Clean Install – What would you do differently?


So after a solid year of careless downloads, installs, file storage, and a plethora of other bad usage habits, I’m going to do a clean install of Tiger.

This time around I’d like to do it right. I need an environment that’s conducive to a fast working environment as well as one that’s code for not only keeping up with the many design jobs I’ve got going but development as well.

So the question here really is, “If you could start from scratch on a fresh machine, what would you do differently?”

Edit: Just to clarify here…I’m not so much talking “how you would do a backup/clean install” but rather “what would you do AFTER you’ve cleaned everything off and have a fresh machine.” We’re talking file structure, organization, etc etc. Things to increase productivity and decrease problems.



I have just one question: I’m buying Mac OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard Retail Upgrade. I’m afraid about this “upgrade” line in it. Can I make a clean install of it or it is just a upgrade from older versions of Mac OS X SL (like 10.6.2 or 10.6). I have this complain ’cause I’m not a mac user (I mean, not a Apple Hardware user) and I’m wanting to install it on my pc (poor licence agreement brake), but if it is an upgrade, it just won’t work right. Can you help me with this deal?



For font management, I’ve abandoned FontBook in favor of FontExplorer X ( It’s pretty awesome, and the price is definitely right (read FREE). One of the things I like best about it, is that you can have it move all your fonts to a ~/FontExplorer X/Font Library folder that’s organized alphabetically. Other stuff includes automatic creation of dmg or zip files of fonts just by dragging from the preview pane to your desktop, etc. Def. worth checking out.

Sorry for getting sidetracked and not really answering the question at hand – but the fact is, I’m still looking for ways of increasing my productivity and organizing things after a clean install.

Bill I

Personally, I liken clean installs to a tune-up on your car. Anytime you clean out old stuff for newer cleaner things, it’s gonna feel faster.

If nothing else, it gives you a chance to re-evaluate what you really use and what your really don’t….which can reduce clutter (at least the way I see it).


I am terrified of moving and copying files. When ever I do I lose them.


Is a clean install (erase & install) going to give you better performance than an archive & install?

Bill I

I never “Archive and Install” – by my way of thinking, I’m reinstalling the OS for a reason, I might as well go ‘all out.’ Right?


I just finished my first OS upgrade for Mac (10.3. to 10.4) on my wife’s iBook. I did an erase-and-install, as Archive makes the former Windows user in my say “ick, old/bad Registry stuff (or in OS 10, Library prefs).

Aside from forgetting to backup her address book (oops), and not properly backing up her mail (double oops–I copied her entire library/mail folder and then imported it back into Mail, but the import said “there is nothing to import” when I selected the mailboxes), it went fine. I did learn that 10.3 wont initialize and create an HFS partition over USB…

Based on some reading I did during that Safari “open safe files by default” thing I also created an Admin account for me and a non-Admin user account for my wife, and that I’m glad for (as my only use on the computer is tech support).

So if I can figure out how to not loose all her Mail and Address, I might be OK next time. Or am I wrong to be so scared of Archive and Install on an OS upgrade?


Hmm…I have recently setup my own NAS solution at home and gotten things really working wonderfully. I use Apple’s excellent and recently revamped Backup 3 to schedule backups of my Client and website directories…these happen automagically once a day (websites in progress) and once a week (billing info, PSDS, etc). iTunes and Photos are 15GB and 5GB respectively, so I back them up manually say, once a month or so, whenever I feel the need.

I use another app called ChronoSync to keep my Clients directory containing design elements actually bi-directionally synced with the directory on my NAS. This means I can hop over to my Windows workstation if I need to work in CS2 or 3DSMAX, save files on the NAS, and then sync them very easily back to the local dir on my MacBook. Deletions, folder naming – everything is always mirrored perfectly in both places. Also another form of backup, but useful in certain workflows as well.

But like most everyone else who has replied, I’ve diverted into talking about my own setup and back-up /restore procedures – not really to the point of your question about what I would do differently.

I can say without a doubt it would be better font management. I have some fonts living in the system font folder, some in my local lib’s fonts folder….and well, it’s disconcerting. I really would do a better job of making sure my fonts were collected in my own user directory, along with my font collections. I would like to have a very organized backup of this that I could get up and running with on another Mac very quickly.

Anyone have any tips about organizing fonts? Specifically, where best to install them and how to back them up.

Cameron M.

I recently did a fresh install of Tiger on my 15″ PowerBook and have made a point of backing my files up reguarily to my 250GB LaCie with SuperDuper! (a great utility, by the way). I’ve also started to use AppZapper to make sure I don’t leave any crap behind from my program demos and such.

Another thing I did differently this time around was to turn off FileVault. Sometimes I get hooked on being super-secure but then realise later on that it’s overkill. FileVault was just taking up extra space (and time) and was getting in the way of cloning my HD without having to mount the disk image every time I wanted to get at something. Anyway, I am now a firm believer that a lot of security is not necessarily a good thing!

So that’s what I did with my fresh install.


I’m a long-time Unix user (sysadmin and Solaris kernel programmer), but relatively new Mac user, so I did the stupid thing (I’m finding out from all these comments) of reorganizing all my apps hierarchically by type (multimedia, network utilities, etc.) — “Hey, I just have to drag the icon to move the whole app? How sweet!” So I figure I should probably fix it before I run into problems, yah? Can someone tell me where the default Apple apps go, like Fontbook, etc.? Is Textedit an Application or a Utility? *sheepish grin*

Care to mail me a response? I’m billifer at that wonderful gmail dot com mail host. :)

As for my recommendations to the original question: I like the idea of keeping DMG files for hard-to-find stuff (such as stuff you get a 48-hour download window for), etc., and a text file for the other stuff you want to reinstall. I haven’t (yet), but I really like the idea of synching an external drive for backups/booting if necessary. I do personally using iBackup to backup my app and system preferences to a USB thumb drive on a regular basis. I also like Synk for backing up specific folders (Documents, etc.) remotely to networked drives (SMB, AFS, or even WebDAV); I’ve evaluated several solutions and it works best for me.

