By the pricking of my thumbs
I’ve been a Mac user now for some 14 years and I’ve owned probably a dozen different models. I’ve also upgraded system and applications software more times than I care to count. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s to back up my data and be very careful with software upgrades. Unfortunately, both of these tasks have now become almost prohibitively complex for the average user.
By the end of the year, Apple will probably have sold some 800,000 iMacs—the dynamite computer appliance that the company hinted at with the introduction of the Macintosh 128K back in the mid-eighties. These machines are cheap, easy to use, and amazingly powerful and, of course, that’s why they’re so popular. The good news is that the iMac sports a 4 gigabyte internal hard drive. The bad news is that it’s virtually impossible for the average user to back up.
Yes, I realize there are USB ports and a fast Ethernet port and so there are indeed backup options, but most iMac owners won’t purchase an external storage device and are not attached to networks that allow them to routinely toss up 4 gigabytes of data. iMac users and other Mac users with large internal hard drives then face a real dilemma when Apple releases a new version of the System Software. How can they back up data and show the care required in any System upgrade?
Something wicked this way comes
Apple is renowned for the quality of their System Software and has a great track record of releasing solid, trouble-free upgrades. That’s why I was a bit taken aback when I read the License for Macintosh System Software. Apple “expressly disclaim all warranties, express or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. Apple does not warrant that the functions contained in the Apple software will meet your requirements, or that the operation of the Apple software will be uninterrupted or error free or that defects in the Apple software will be corrected.” And so on… In legal terms this means you are out there on your own, buddy. Get a new Mac for $99, but… oh, it may not work and that’s just too bad.
This may all be standard stuff for the software industry, but that doesn’t make it right. Can you imagine the auto industry getting away with that kind of warranty?
Double, double toil, and trouble
Why, you might ask, am I concerned about these issues if the Apple’s software updates are so solid? Clearly, the company’s release of System 8.5 was exceptionally problematic.
Apple provides all sorts of warnings before you install the software, but as I noted above, there’s very little that many users can do to pay heed to these warnings. In my personal situation, I had a PowerPC 8100 with two internal 520 MB drives. My boot drive was the original Apple (Quantum) hard disk that came with the system, while my second drive was a Fujitsu formatted with LaCie’s Silverlining software. My internal drive was running System Software version 8.1 at the time of upgrade and to make sure nothing deleterious happened, I decided to upgrade my second drive and leave my boot drive alone. That way, if all hell broke loose, I could always restore the situation by booting up System 8.1 again.
Thus, I moved any critical files off my Fujitsu to my boot drive and did a clean install of System 8.5 on the Fujitsu. I then went to the Startup Control Panel and changed the Startup Disk to the new system.
I booted the machine and everything seemed okay. I realized I’d have a long struggle to get all of the extensions and Microsoft odds and ends copied into the new System Folder in order to run Office again, but that didn’t intimidate me. Just to make sure I hadn’t lost any ground, I once again changed the startup drive and rebooted to see if I could run the old system and use Microsoft Office immediately to work on my Mac Factor column. I also wanted to browse the Internet and check my mail, but I had a tough time getting the new System to recognize my Teleport Modem.
In the cauldron, boil and bake;
That’s when things started going terribly wrong. My computer ignored the older System and continued to boot System 8.5 off the Fujitsu—no matter what I selected in the Startup Control Panel. I thought this was odd, but decided to commit to the new System and began work on the extensions. Just out of curiosity, I tried summoning Sherlock, Apple’s new Find facility, and I received a memory error dialog box.
The first software I reinstalled was FreePPP and this allowed me to browse MacFixIt.com, MacInTouch.com, and Apple Technical Support (Apple.com/support) to try to determine if anyone else had reported similar problems. I noted a slew of hard drive complaints and quickly downloaded the 8.5.1 fix for System 8.5. I installed the fix, hoping that this would recover the situation. That’s when all hell broke loose.
Thrice the brindled cat hath mew’d.
After rebooting, my former 8.1 startup drive disappeared. If you will recall, this was the drive I copied all of my critical data to for safeguarding. I had installed NOTHING to this drive and yet it was gone. I tried SCSI Probe and it saw the drive but it wouldn’t mount. I tried the System 8.5.1’s Drive Setup (version 1.6.2) and it also saw the drive but suggested it be initialized. There are few words that describe the cold shudder a computer consultant experiences when the word ‘initialize’ is encountered. I didn’t want to initialize anything… I wanted my drive back.
