Sanity-Saving Tips for Mac OS X Upgrades

On the past two occasions on which I have upgraded my Mac's operating system to the latest release, I have encountered show-stopping problems after the upgrade.

When upgrading from OS X 10.7.2 to 10.7.3, upon rebooting and logging in, the menu bar, buttons and other user interface elements were graphically messed up with 'test pattern'-like colour sequences, making them unreadable and unusable; worse than that, every application or utility I tried to launch would crash immediately.

When upgrading from OS X 10.7.3 to 10.7.4 today, upon reboot, my Mac got stuck in a power-up loop, in which it would switch on, play the startup 'bong' sound, display the Apple logo, and then shut off and do it all again, endlessly.

After the first upgrade, I was advised to use the download the Client Combo package and update my system that way rather than using the Software Update utility; so, I restored my system from a week-old Time Machine backup, and then updated the OS via the Client Combo package, which executed seemlessly.

After today's upgrade woes (using the Client Combo package), the fix was too boot into safe mode, run the Disk Utility, and repair both the disk (which was fine) and the filesystem permissions, which typically, and certainly today, needed some love.

Fortunately, this fixed my most recent problem; but it seems that after two botched upgrades in a row, I should expect problems, and that a disk/permissions repair will be par for the course.

So, to save people some upgrade grief, I offer these tips:

  1. Download the Client Combo package from the Apple site, and later use that to perform the upgrade rather than updating through Software Update.
  2. After downloading the Client Combo package, perform a Time Machine backup to not only one external hard disk, but two.  If it is necessary to restore from a Time Machine backup (as has been the case for me once before), it is advisable to have two copies in case one gets corrupted, or in case the disk fails.
  3. After running the Time Machine backups, reboot the system, and then run the Client Combo package once the system is back up.
  4. Expect post-upgrade problems if your system is 'old' and has been through multiple OS X upgrades, as indeed mine has.  Be prepared to boot into safe mode and run the Disk Utility to repair the disk and its filesystem permissions if necessary.  Also, keep a Mac OS X DVD close by in case it is necessary to boot from a clean system image and commence the long process of restoring from a Time Machine backup.

Published on Thursday, 10 May, 2012.