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August 01, 2004

“If there’s one adjective to describe a brand new 15″ Powerbook, ‘slow’ should not be it.” And so, with those words of wisdom from an Apple tech, I rebuilt my 2-month old system this weekend.

What had originally gone wrong, I surmise, is the migration of data and applications from the older iBook. Instead of doing a direct transfer, I was using a GUI interface for the Unix rsync utility called RsyncX which allowed me to perform incremental backups instead of transferring gigs of data every evening as I backed up my system.

Sounds good in theory, but where it went wrong was when I originally set up the Powerbook with a different default account name than the iBook. Because rsync preserves permissions (which are far more important in the world of Unix than in the land of Microsoft) and the permissions were mapped to the old account, data and settings were inaccessible until I dropped into the Terminal and chmoded my way free.

Okay, so, this also should have worked, in theory. But I suspect my fumbling through the data transfer and subsequent repair efforts caused problems that manifested in the following way: a 1.5Ghz G4 felt slower than an 800Mhz G3 with a similar amount of RAM. The system diagnostics CD told me the hardware was fine, so something a little more subtle was happening.

After using Windows for ten years I’m used to using a hammer where a screwdriver is better suited. The old standby when nothing else works is reinstalling your OS from scratch, and since I’m new enough to Mac ownership that I don’t yet know a better method, that was my way out.

Gritting my teeth and making gratuitous use of my external Firewire drive (there is nothing greater than blazing transfer speeds; we’re talking gigs per minute) I buckled down to re-partition the hard drive and install a fresh copy of the OS. Two hours of waiting for status bars, clicking the odd button, inserting new CDs, downloading essential third-party apps and I was back up to speed. Just about everything is back to the way it was before, with the minor exception of my NetNewsWire list. Whoops, forgot to save out my 130-odd subscription. Oh well, at least the important stuff is covered; it’s time to find some new sites and prune the cruft anyway. (side note: if you don’t have RSS auto-discovery happening on your site, I’m very annoyed with you at the moment.)

It will be a few days before I know for sure whether this made the difference, but it feels way, way faster already; enough so that a smile of relief has been plastered on my face all afternoon. Lesson learned: permissions are a cruel mistress. Treat them kindly.

Reader Comments

August 01, 01h

A hundred and thirty subscriptions? How do you manage to keep up to date with them?

Thanks for sharing what can go wrong when switching systems. I’m on my first iBook and I’m very lucky that I haven’t had to do anything drastic to it yet. Like you said with a Windows system you just hammer away. But OS X needs special care.

August 01, 03h

The other option short of a reinstall would be to have used the “Repair Permissions” function of OS X’s Disk Utility application. It’ll go through your system directories (i.e. where permissions are really important) and set the permissions as they should be.

Unfortunately it won’t do it, I believe, to any partitions that aren’t the boot partition, and it seems to restrict itself to the system directories, but it’s still rescued me a time or two.

Dave S. says:
August 01, 03h

(PHP parse error fixed, for those who noticed it; my templates screwed up in an entirely different manner this morning. I fixed them, and introduced an unrelated error that I didn’t catch before leaving for the afternoon. Should be golden now.)

130 subscriptions isn’t as hard to maintain as you’d think. I suspect the average major city’s daily newspapers have more verbage than my daily read; the secret in both cases is to read the stuff that interests you, and ignore the stuff that doesn’t.

Since there’s significant overlap on the sites I read, I’m not likely to miss major news. Instead of feeling obligated to read each and every little item, I treat the aggregator as a menu and select what I want.

“The other option short of a reinstall would be to have used the “Repair Permissions” function”

Hmm. Whether I did that or not, I can’t remember now — I have used it in the past, but I’m not sure if I did so in this case. In hindsight though, I’m glad I rebuilt. The difference is night and day, and I’m feeling much better about the purchase.

Mike D. says:
August 01, 03h

Local data loss… reason #4972 to use Bloglines for reading RSS feeds.

See if this helps:

… it will probably get you half of your feeds back.

