Time Machine, SuperDuper, and Leopard

Yesterday I installed Leopard. Since I’m a recent switcher from Red Hat (as of January 7, 2006), this was my first OS X upgrade. While I would like to say everything went smoothly and Leopard took good care of me, it didn’t. It played a little too rough and almost clawed my eye out. But, for those who can’t wait for the punchline, everything turned out OK in the end. It just took a while. Like 10 hours. But whatever. On average, compared to the alternatives (Windows and Linux), upgrading a Mac is a snap.

Before starting, I backed up my machine (a 1.5GHz PowerBook G4) using SuperDuper, which is just a fantastic app. And when I say I “backed up my machine” I mean I created a bootable image of my drive. I saw how important this was when, after booting from the Leopard DVD, I got an error and the install program wanted to wipe my disk.

I thought, “Huh?” I thought I could just “upgrade” rather than wipe and reinstall the OS, but the Leopard install app didn’t want to give me that option. I thought, “Uh oh,” ejected the DVD and tried to boot into Tiger. But the machine wouldn’t boot. The disc got scrambled somehow and after about two hours of booting with every key combination I could find, I gave up. It looked like a logical, not a physical, problem, from what I could tell after booting in verbose mode. Even going into single user mode and running fsck didn’t work. Something was fucked.

Fortunately, David Nanian and Shirt Pocket saved me and my data. Thank you Shirt Pocket for creating such a wonderful backup product! I plugged it my external drive and booted from it. Worked like a charm. But I noticed something odd. My old drive on my PowerBook, nicknamed Homer, was no where to be found. Well, at least I could boot from my external drive and had my full Tiger image still. The moral is that, when people say “back up to a bootable volume before you upgrade,” do it. Seriously.

At this point, I decided to boot into the Leopard install app again, which recognized Homer. Why? I have no idea, but I then did a clean install of Leopard over Homer, which took about 2 hours. After that, prompted by the Leopard install app, I hooked up my backup volume and choose to move all my apps, docs, and other data over to the clean Leopard install, as if upgrading from an older Mac. That took about 2 more hours and I have to say that this is one place Macs just kick ass: migrating to a new machine.

Finally, last night, all was installed and Leopard was running great. That’s when I decided to use Time Machine. It took maybe 4-8 hours to back up about 50 gigs to a Time Machine backup volume. (I don’t know the exact time because I went to bed.)

Then this morning, I was playing with Time Machine and thought, “Hmmm… Can I boot from the Time Machine volume?” Nope. So Time Machine is neat and everything, but it is not a substitute for SuperDuper. Not even close. Yes, you can restore your system from Time Machine, but I think I’d rather boot and restore from SuperDuper. I haven’t tested both means of restoring, but I’ve read that Time Machine is slower.

For now, then, I think I’ll use SuperDuper and Time Machine. They are nice complements. Time Machine is really for when you accidentally delete a document. Since I have never done this on my Mac, I’m not too worried about that. But still. It could happen, so I’ll try Time Machine for a while. (For more on Time Machine and SuperDuper, and how they complement each other, see the Shirt Pocket blog.)

So I got everything installed and am running Leopard on an older PowerPC machine with only 1.5 gigs of RAM. How does it work? It works great. Seriously. The first thing I did was set up “spaces.” As a long time UNIX/Linux user, I missed virtual desktops on the Mac. On my old Linux machine, I typically used 9 spaces, so that’s what I’m using now on my Mac. It’s shocking how much this machine now feels like a Linux box, only much more solid. It’s true: the UNIX wars are over and Leopard won. This thing kicks ass.