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Mountain Lion foot-dragger blinks…tentatively

Sections: Features, Lion, Mac OS X, Operating Systems, Opinions and Editorials, Snow Leopard

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Some folks (lots of them evidently) profess to be satisfied with Apple’s move to electronic delivery of operating system version upgrades, initiated with the release of OS X 10.7 Lion in 2011.

That satisfaction is a mystery to me. I much prefer the old-school dynamic of having a physical install disk in hand for reinstalls, emergency booting, and a much greater degree of time management flexibility and manual control over the install process than one gets with Mac App Store downloads.

Partly philosophical temperament, I guess. I—with rare exceptions—prefer full manual control in almost any context. I like manual gearboxes in cars, and have joked that I’d opt for manual chokes, spark advance, and fuel mixture adjustment too, given the choice. Only a slight exaggeration.

I’ve also never been much of a fan of Apple’s Software Update, and in the past I’ve almost always opted to download freestanding installers and proceed with updates at my convenience.

My disaffection for the hassle of electronic upgrades was part of the reason I never bothered upgrading to OS X 10.7 Lion, although a stronger reason was that I just like version 10.6 Snow Leopard better. However, with Mountain Lion uncaged, I figured that falling two OS X versions behind was probably too many, and I’ve been finding lately that there’s more and more software demanding at minimum versions 10.7 or 10.8. There’s also the matter of relevance given that I earn part of my living writing about Apple products.

So, with Labor Day weekend freeing up a bit of time, I decided to take a crack at downloading Mountain Lion, and I have to report that the process didn’t improve my opinion of electronic downloads. First I discovered that the backup OS I had installed on my MacBook hard drive’s secondary partition was version 10.6.5, and Mountain Lion wants 10.6.8, so first I had to download and install that update. For that chore I did use Software Update. It went smoothly, and booted up fine.

The next day I tackled the Mountain Lion installer download. I don’t know if Apple’s servers were especially constipated because of the long weekend, but the Mac App Store purchase process seemed even slower and clunkier than usual, and when I finally did get the download rolling, the progress dialog informed me it would take six and a half hours.

I have wireless broadband Internet, which is the only online access available in this neck of the woods aside from dialup or satellite service, both of which are slower. I usually find the wireless service’s speed tolerably satisfactory, but fiber-op it’s not. Apple Store? The nearest one is a 150 mile drive, one way, an improvement from the 676 miles it had been until Apple opened its first ever store in Canada’s Atlantic provinces last month. But I didn’t need a fast download that badly.

I left the download running and went off with my wife to attend a wedding. Upon our return, it was evident that the initial 6.5 hour estimate had been wildly optimistic, and in the end the download took more like 10.5 hours, give or take. By that time it was getting seriously late in the evening, but at least the download appeared to have been successful. However, I was in no rush to proceed with the installation, and instead quit the installer, deciding that it would be more prudent to first create a bootable installer partition on one of my external hard drives using Disk Utility.

That’s just one of several potential options, others being to burn an installer DVD (dual-layer unless you’re prepared to perform a semi-hack using the Terminal to cram the installer onto a standard recordable DVD), or an installer USB thumb drive. If I’d had an empty 8 GB drive handy, I would probably have opted for the latter, but I didn’t, and the nearest place I could get one is 50 miles distant, so I went with the hard drive partition.

There are plenty of good tutorials online for how to go about creating a bootable Mountain Lion installer volume, so I won’t go into much detail here. However, unlike the purchase and download, the process went smoothly and quickly. I added a partition (actually two) to the 1TB HDD using Disk Utility. Then I found the installer disk image in the downloaded Mountain Lion bits and copied its contents to the drive partition I’d created. Seems to have worked fine, although I haven’t tried a boot-up or an install from it yet. I also copied the downloaded installer to another HDD partition as extra insurance against another all-day download (at least until OS X v10.9 is released), since I understand the installer deletes itself after a standard install.

At that point I ran out of time, so the anticlimax so far is that I haven’t yet installed Mountain Lion. I’m not in a big hurry. It’s been an even busier week than usual, and, as noted, ML’s going on my MacBook’s secondary hard drive partition, since at this point I expect I’ll be using the trusty Snow Leopard install on the primary partition as my main production OS for the foreseeable future. If it turns out I like Mountain Lion better than I expect to, I may revisit that, but provisionally for now there are still several key applications in my production software suite that contain Power PC code, and for which I haven’t found satisfactory Intel native substitutes. Mountain Lin also doesn’t support my Apple USB dialup modem, and power/internet outages are frequent enough here that I can’t cut the emergency safety net of dialup yet (and yes, I understand there are third-party modems available that will work, but I paid seventy bucks Canadian for this one less than four years ago, and I’m stubbornly disinclined to shop for another). I’m funny that way.

Perhaps this weekend. Stay tuned.

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  • cortman

    “I—with rare exceptions—prefer full manual control in almost any context.”

    Applause, but in that case why on earth are you using OS X?
    Sounds like you’d enjoy Linux, especially as newest distros are every bit as polished (in some cases I think more so) than OS X.

  • Charles Moore

    Good question. I’ve asked it of myself at times.

    The biggest factor keeping me in the Apple fold is the elegant integration of software and hardware, and the production and workflow ecosystem I’ve built up over 20 years on the Mac, which would be difficult to substitute without climbing too many learning curves simultaneously, and I simply don’t have the time. It took me over a week just to get the Mountain Lion upgrade installed once I decided to do so!

    Charles