Jeremy says:
August 01, 06h

Doesn’t matter what OS you’re running, a clean install will ultimately make for improved performance. I’m not convinced that it’s not partially psychological, but you are generally clearing out a lot of detritus that typically scates past the average maintenance regime…

August 01, 06h


had similar experience myself recently - which turned out to be bad RAM. Anyway, long and the short of it - if you used something like carbon copy cloner, you can archive your entire hd to a single disk-image, which can then be mounted just like any other disk. This makes restoring s/w as simple as drag/drop, then repair permissions (if necessary).

I got my nnw subscriptions back no problems - as well as everything else.



August 01, 07h

Repair permissions can only go so far. No matter what, when migrating to a new machine, it is always best to have a clean install. For data backup, as has already been suggested, utilities like CCC are awesome. There are also many out there with sync features that work just as well. But it is much better to just transfer the files over rather than mess with other methods. Just seems to work smoother IMHO.

Glad to hear everything worked out for you though. I am ordering a new pbook here in a week or so, so I am getting excited.

For NNW, wouldn’t it be great if it had a sync feature through .Mac or something? Mark a post read on one machine, and it appears read on another machine. And stores all your data on a server, so you never loose it? I love this about my bookmarks in Safari. Definitely a cool feature that NNW would benefit from I believe.

Derek says:
August 01, 11h

Dave did try the Repair Permissions before reinstalling–I suggested it to him when the slowness problem first got annoying. I wonder whether Mac OS X is more susceptible to Windows-like cruft over time than the old Mac OS. Not that I’d trade back or anything, but when you scratch the lovely surface of Mac OS X, it can be a nasty and complicated beast underneath.

There is some satisfaction in a bare-metal reformat and reinstall, however, and it’s good to do it from time to time if you have good backups.

August 01, 11h

Randy Singer (he of the Macintosh Bible fame) has a handy guide to routine maintenance, including links to pertinent Apple support docs and utilities and suchlike.

Vincent Grouls says:
August 02, 01h

Dave, when using chmod you have to make sure you’re a superuser.

sudo chmod user:group files

I am an OS X power-user and the only thing that gets to me is that blimey Illustrator CS that keeps quitting “expectedly”. Aaargh!

ps: I get no scrollbar in the comments post field and my text disappears on the right side (using Safari 1.3 beta).

August 02, 01h

>>>For NNW, wouldn’t it be great if it had a sync feature through .Mac or something? Mark a post read on one machine, and it appears read on another machine. And stores all your data on a server, so you never loose it? I love this about my bookmarks in Safari. Definitely a cool feature that NNW would benefit from I believe.

Check out the dev notes on Ranchero’s site - this functionality is coming in the next version :-)

JP says:
August 02, 01h

Chris Garver said:

> Are there any RSSReaders that will send you directly to the
> website you have on watch? I havent really taken the time to
> introduce myself to RSS (I currently have a /dailies folder in
> Firefox > Open Folder in Tabs)

I lament losing the website look and feel, too, when I browse RSS feeds. (And pening selected links in a browser is too jarring a switch, I find.)

The best option, for me, is to open a bookmarks folder full of blogs in tabs, but it’s a chore to weed through non-updated sites. I’m waiting for someone to modify this MacOSXHints Applescript to sync up with or bloglines:

That would be divine.

(Oops, I realized I’ve strayed off-topic. Big thumbs up for CCC here, too.)

August 02, 03h

I’ve done clean installs and drive clones and copies as well. The best has always been clean installs for me. Mainly because the stuff that bogs down my system always seems to be the crazy leftovers in the Library folders from apps of long ago. The clean install takes a LOT longer tho.. Generally it’s a good 2 days before I’m back to 100% operating procedures.

For cleaning up and posisble optimizations, O’Reilly’s got a good article [1] that went up in the last few weeks.


Ken says:
August 02, 07h

How about a chown -R [user]:[group] * ?

August 02, 07h

Are there any RSSReaders that will send you directly to the website you have on watch? I havent really taken the time to introduce myself to RSS (I currently have a /dailies folder in Firefox > Open Folder in Tabs)

BlogLines seems really sweet, however, I really enjoy *looking* at MezzoBlue et al. The comforting hues ease me into sanity each morning.

