Mac OS X Reinstall/Restore via Time Machine is Awesome!

During the holiday vacation, my Macbook started booting up with a rather lengthy progress bar. It would take about 10 minutes to complete. The operating system would come up fine, but it started getting me nervous because it was occurring on every boot, not just once (like an update post-processing after reboot or something). I had a feeling it was filesystem related just based on my experiences with Unix/Linux in the past. I figured some kind of fsck was working its magic and some quick searches seemed to confirm the thought. This was going to be my first attempt and resolving a system issue on the Mac; I’ve been lucky to have been on cruise control on there until now.

I eventually stumbled on the Mac’s console message viewer. He’s extremely handy. He zeroed me in on the culprit, “Incorrect number of thread records (#, #)”. Okay, great message. Maybe if you know the number is incorrect, you could tell me the correct number? Maybe if you know the number is incorrect, you could just fix it? Nah.

After some more research, the next remediation steps were to boot into the install disk, try running Disk Utility and also to start up a console, unmount the main volume and run fsck_hfs manually. Nada. All of those seemed to know all about my incorrect thread count, but none could make a correction. I must admit though, with a lot of Windows (and Linux) diagnostics behind me, the utilities are at least navigable well presented on the install disk.

With the easy stuff behind us, my options now get expensive or drastic. Most of the forum and support threads I found have DiskWarrior as the next logical step to try and fix the volume. At $100, I’m not quite ready to give up. I’m close though because with a BootCamp volume and a pretty important Windows 7 install on the other partition, formatting and redoing all that work doesn’t sound palatable… yet.

I do have AppleCare. I use the online form, open a ticket and schedule a callback on 12/31. Cool! The phone rings. The automated attendant informs me they are closed. What!? Why can I schedule the call then? The call ends. Two minutes later, I’m called again by Mr. Robot. Ugh. I re-schedule for another day to avoid infinite recursion! A slick customer service interface has a bug in it lets me schedule calls when they are on holiday and then has another bug in you can get in a loop.

OCD kicks in. I want this to go away now. What do I have unique to the Windows partition, really? Just a Quickbooks file, that’s not a big deal, back it up separate. Time Machine backup is a little behind, let’s take a new one. Okay, I’ll use the install disk to erase the Mac drive and try re-installing Snow Leopard. I’m sure my users and data will restore from Time Machine. I may have to do some homework to access my Windows partition (if it survives). I’ll probably have to redo my network setup, install iLife, Firefox, eclipse, etc. If my Windows partition doesn’t survive, that’ll be fun the next few days…

The install is pretty quick, 30-60 minutes. No problem. It restarts. Here comes my getting started page. There’s a migrating/moving via Time Machine button. Sure. The next screen was pretty surprising. I had options for restoring four things… something like users, data, settings and apps! Are you serious!? Wow. Something will probably not be quite right, but this is HUGE and a big divergence from my non-Mac experiences…

The Time Machine restore cranks through my files. It completes. I restart.

At the gray startup screen, I hold down “Alt”. Will Windows still be there? It is! Yay! He comes up just fine. That, in and of itself, is extremely cool. I had a feeling the partition would be there just from the screens I was seeing on the OS X install disk. Not sure about Vista or 7, but Windows prior would always blow away any bootloader I would have, no question.

I then start OS X. Surprise, surprise, I must have the correct number of thread records now, it boots in normal time :). The login screen has my users, their little thumbnails, cool.

Logging on was what really blew my mind. Once inside, all updates were already applied, the network settings are all there and everything/EVERYTHING was there; iLife (a separate install), an Eclipse I had downloaded and extracted somewhere funny, every other app and setting. Wow. I was so dumbfounded and filled with confidence about the whole process if it takes me more than an hour to find a button to undo a setting not 100% to my liking in the future, I will re-install from scratch and use the last backup not containing it in a heartbeat… For the Mac-savvy, or anybody who read into Time Machine since it came out, this may seem funny, but I still can’t get over it.

It didn’t escape me, going through the motions, OS X was treating it the same as if I had purchased a new computer and was just “moving” to it with my Time Machine backup. Companies don’t use Linux desktops (yet, ugh), but is it this smooth for the minority that do when going to new hardware? I doubt it. For companies using Windows desktops, entire armies of IT guys are still trying to purchase or develop applications/processes/scripts to make moving to new hardware this easy for the employees at large when hardware refreshes are in order. I know it wasn’t this smooth for me when I got my new gear the last time (XP -> XP). I have another Windows upgrade coming in January (XP -> 7), we’ll see how that goes…

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