Chores to consider before and after upgrading to OS X Mountain Lion

A prominent Mac storage developer recently pitched its software as the path to "a smooth upgrade to Apple's Mountain Lion." Whether or not one buys the program, the recommended list of chores — both before and after the OS upgrade — make sense, especially for the new SSD-only MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor on

The vendor in question is Prosoft Engineering, a longtime developer of storage and data recovery utilities for the Macintosh. The company offers Drive Genius, now in Version 3.0, a popular program for Mac storage professionals (along with the company's Data Rescue 3 for Mac). The package offers a number of modules to repartition, scan and monitor Mac storage volumes. The defragmentation module has been used for years at the Apple Store for the annual ProCare Tune Up, the company says. 

New in Version 3.0 are enhancements to defragmentation and partitioning routines; DrivePulse, a new drive monitoring and alert system; 64-bit and RAID volume support; e-mail notifications after long scans are completed; and new real-time bad-block scanning and extended read/write block verification.

Here are the steps suggested by Prosoft (and which are, of course, supported by Drive Genius:

Before installing Mountain Lion: Make a clone of your existing system; and then create a new partition to hold Mountain Lion, letting you boot into either OS.

After Installation: Remove unwanted and unnecessary files and duplicates; and then defragment the system. Of course, Prosoft suggests that users would want to use the new DrivePulse to set up notifications in case something starts to go south on the drive.

Now, it's best practice to create a clone of your entire system before installing any major piece of software in your workflow and especially before a systemware upgrade. I have a cron task running that makes a clone of my primary system on my MacBook Pro twice a day, mid-day and in the evening. This is to my external Thunderbolt RAID box. I also run Time Machine on the MBP's primary SSD (solid-state drive) and the internal hard drive.

Creating a new partition on the fly and installing Mountain Lion into it is also a good idea, if you have the extra capacity for it. Not all applications are ready for Mountain Lion, and I've found that no matter how much planning is done in advance, we really won't be sure of which application is critical to our workflows until we start working and discover the incompatible app.

I was intrigued by Prosoft's suggestion to use the DriveSlim tool, which provides a range of different scans, to search for and identify files you don't need. This would be especially useful for SSD users. The tool identifies very large files such as videos and tutorials for GarageBand or other programs; and it can search for duplicates, as well.

The tool also offers Language Slimming, which is a somewhat controversial subject. It is possible to remove a language that is used by the system or a program that you use. I asked Brian Bergstrand, Prosoft's lead engineer for Drive Genius, about this issue.

"DriveSlim tries to be smart about this [languages in localizations], it will never delete your primary language and it will never delete an app that only has a single language. In addition, you can configure DriveSlim to keep more than your primary language in the Options pane. Finally, there are some apps that break if their localizations are removed (for example, Microsoft and Adobe), so those are skipped," he said.

Next, Prosoft recommends defragging the drive with Drive Genius. OS X has its own routines for defragging as you use your drive and as you add files. The system tries to put files in places with more contiguous space, rather than the next available block. When you open a file that is very fragmented, OS X defragments it.

In addition, OS X employs "Hot File Adaptive Clustering," which tracks read-only files that are frequently requested and then moves them to a "Hot Zone." In the process of moving, the "hot" files are defragmented.

However, Bergstrand said that the Hot Zone in the file system is limited. "To be a "Hot File" candidate, the file has to be below 20MB and also be accessed frequently." Hence, his recommendation for the more-powerful defragging utility.

Take a look at the list of cautions offered by my colleague Jason O'Grady in his post Don't upgrade to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion before reading this

As I've advised for every OS X (or Mac OS X and MacOS before it) over the past dozen or so years: what's the hurry? There's no reason to race into an upgrade and only trouble to your workflow without careful planning. Understanding all of the requirements of your software investment and its compatibility with the upgrade is essential.

And it's often best to wait for the dot maintenance update.

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