Out of desperation, I ran a copy of APS PowerTools that had come with an older external drive that was in my hardware graveyard, and APS reported “Error – can’t find driver descriptor in block 0 (This tells the Mac where the driver is on the disk).” Remember—this was the drive I had installed NOTHING on.
My brother in the US called Apple Technical Support and after a number of long waits and multiple calls, got through to a human being who seemed to recognize the problem. He suggested I download the latest copy of FWB’s Hard Drive Toolkit and update the drivers on the dead drive. I dutifully paid the $69, downloaded and installed the Toolkit, and it reported that it could see the drive but could do nothing because the device at address “SCSI:0 ID0 does not contain an Apple IM 5 partition map.”
I tried Norton Utilities 4.0 and although Norton could not mount the drive, it could see the files—all 5200 of them and none of them in folders. I could choose to use Norton’s ‘unerase’ facility and rescue the files to another drive—if only I had the space. Then, I’d have to reconstitute the files in their appropriate folders—a task that would take hours and hours.
At this point, I was experiencing a wee bit of frustration and I even began thinking the unthinkable—about the new Compaq in the local exchange. Instead, I decided to reinstall System 8.5 and then reinstall the fix. Still no joy, as my 8.1 boot drive remained in the nether world.
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
The hedge-pig wasn’t the only one whining. I was now very upset with Apple. How could the company release System Software that destroys the descriptor block and partition map of a companion drive that happened to be sitting on the same SCSI chain? And given that this was a serious problem, why didn’t Apple release software that would fix the problem?
Again, out of curiosity, I ran Sherlock and this time, it worked fine. I connected to the net and asked Sherlock to find all sites that mentioned ‘hard drive recovery and Macintosh.’ After browsing through a number of hits, I ran across a program called Data Rescue by a company named Sylvain Demongeot. (<http://www.wildbits.com/rescue>)
I downloaded Data Rescue and the unregistered version examined my SCSI Bus, found the missing drive, and showed all of my files IN THEIR ORIGINAL FOLDERS! I paid the $39, registered the software and purchased an Iomega 1 GB Jaz Drive ($200) to provide space for the rescued files. Data Rescue saved the day and I recommend it without reservation. It was probably the best $39 I ever spent on software.
Harpier cries ‘Tis time, ‘tis time.’
Those familiar with the Iomega Jaz drive and the Mac might have raised a curious eyebrow at this decision. I had no choice; it was the only option in town and I had to rescue my files. So far, the Jaz Drive has worked flawlessly, though I have scanned through the alarming number of messages concerning Jaz drive problems and I will copy the files to another hard drive when I finally purchase one.
Thus, installing Apple’s new System Software cost me $69 for FWB Hard Drive Toolkit, $39 for Data Rescue, $200 for a Jazz Drive, $99 for the System Software itself, and countless hours of frustration sorting it all out.
Tell me, thou unknown power, —
I am not alone in experiencing problems from the installation of System 8.5. The MacInTouch website (<http://www.macintouch.com>) includes a ‘Mac OS 8.5 Special Report: Disk Damage Issue’ and notes that “Since the introduction of Mac OS 8.5, more than a thousand MacInTouch readers have reported severe disk corruption associated with the upgrade process.”
As prices drop precipitously on computer hardware, so too do margins. Increasingly, Apple will find that System Software updates are an important part of its bottom line. It’s important right now to undo the damage caused by the premature release of System 8.5. Apple should gather the information presently being compiled by MacInTouch, apologize to those users (like myself) who have lost data, time, and money, and offer to compensate us in some concrete way.
Apple should have thoroughly tested the software prior to its release and once the company recognized people were losing data, a media warning should have been issued. That would have been a brave decision that might have cost the company in sales but earned it a lot of respect from users. Apple should also release a utility to recreate the partition information for those of us unlucky enough to have trusted their software.
There are also long term implications that can be drawn from the 8.5 debacle. If necessary, the company should raise the price of future System Software to pay for better testing and better technical support. Though pricing the upgrade at $99 might be a great marketing ploy, most users would rather pay a little more for a solid update and a warranty that says the software really works.
The new System Software is certainly impressive and Sherlock makes a significant difference in the way you can retrieve information. But the evil that the installation of System 8.5 did, lives after it. The good will no doubt be interred within its bones. (Sorry, Bill.)
•Mick O’Neil• <email@example.com>