Installing Leopard

Most of us face the prospect of upgrading our operating systems with a mixture of excitement and dread. True, a new OS brings cool new ways to work. But that doesn’t change the fact that when you install a major version of OS X you’re essentially gutting your Mac and replacing its virtual insides.

Luckily, Apple’s improved the upgrade experience with each new cat, making the process much less daunting. But despite the Installer’s useful guidance, there are things it doesn’t tell you, and places where its help falls short. With that in mind, here’s my guide to making the upgrade process as trouble-free as possible.

What you need

Before you get started, the two most important things you need are a compatible Mac and a complete backup of all your data. Leopard requires a Mac with an Intel or PowerPC G4 or G5 processor (for G4 systems, processor speed must be at least 867MHz); a DVD drive; built-in FireWire; at least 512MB RAM; and at least 7GB of free hard-disk space. (I recommend at least 1GB RAM and 10 to 15GB of free disk space.)

To protect yourself from mishaps, I recommend you clone your hard drive instead of just backing up data piecemeal. You can create a clone—a complete, identical copy of your Mac’s hard drive—using a utility such as Shirt Pocket’s $28 SuperDuper, Bombich Software’s Carbon Copy Cloner, or even OS X’s own Disk Utility. If anything should go wrong with the upgrade, you can start up from the clone, restore it back to your main hard drive, and be back where you started with nothing lost but time. (For instructions, see Easy Mac Backups.)

Before you begin

Before starting the installation process, here are a few steps you should take:

  • Double-check your backup. Make sure you can boot from it by actually restarting your Mac using the backup as the startup drive.
  • Check vendor Web sites to see if the software programs you use the most are compatible with Leopard—this includes Login Items (in the Accounts preference pane), third-party preference panes, and third-party system add-ons. If new versions are available, download those and keep them handy for installation after the upgrade. (You can install them before upgrading to Leopard, although some may require re-installation afterwards.) Macworld recent ran an excerpt from Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Upgrading to Leopard that covers this area in greater detail.
  • Decide which installation method you want to use. (We list the options on the next page.)
  • Verify and, if necessary, repair your hard drive using Disk Utility. You can access this tool from the Welcome screen of the Mac OS X Installer—choose Utilities -> Disk Utility.
  • The installation process

    The actual installation procedure is straightforward. Just follow along as the Installer walks you through the steps. However, don’t miss a couple opportunities to customize the process.

    Select a Destination After selecting onto which drive you want to install Leopard, click on Options. This is where you choose your installation method—Upgrade, Archive and Install, or Erase and Install.

    Pick What Not to Install Click on Customize. Here you can opt to not install several items in order to save hard drive space. Select any item in the Package Name list to view information about that item at the bottom of the window. When you’re finished, click on Done. Here are some likely things you might skip:

  • Printer Drivers Click on the expansion triangle to deselect drivers you don’t want to install. You can uncheck all but the brand of your own printer (or printers) to save several gigabytes of space. However, if you’re installing Leopard on a laptop, having all these drivers is useful if you ever need to use another printer on the road.
  • Additional Fonts If you don’t need the listed fonts, deselect this item.
  • Language Translations If you don’t need to run Mac OS X in non-English languages, deselect this item. Alternatively, expand the item and deselect particular languages.
  • X11 This option allows you to use software that requires the X11 Unix windowing system. Given that it takes up only 100MB or so, I’d say it’s worth installing. In the future, if you find a cool program that requires X11, you’ll be able to run it without digging out your OS X Installation disc.
  • Click on Install on the Install Summary screen and the installation will begin. The process can take a while, especially the step when the Installer checks the Installation DVD. (If you’ve previously installed Leopard using this same disc, so you know it’s error-free, you can click on Skip to bypass this step.) When the installation process is finished and your Mac restarts in Leopard, you’ll see either the full-length, full-screen Setup Assistant (if you did an Erase And Install) or a shorter registration version.

    After you’re done

    If you performed an Archive And Install with the option to preserve user accounts and network settings, you should be up and running mostly where you left off the last time you used your Mac pre-Leopard. If you chose not to preserve users and network settings, or if you used the Erase and Install option, the Setup Assistant will give you the opportunity to transfer over files from another Mac, another drive on the current Mac, or a backup volume. You can choose to transfer user accounts, network and other settings, applications, and other non-system data. Although this process is slow, it works well.

    In either case, you’ll want to check your favorite programs to see if they’re working properly. You may need to re-enter registration or serial numbers for some. Other programs may require re-installation (especially those that install files in the /Library or /System/Library folders). Also keep an eye out for misbehaving programs that don’t work well with Leopard; you may not be able to use these until the developer releases a compatible version.

    No Files Left Behind If you used the Archive and Install method, I recommend that you navigate to the /Previous Systems/Previous System 1 folder and browse through the subfolders inside to make sure all your files were moved properly. (If you’ve performed multiple Archive and Install installations, you may have Previous System 1 , Previous System 2 , and so on; you want to browse the newest one.) For example, if you used the Archive and Install option to preserve user accounts, the files inside the Shared user folder ( /Previous Systems/Previous System 1/Users/Shared ) don’t get moved. You’ll likely want to copy them to the new /Users/Shared folder. (If you use the Setup Assistant to transfer files, the Shared folder’s contents do get transferred.)

    Also check inside the Library folder in Previous System 1, paying special attention to the contents of Contextual Menu Items and QuickTime. If there are files in the Library folder that are required by programs you use, or third-party system add-ons that you want to continue using, you may want to transfer them manually to the same location in the current /Library folder. However, first make sure that the software is compatible with Leopard. (It may be easier to simply re-install this software in order to ensure you have all the necessary support files.)

    Back to work

    With any luck, this entire process should take only a few hours, which isn’t bad for something you need to do only once every couple years. And with these tips and suggestions, you should be back up and running, enjoying Leopard’s new features, with minimal growing pains.

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