windows simply because one of Windows’ weakest elements — the Registry — got corrupted in a way that was beyond simple repairs or fixes. And my own recent experience with Android has left the impression that it’s a system that needs constant care and attention on the user’s part to guarantee a decent performance and user experience.)

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!