Leopard review part 1: The upgrade process

I’ve put off upgrading to Leopard for months, largely due to the raft of problems and complaints from other Apple customers. Plus it didn’t seem to offer any compelling reason to upgrade from Tiger.

I finally decided that, since I blog about Macs all day long, I really should be running the latest and greatest Mac OS X. So last week I forked out for Leopard. I’ve installed it on both our iMacs and have been using it a few days. Already I have a ton of things to say, but I’ll kick off at the beginning: How well did the upgrade from Tiger to Leopard go?

First I installed it on my wife’s iMac. I did the sensible stuff first: deactivated Photoshop (to save grief if I had to reinstall from scratch), repaired disk permissions, and verified the disk using Disk Utility on the Leopard DVD:

Verifying disk permissions

So far, so good.

(By the way, one thing you should definitely do before you upgrade to Leopard is check if you have a bit of software called Application Enhancer (APE) installed. It’s often automatically installed with other things, such as the Logitech mouse driver, so you might not realise it’s on your system. If you do have it, uninstall it, or upgrade it to the most recent version. Older versions of APE cause a dreaded blue screen of death (no, really!) when you try to boot Leopard.)

Choosing an upgrade method

The big decision when upgrading Mac OS X is: Do you do an Upgrade, an Archive and Install, or an Erase and Install? I found that Mac users seem to fall equally between the three camps, and the arguments rage. Here’s a summary:

  • Upgrade is the easiest option, but carries the biggest risk in terms of things acting strangely after the install. The Leopard installer goes through all the Mac OS X system packages and related data, upgrading each package one by one.
  • Archive and Install dumps all your old system and user folders in a new folder called Previous System, then installs a fresh copy of Leopard and, optionally, copies your user folders back into the new system. That means you’re getting a pristine new version of Mac OS X, which avoids any possible upgrade issues. However you need a lot of spare hard drive space to store the archived folders.
  • Erase and Install is like Archive and Install, but it doesn’t archive anything; it simply wipes the whole hard drive and does a fresh install of Leopard. This is the option to go for if you want a clean install and don’t have much free hard drive space, but obviously you should make a full working backup of your hard drive first!

Well I didn’t have much hard drive space, and I didn’t fancy having to reinstall various third-party apps and generally setting my system up again from scratch. So I crossed my fingers and went with the default setting of Upgrade:

Upgrade option in the Leopard installer

And we’re ready to rock!!!

Leopard Install Summary window

First the installer checks that the DVD is OK. This takes a while, but is worth waiting for, as it rules out any problems with the DVD. Then the install begins.

Leopard install progress bar

Hmm, this is going to take a while. To pass the time, and because I’m a nerd, I brought up the Installer Log (Window > Installer Log). (If you believe that Macs work on a combination of fairy dust, little elves and the power of Steve’s brain, you might want to look away now.)

Leopard Installer Log

And then, half an hour into the upgrade, the unthinkable happened.

A power cut.

I mean, what are the odds? Sydney electricity can be a bit flaky, but we must have less than one power cut a year. Why right now?!

Well it’ll be a good test of the Leopard installer’s resilience anyway. After the power cut, I restarted the Mac with the install DVD still in the drive. It actually got as far as the Leopard login window, which was quite impressive. However it failed to recognize either my or my wife’s username or password, so obviously the users were hosed (or not yet migrated).

So how to try the upgrade again? Every time I restarted with the DVD in the drive, the Mac would try to run the OS off the hard drive instead. Oops. Maybe Apple didn’t think of everything.

Macintosh HD boot icon

I was about to call AppleCare, then by pure luck, I found a workaround. If I booted without the DVD, I got this funny icon, letting me choose to boot from the hard drive.

I’ve no idea why my wife’s iMac does this every time it boots – mine doesn’t – but I’m glad it did, because when I then inserted the DVD, another icon appeared, allowing me to boot from the DVD instead. Huzzah!

I tried the whole upgrade again. Apart from some rather worrying Installer Log errors such as unable to find db handle and kextcache: couldn’t lock Macintosh HD, eventually I saw a promising sign:

Leopard “Install Succeeded” window

A quick reboot, and I was up and running with Leopard.

The upgrade of my iMac was similar but more straightforward, thanks to a continuous power supply throughout the process. 😉 Leopard’s Disk Utility did find some problems with the drive before installing, but corrected them without a hitch.

Overall I was impressed with the upgrade process. Although both iMacs now have a few oddities – more of which anon – on the whole Leopard is running very happily on the two machines. And I was very impressed with the installer’s ability to “re-upgrade” the OS, even after a power cut!

Next up: My review of Leopard’s look and feel

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