This Geek Finally Upgraded Her Computer


As a rule, I wait a couple of weeks after the release of an upgrade (and sometimes even an update) to apply it to my computer and other devices. I like to let the developers work out the bugs, and I don’t like being a guinea pig for them. I rely too heavily on all my computer to be down for too long. Are you familiar with the law of unintended consequences?

computer operating system feels like this old car

Yosemite for Mac was released in October of 2014, and after a couple of weeks, I downloaded it in anticipation of installing it and running it immediately. The previous two upgrades had been without issue. As the installer kicked off, I got an error message that Mac OS 10.10 could not be installed on this drive.  I tried a couple more times, then hit the web.  I was led to examine the partition scheme, which, as it turns out, was showing FAT (MS-DOS). This version of Apple’s operating system was only going to install on a partition scheme of GUID.

Say What??

How did this happen? There are a couple of possibilities. According to Apple’s website, some Intel MacBooks around the time of the manufacture of mine shipped with the partition scheme of FAT (MS-DOS). But this hard drive isn’t the original hard drive, so that’s not the likely explanation. This hard drive was purchased for use in a Windows 7 machine; in fact, it lived there for a month or so, till the motherboard in that computer went kaput. I moved it into the MacBook and I’ve lived happily ever since. So the more likely explanation for the partition scheme is that it was originally a Windows drive.

Still, it took almost two years for me to pull the trigger and make this happen, and I really don’t know why. What I do know is that when I did set out to get it done, once I got the process mapped out, it still seemed intimidating, because I was nervous about something going wrong and having to do a clean install and get all my programs installed again. Besides, having put it off this long, once I got the process mapped out, I needed to wait till my son’s Eagle Scout application was turned in. I knew I could preserve the paperwork, but I needed to be able to pull it up and work on it as needed, and I can’t do that while the machine is in the process of being wiped clean.

Let’s Do This

So the application is in the hands of the man who will convene the Board of Review, and it was then time to bite the bullet and get it done. Now, I have 90 GB of just pictures. I have over 75 GB of music. Backup was a critical part of this. But here’s where I got nervous. I have a program called Super-Duper which makes a clone of the machine and can be used afterward to back up just the files that have changed since the last backup. But I wasn’t sure if the program would be able to take the clone from the MS-DOS partition scheme and put it back, intact, onto a GUID partition scheme. So I needed to be sure that I could, if that failed, install an operating system, all my programs, and pull my data back in. That meant that not only did I need a Super-Duper backup, I’d also need a manual backup of my documents, my pictures, my music, the stuff I’d downloaded but not moved into proper place, and the stuff sitting on the desktop that I was in the process of using.

Here’s the process, step-by-step:

Divide a 2 TB external hard drive in two partitions. Format one half in Mac OS Extended and the other in FAT 32 (for use with Windows and Linux).

Backup the data from my virtual machines onto the FAT partition.

Backup the data from my MacBook onto the Mac partition.

Clone the hard drive using Super Duper.

Boot from an installation disk and use Disk Utility to create a new partition using the GUID partition scheme.

Boot from the external hard drive containing Super Duper and restore from the clone.

Download and install the upgrade.

Spend the next two weeks running updates.

Let me add a little more details about the steps.

The Computer Backup:

I spent a weekend afternoon making that happen, knowing that any changes I made after that would not be worth keeping. Actually, I made a commitment NOT TO DO ANYTHING THAT I WANTED TO KEEP.

I did the Windows and Linux portions first, because there isn’t a lot of stuff I keep there. I like to keep a Windows machine active because I often need to do screen shots for my blogs and books. It’s also where I keep my Quicken installation. I know Intuit makes Quicken for Mac, but once I make that jump, I’m all in with Apple, and I’m not sure I’m ready to marry the Mac.

On to the Mac backup. I had to disentangle the external drive from the Windows and Linux side before I could use it on the Mac side, which took only a few minutes. But the drive is only available to one machine at a time. I was able to kick off the beefier segments (the pictures and the music) just before supper and they were almost done when we got finished eating.

Next, I connected the other external hard drive. Super Duper is a fabulous program. It does just what it says it does, and it pretty much talks you through the process. But we are talking about cloning a hard drive with 650 GB of operating system, applications, and data files. Oh, and you can’t use a drive that has data you want to keep, because Super Duper will erase that data. This was going to take all night. And it did. I set it going a couple of hours before bed. And because my son was using my iPad to do calculus lessons on Khan Academy (which, by the way, is a fabulous way to learn how to do stuff), I picked up an honest-to-goodness book and read till I fell asleep. By morning, the clone was done.

The Computer Partition Scheme

I actually let a couple of days pass before I did the partition, I didn’t want to be rushed in case there was something else I needed to know or do. So I waited until I knew the whole family would be off doing something else.  As I walked into my study, I looked over at the bookshelf and saw a long, slender, deep chocolate brown envelope/folder. It was the original installation media for this machine. This is strange because I normally keep that media upstairs in the library. But this was wonderful because it meant I didn’t have to go looking for it, and it was kind of a “sign” that I was absolutely out of excuses. Away we go!

Deep breath. Close all programs. My optical drive in the MacBook doesn’t like to relinquish disks, so I don’t use it anymore. I have a usb-connected DVD drive that I use on everything. I connected it, opened the bay, put the install disk in, closed the bay, and rebooted the computer. As soon as the chime sounded, I pressed and held the ALT/OPTION key, and the computer booted from the installation disk. I had to let it get to the point where it asked if I wanted to continue with the installation, so that I could get to the disk utility. From there, I was able to create a brand-new partition on my drive, completely wiping off the contents of the drive.  Done.  Exit Disk Utility, shut down.

The Computer Return

Connect the external hard drive containing the clone of the system. Again boot the computer, holding the ALT/OPTION key when the chime sounded, this time selecting to boot from that drive, and when it is initialized, eject and disconnect the DVD drive. The computer booted from the clone, displaying my contents, even the wallpaper I have selected.  But because the machine is retrieving everything from the hard drive to present it, it’s slow.  VEEEERRRYYY slow.

The Super Duper window came up on the desktop, and when everything was initialized, the option to restore came up. I set it to restore from the clone, and went back to my book.

When I woke early next morning, the restore had completed. Part of the process of restoring is to make the internal hard drive active, so I didn’t have to do anything to make that happen. I shut down, disconnected the hard drive, and booted as normal.

I mean normal!! It was a perfect boot.

The Computer Upgrade

I went into the Mac App Store and there was a system update to Sierra, which is version 10.12. So I skipped two versions, Yosemite, which was 10.10, and El Capitan which was 10.11.  I downloaded and installed, and maybe two hours later the deed is done and I have a current operating system. Two hours is the start-downloading-to-finish-and-boot-and-use time.

I knew that Parallels would need an upgrade, Parallels has been pestering me for two years that the version I had was not going to run on Yosemite. I also was prepared for the updates to the iWork and iLife suites because they too would not upgrade for Mountain Lion anymore.

But a few days later, I think I’ve got them all now. My machine is running like it should be and I don’t have to worry about not getting a necessary update. And, until I make a bunch of changes, I have a reasonably current backup. Two, in fact.

The Takeaway

Don’t let the complexity of a process keep you from doing it. My concern was not that I would break my computer, but that I would run out of time to fix something that went wrong and I’d have to rush and not do a good job. Even looking back, my concerns were not entirely unfounded. Working in tech as I do, I am fully aware of what all can go wrong. Having a good backup is the key to mitigating risk.

So — are you ready to try this?

photo credit: Wolf Schram

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