I find it a little humorous that RSSReaders are a staple of ze web developer, but strip everything away but the content. (which i know is the icing, but websites are so much more intimate than, say, mailing lists)

Mike D. says:
August 02, 09h


Bloglines will send you directly to the site to read the article… that’s the way I use it. You can read the excerpts in the Bloglines interface and then when you want to read the story, you just click on the headline and it takes you to the page.

Unless someone’s site is butt-ugly, I’m generally clicking over to read their articles.

August 03, 03h

For Newsfeeds, try out Shrook, it’s has some killer features:

CalebS says:
August 03, 05h

ICK!! Re-installs always suck no matter what OS. Any time I have done it I have almost always lost crucial data or 10gigs of MP3’s. At least your OS was functional though to make backups. Hopefully your golden now though!

August 03, 07h

Using Firefox, you can have the browser notify you when a certain site is updated. All you have to do is go to the bookmark properties and do a schedule and choose how you want to be notified. Seems to work great for most blogs (except for Xanga).

August 04, 01h

Inspired, I decided my Powerbook G4 12 inch was needing a bit of a summer cleaning. After deciding that I didn’t have time for the reinstall route, I used Xupport and ran a few of their maintenence scripts. While these scripts were running I went through my ~/Library and deleted any unneeded files. Less than an hour later and a restart, I was back up and my OS felt as snappy as a new install. I couldn’t believe it. So there ya go, my official endorsement for Xupport.

PS: I’m in no way affilliated with developing Xupport, I’m just a happy cusomter.

Link to Xupport:

Vincent Grouls says:
August 05, 02h

Ken (
> How about a chown -R [user]:[group] * ?

You have to use ‘sudo’ in this instance as the files are originally owned by someone else. Even though you (probably) belong to the same group - admin - it is the safest way to do it as a superuser.

Also, it is always a good idea to keep your users on a separate partition. This saves you from having to back everything up. This is how I do it and I am always up and running in an hour (this includes all the system updates).

Scott says:
August 06, 04h

I just bought a 12” powerbook, so I am essentially having to do a clean reinstall myself. It’s a good excercise from time to time, because it forces me to clean up and organize my stuff.

My usual routine is to CarbonCopyClone my old install to my backup drive, and copy things over to the new install as needed from there. By CCCing, it allows me to actually boot from the old install if I need to, for instance last night when I too discovered the need to “export” my NetNewsWire subscriptions. Reboot-export-Reboot-done. No matter how much I plan, there is always something like this on my old install I need access to durin the transition.

I’m doing a clean install upgrade to Panther at work as well, and am employing the same trick. The CCC backup allows me to quickly boot up to my old install, just in case I need to get something out the door really quick and it’s not working correctly yet on the new install. That allows me to actually do the transition during the week, instead of having to squeeze it in during the off hours.

horace says:
August 09, 08h

As was mentioned, Macs are quite particular machines. Although they definitely don’t get as much bunk on them as Windows pc’s they are not as seamless and user-friendly as Apple would have us believe. I have a 17 inch powerbook and it has had one re-install already. Although that improves performance it regrettably starts to accumulate garbage right away.

My powerbook is my machine of choice, but isn’t as fast (regardless of os) as my p4 1.8 with xp pro. I think the biggest thing is actually the fact that my powerbook has a system bus of only 167 mhz. If there are any techniques that would stop garbage from building up I’d love to know them.

Amitabh Handa says:
August 10, 11h

Rsync is great for moving and syncronizing, but OS X also makes use of resource forks (files that are otherwise hidden from the Finder but not the Terminal) to store additional information that is also needed by the Operating System. Rsync is a unix app, and wasn’t designed for moving resource forks (at least not until Tiger, which will natively support it), but another unix app called ditto does the trick. Ditto is also what CarbonCopyCloner uses, so for backing up and most system transfers, this is what I would use. Of course, if you switch hardware, nothing beats a fresh install, but I thought I’d point this out anyway in case you were relying on rsync to back up your user directory moving forward.