If you follow me on twitter then you’ll know that this weekend, I have been in pain as my iMac refused to boot up on Friday night and I’ve spent all weekend trying to restore it into a usable state. Here’s what drove me to drink on a Sunday afternoon…
I currently run the Mac OSX Lion Developer Preview, initially just on my MacBook Air. However, after Preview 2, I felt the stability had plateau’d and I could install it on my iMac. Both would be the main OS and Snow Leopard would be gone. Everything has been fine and all apps that I use seemed to work without any problems. I was starting to get used to the look and feel of Lion.
Then on Friday night, Software Update alerted me to an update available for Lion. So as I would, I downloaded it on my Air first and tested it to make sure everything was working. It was a minor update, so everything was running fine. It was quite late in the evening but I decided to update the iMac too. When it had, I restarted the system just before going to bed. When it did restart, it took a while longer… Then all I saw was a blue screen… Almost like an ‘aqua’ loading screen that appears just before the login screen appears.
It wouldn’t load… I rebooted, still nothing. I tried safe mode, nothing. I couldn’t even get boot options. Nothing was working!
OS X Lion comes with a handy little recovery tool. You simply reboot and hold Command+R after the chime. Selecting the Recovery drive gives you the same options as you would get when selecting an install disc. This is Apple’s way of saying that Lion is moving more towards disc-less installs. Especially as the Developer Preview installs from the app store!!
Anyway, I wanted to try and restore from Time Machine and luckily, that was one of the options available. I selected the latest backup and after several hours (800GB of data can take a while to transfer over USB) I was told everything was successful and I needed to restart. What do I see… The familiar blue screen!
No bother, I’ll try an earlier restore point. Only that doesn’t work either. I must have tried a dozen or so restore points throughout Saturday and nothing was working. So first thing Sunday morning, I decide to perform a clean install of Snow Leopard to try and get things back to normal. This goes fine and I get the usual Migration Assistant…
Now when the system restarts this time, everything does load! FInally! My user profile has returned, brilliant, so let’s login… No. My password wouldn’t get accepted… I try a few other passwords just in case, but nothing. I can’t login to my Mac!!
My final option is to erase the HDD, reinstall Snow Leopard and start fresh. New user profile, new everything… My last hope. My final chance to recover my 800GB of data… My life is on that machine. If Time Machine wasn’t working… What was the point of backing it up?!
Note: Thankfully, I store my iTunes Library on a totally separate external HDD so that 700GB is safe and sound. Music, TV and Movies are the least of my worries!
Welcome to Mac OS X
So I watch the welcome message, I snap a photo for my login (as you can see, by this point I was less than amused) and I start using my clean install of SL. The next part is very important if you experience anything like I have. If you’ve got a Time Machine backup, you can still access it from ANY machine and ANY installation of OS X.
Simply hold down ‘Option’ and click on Time Machine at the menu bar. You’ll be able to ‘Browse other Time Machine Disks’, enter Time Machine and restore anything you want.
That’s how I got my Mac back.
My only loss, was my desktop. I use the Desktop as a dumping ground and so tell Time Machine not to back it up. That way, items aren’t duplicated as I sort through and file my downloads and recent files. The only problem is, I had quite a lot to sort through… But there’s a lesson in itself.
I could go through the effort of restoring my apps from Time Machine but some system files may be missing, so the best option here is to download everything again (or just re-install from the app store) and because 1Password has all my serial numbers safe and sound, I’ll be able to get everything up to date pretty quickly.
There you have it, my Mac is back and my lessons have been threefold:
- No matter how stable, never use a beta version as your main OS.
- Always backup. Whether this is TIme Machine, Carbonite or any other backup utility. Keep it up to date and always ready.
- If you have any folder exempt from backups, make sure you keep it up to date and cleared away. You may lose something you can’t find again.