Drive Genius Disaster and Apple's Frantasic Support

Apple's customer service expert saves the day

I've got a little story for you today of disaster and how Apple's customer service helped me get quickly back on line.

Defrag or not to defrag, that is the question

Although Apple tells people that Mac OS X's journaled file system is so good that it doesn't need defragmentation, I don't believe it.  So, I acquired Drive Genius from Prosoft Engineering. I use that software to defragment the boot drive on a regular basis and have been happy with the overall system performance.

Booting a USB drive

Due to the fact that Mac OS X doesn't offer some of the file system primitives found in some other operating systems, it is impossible to defragment the boot drive without booting from some other drive.  So, I built a Mac OS X image on a USB drive and loaded Drive Genius on that USB drive.

When it's time to optimize my boot drive, I boot up the system from the USB drive and use Drive Genius to optimize the system's hard disk. As one would expect from a product that messed around with the filesystem, Drive Genius presents an ominous warning screen before starting the optimization process.

Since my system is backed up using Mac OS X's time machine, my files are backed up to a local file server and really important files are replicated to other machine in my local network, I've blithely ignore those ominous warnings.  Everything has worked just fine in the past.  Although everything has worked out time and again, I guess there's always a first time...

Disaster strikes

This time, something unusual happened during the Drive Genius' optimization run.  The Mac OS X system update utility unexpectedly kicked in and interrupted the Drive Genius process.  I'd never seen this happen before.  As one might expect, interrupting a disk optimization utility is bad. Drive Genius, obviously irritated by the interruption, did quite a number on my hard drive's directory structure. No problem, I thought, I'll just search the internet for suggestions on what to do to fix the disk structure.

Since the system was running Mac OS from the USB drive, I first tried the Disk Utility that is part of Mac OS.  No luck. The utility couldn't verify or repair the disk structure. I tried booting the Snow Leopard installation CD. That didn't work either. The CD wouldn't boot. Then I tried booting the installation disk that came with the system. No joy came from that attempt either. None of the suggestions I found on various Mac OS forums helped much.

Apple's customer service

So, I called the Apple support line, paid a small fee, and was connected with Justin. He was polite, friendly, spoke better English than I do (he's from Idaho) and clearly knows a great deal about the operating system.  We went down his diagnostic tree and tried different things for about 45 minutes.

After closing the plantation shutters on my office window, lighting the candles having the little Apple logos and studying a map of Mammoth Cave I had laying around from playing Adventure on a DECsystem 10 years ago, we were finally able to get the Snow Leopard installation disk to boot.

Once booted, we ran the disk utility and, sure enough, the utility told us that the disk couldn't be verified or fixed. The only choice was to erase and recreate the system disk.

I closed my eyes, asked for help form the computer gods, and clicked the button that would obliterate my hard drive directory structure, all of my applications and all of my data. In a few moments, the system was set to reload Mac OS.

Once the installation process for Mac OS was started, Justin reminded me of my incident code and give me an 800 number to call when the operating system had loaded.  He told me to call and one of his colleagues would help me through the rest of the process. After having worked with customer support from Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo and IBM over the years, working with Apple's customer support is a breath of fresh air.

Forty five minutes later, I called Apple's support line.  During the ten minutes I was on hold, I was able to tell time machine to rebuild my system from the last backup.  When it was clear that the process was well underway, I hung up never having spoken with an Apple representative. When the rebuild process completed, I synchronized my system with the file server and found three files that hadn't been backed up by time machine.

Thanks to Justin and the fact that I keep multiple copies of everything, I'm back in business having only lost a few hours of my time. I folded up the map of Mammoth Cave and put it back into an old slash folder for future emergencies, snuffed out the Apple logo candles and reopened my plantation shutters knowing that it was going to be a good day today. Thanks Justin.

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