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Mac OS X tutorial: The Day Will Come - Steps to Ease Re-installations

If you have read my tutorial on Backing up your Logic System, you should have an idea how important securely storing your data is. A complete backup of all your work data, and possibly also administrative stuff (receipts, address book, ...) will enable you to continue working with little interruption in the case of a technical failure.

But, especially for digital artists of any kind, the actual work files are not the only thing that is vital to your work flow. If you're into audio recording, there's your DAW with all its preferences, probably lots of plugins, template files, patches and a million other things. To continue working without interruption, all these things need to be there after a crash, too. What use are your Logic files if you lost all AU plugins?

In this article I want to discuss a number of tasks you will need to perform when your drives fail and you have to reinstall everything. I show you a few easy things you can do to get up and running in no time. We will also have a look at what you can do to avoid re-registering your software.

01 - Reinstalling OSX

New drive, new OS. If you want to start with a clean plate, you can install OSX from the original DVD supplied with your Mac. You can always use the latest OS, so if your Mac came with 10.5, but you upgraded to 10.6 later, you can use the 10.6 DVD for installing even though it is an upgrade. All OSX installers are "full versions", so to speak.

But there are easier ways: If you have a Time Machine backup of your system drive, the OSX installer will allow you to restore the system from the backup. Just start the OSX installation as usual and follow the instructions when it asks you to restore from the backup. This puts your system in the exact state where you left it, with all applications installed and ready to run (some may prompt to re-register!).In the middle of a project, this is the best option.

You can also use any other application to clone your system drive regularly, but only Time Machine allows you to restore automatically during installation.

Also note that restoring a drive also works on different hardware, so you can use Time Machine to get a system from an iMac to a MacPro. You will, however, loose all software registrations that are hardware-dependent (more about that later).

02 - Reinstalling Applications

If you restored from a backup of your system drive, all applications should still be installed and working. Otherwise, you have no other solution than to reinstall everything from the original medium.

For the topic of copy protection and how to make sure that your applications show as registered, see 3) Plugins and Application Registrations.

Application Content Files
Some Applications have a large number of content files (for example Logic Pro and Final Cut Studio). If you had installed these to another drive, they should theoretically still be there. If not, make sure to reinstall them, i.e. if you cloned the system to another machine, but did not migrate your other drives. It would also be a good idea to periodically check for files you don't use at all. If you never use any loops, then you can delete them from your drive, making backups smaller and therefore restoring the drive quicker.

03 - Plugins and Application Registrations

Plugins are probably the biggest issue when it comes to a re-installation. Their files reside in the library folder on the system drive, so with Time Machine and similar applications, they will still be there after a restore. But many plugins, as well as applications, have some form of copy protection. It all depends on which method of protection an application or plugin uses:

a) Simple Serial Number
If you restored your system from a complete backup, all applications with just a serial number, but no other protection (for example Logic Pro) will show as registered and should work without any problems. The serial number is saved somewhere in the system so after a restore it is still there. As these numbers are hardware-independent, even another machine will still recognize the number.

b) Serial Number with Challenge/Response
This is the difficult part! Some applications use a serial number, but bind it to your hardware via a Challenge/Response method. That means that the unlock code that was sent to you after registering is only valid for the original hardware. Usually minor hardware changes are ok (hard drives), but if you change the processor or even get a whole new machine, those registrations will not work anymore. Usually you can contact the vendor and ask for a new registration, but this takes time. So if possible avoid bigger hardware updates when in a hurry!

Be especially cautious with obsolete applications or applications, whose creator has gone the way of the dodo. If they switched off the registration server and do not have any support channels anymore, you will not be able to use that software ever again. It has happened to me and is a real nuisance. This is why I strongly recommend to have backups of your system drive. As long as you don't change any big hardware components, you can still use the software, even after replacing the system drive.

Some companies have tools that ease re-registering after hardware changes, i.e. Native Instruments. Some other plugins you will have to re-register on the website.

If you do a planned re-installation of your system, you should look for a "un-register" option in the application. Sibelius has this for example. It basically tells the server that you won't use the software on this configuration anymore and frees the license. You can then register it again without problems.

c) Dongle
There are a lot of dongle based systems out there, the most important being eLicenser and iLok. If software is protected by a dongle, the license sits on the dongle, not on your machine. So unless the dongle breaks, everything will continue to work on any new system, even on a new machine, as long as the drivers are installed. In terms of ease of use, dongles are probably the most convenient copy protection. Take care of your dongles and you should be ok.

04 - Audio Samples, Instrument Libraries

If you use large sample libraries, these usually reside on extra drives. All of your plugins should still find their libraries after a restore. But if you have to reinstall everything because your backup of the system drive does not work or you cannot use it, here's a tip: For nearly all plugins, you can just copy everything to a new location, there is no need to install from the original DVD(s)! This can save you a lot of time. If you have a copy of every drive in your machine, in case of failure, you can just switch the drives.

Note from the Editor: It's also advisable to double-check with the software manufacturer's installation to check how that particular plugin, sample library, applications stores it's files and how they may be referenced by your Mac. - RS

05 - Finding Drivers, Installers and Other Important Things

The one single time killer when it comes to reinstalling any computer is - - - looking for drivers and installers! You've probably experienced this for yourself in the past. The actual installation takes a fraction of the time you spend on looking for all the CDs, DVDs and installers!

As far as sound libraries go, more and more products are download-only, so you won't have any physical copy unless you make one yourself. Do this! Make a habit of burning every single download to a CD or DVD. Also do this every few months for the most recent updates. Updates sometimes can be huge and it is a real pain to update several 1.0.0 versions from DVD to a much higher version by first downloading gigabytes of updates from a gazillion of different sites. Create a number of update DVDs which have the most recent updates for your most-used plugins and applications. You can use a rewritable DVD for this and just overwrite it every few months.

Also keep a list of all serial numbers and response codes. These for the most part come via email. You should of course print them out, but having a list of all codes at hand is better than looking through huge piles of print-outs when in a hurry. The same applies to login data from vendor's websites.

If you follow these steps and always have a spare hard drive ready in case one fails, you should never get into any serious problems. I hope this article helped to make your work flow safer and prepare you for any unplanned interruptions.

If you have questions or feedback please leave us a comment!

Tobias Escher

Tobias Escher | Articles by this author

Tobias Escher started playing the piano at an early age and was drawn to the pipe organ. He since then works as a freelance organist and choirmaster and as a composer for media projects in his own studio. His love for the Mac platform began in 2005 with a humble mac mini and has since then grown to a serious addiction. He regularly preaches the virtues of Logic and Sibelius and is on a quest to make the world realise iTunes as one of the greatest things that ever left Apple. Learn more about Tobias on his website, novatlan-sound.de/.

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