Beginner Guide: Updating to Snow Leopard

It is reaching the end of summer in Alaska, I am so sorry to say. It is now time to finish all of the summer tasks that we have undertaken this year. But would you paint the house without pressure washing it first? Would you put up your summer harvest without cleaning up your kitchen first? If you agree that preparation is key in successful summer project, then why would you take on a major upgrade to your computer without some preparation?

This guide is for both the ultra-paranoid and for those who just want to make sure their computer will work as they need it to after the upgrade. These tips are not specific to Snow Leopard, but to any major upgrade to the Macintosh operating system.

Do your homework

It has been a couple weeks, so most of the developers have ensured their software runs on Snow Leopard. It doesn’t hurt to check, though. Either go to the website for your software or check out the Wiki. This community page will give you an idea about what software gets broken by Snow Leopard. If you can live without an incompatible piece of software, and choose to upgrade anyway, uninstall the offending application before proceeding.

Take out the trash

Update time is a great time to sit down with your system and clean it up. This task may be as daunting as cleaning out the garage before winter, but as everyone knows it has to be done. This is a great time to go through and organize your data. Check that the software that you use commonly has been updated to the latest version. Often applications will do an automatic check when launched.

For optimum function, the hard disk should have at least 10% empty disk space. This is especially true when installing a major upgrade. If your file system is bulging with duplicate data in old files, a scan may be in order. With OmniDiskSweeper, you can quickly find out what files are hogging all that space. The free software will sort out your largest files so that you can take a look at them and decide if you need to keep them around any longer. After you’re done make sure you empty the Trash.

Repair your system

Leopard and previous versions of Mac OS X. have a number of tasks that need to be run on a regular basis in order to keep the system efficient. If the computer is not running 24/7, sometimes these operations do not occur. Using the utility OnyX, you can make sure the file system is repaired and organized. The specific functions in the very least that should be performed are permissions repair, the daily, weekly, and monthly scripts, and Spotlight Index rebuild. You can also use a utility like DiskWarrior or TechTool Pro in order to rebuild directories.


I’m going to assume that you are using Time Machine for the simple reason that Leopard makes it so incredibly simple that it would be a sin not to take advantage of the technology. Take the time to check and make sure you have a current Time Machine backup. If anything goes wrong, not to say that it will, the system can be restored with a good Time Machine backup. However, for the ultra-paranoid and people who cannot have any downtime, a clone or snapshot of the system should be made. This requires an extra hard drive at least as large as the hard drive in your computer. SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner are both utilities you can use for free to create your very own system clone. The advantage of a clone is that it can be booted. If something goes horribly wrong, for example, a power outage in the middle of the install, a clone will allow you to be up and running in less than five minutes.

Schedule some quality time with your Mac

This is a major upgrade, and that means that the install will be doing some pretty serious work. The process of installing Snow Leopard takes over an hour. Allow that much time for the upgrade to run. Ideally, everything will be fine and you will be back to playing your favorite game as soon as it is finished. If you somehow end up with a cat fight on your hands, you will need some extra time to sort all that out. If you do the update in the evening, and you find something is not working the way you’d like it to, you will have all night to restore your system. If rollback to Leopard is necessary, you can simply restore from Time Machine overnight. It is not recommended to perform this upgrade the day before a trip to Maui, an hour before that big presentation, or right before that scheduled quest on World of Warcraft.

System testing

Check to make sure all of your software functions properly. It is very possible that some of the applications may have a specific Snow Leopard update. There has also been a major upgrade to iTunes in the past few days, so that will be need to be upgraded as well. You have been rewarded for your planning. Your system should be functioning even more efficiently with the new enhancements that Snow Leopard has brought to your system.

Now that your Mac has been serviced and upgraded, you can get back to putting up that moose and making jelly. Oh, and while you’re doing that fall cleanup, remember Miss Mac don’t do Windows!

Image Credit: Tambako the Jaguar