As for other essential software that I highly recommend (in addition to the AppZapper and iTerm above) are USBOverdrive if you use anything but an Apple-brand mouse, Camino, Vim, iStumbler if you have need for it, FontExplorer X, OnyX, Growl of course, and last but not least RCDefaultApp.

For other recommendations: Stay away from Softpedia, Versiontracker, and their kith — especially if you’re an RSS addict like me. You don’t have to download every last screensaver, icon pack, wallpaper, haxie, widget, and cute little app that you see. In fact, I’d say that you should keep your screensavers to a bare minimum, stay away from all the haxies (except maybe ClearDock which is okay), and keep the Dashboard very neat and tidy. A couple of widgets are worth having though: iStatPro and Amazon Album Art (which actually becomes unnecessary if you download Corripio, which I forgot to mention above. I currently use only 10 Dashboard widgets and wouldn’t think of a single one more than that.

I think it’s probably also important to regularly run the maintenance scripts to repair permissions, clean system caches, font caches, etc. OnyX, which I mentioned above, makes it really easy to take care of those things which may not be done by default.

If you made it to the end of this, congratulations! :)

Chuck Cheeze

Why keep the DMGs of installed programs archived? If you do a fresh install later again you will probably download and install more recent versions of that software. One thing I have done since day 1 is keep a text file of every program I have installed in order. Also includes whether it is UB or not (if you care). Easy for keeping track of whats on my CPU, the version, and when I gor a MBP I was able to copy that file to it and install all my favorite programs without missing any due to my bad memory.

Chris J

Intresting…… I am about to get a mac for the first time (macbook pro 17″ 2gbRAM) to use as my Protools/Reason machine for production. Do I need to set up OSX for this? y’know graphical effects window shadows ect do macs startup annoying apps on boot? any tips?
Chris ;)

Bill I

For a long time I had multiple accounts (one for leisure, one for work) and ultimately I found that to be a cludgey solution.

The thing that made me the most crazy was trying to update a program from my Work account that had been installed by my leisure account….it was always a hassle. Even when I tried to do everything through the Shared folder, I ran into permission problems almost daily.

I found it so frustrating, that I ultimately clean installed and now only use 1 account for work and leisure. I’m MUCH happier without all the minor nusances….and I’ve also got only 1 set of bookmarks now :)


Interesting, I’m contemplating doing this too. I’m going to what I should have done and set up a single Admin account which only gets used as and when is totally necessary. Then I’ll have a separate account for ‘normal user’ (browsing, e-mail, normal everyday use, &c.) and ‘development’ (for php, mysql, ruby, &c.). I’ll also make sure to install development stuff into /usr/local/ to keep it separate from the Tiger defaults.

I, too, keep an ‘archive’ of installation files but apart from apps, I stick everything under the home folder.

The most important thing I’ll do, though, is to set up a scheduled job to back-up my data to my Strongspace account and to an external hard drive. Exceptions: E-mail, which is IMAP anyway; iCal, which I publish to my Textdrive WebDAV account and sync with my phone; Address Book, which is on my Joyent account as well as sync’d with my phone.


“I find that “one big folder with tags” scary.”

Agreed, I wasn’t suggesting that, of course. Tags are evil when it comes to your overall directory structure… Has to be some ‘hard’ distinction between files. I’m just saying put it all in your Documents folder or in your home folder, or whatever, so that when you go to back stuff up you dont have random folders all over the drive.

“I would not organize applications in subfolders.”

Definitely don’t move any apps from where they want to be, except games, I’ve never had a problem moving noiz2sa from Applications to Applications/Games :)

“As much as I hate to say it, I’d follow apple’s folder structure for documents, pictures, apps, etc.”

Why do you hate to say it? :P Apple knows what they’re doing! :)

Bill I

As far as applications go, I leave Apple’s apps in /Applications and any apps I download go into /home//Applications (which is a folder I created). If I download an app I consider to be a “utility” more than a day-to-day application, I install it into the /Applications/Utilities folder.

I put only the apps I use often (daily) into my dock, and the rest I get to through HimmelBar (Google it, I love it). I control my iTunes with ByteController so I don’t have to always be looking at the iTunes window or mini-player.

My Documents folder is organized into subfoldes based on topic (Work, Website, _Miscellaneous, etc), and I do my best to keep things organized.

I do a fair amount of work in Terminal, so I downloaded iTerm for it’s tabbed-windowing abilities.

So, I suppose the point of all this is to keep it minimal (so you’re not distracted) but keep everything in a place that’s easy to get to (so you don’t waste time finding it). For example, I have all my applications readily available from the desktop, even though I rarely use the ones that aren’t in my Dock.

At any rate – that’s what I do, hope that helps.


I would not organize applications in subfolders. I do that now, and anytime I run an update I have to move the apple apps to the root of /Applications, and then move them back to their subfolders afterward. This obviously introduces the risk that I’ll forget something (which I have done), and an app will break (which has happened). For example, I no longer have a functioning because of this.

As much as I hate to say it, I’d follow apple’s folder structure for documents, pictures, apps, etc.


I save the dmg files of apps I download in an archive folder, and back them up along with everything else.

I find that “one big folder with tags” scary. I really like structured heirarchies, you should see my file cabinet. Maybe i’ll try it on the laptop and see how it works.


Keep EVERYTHING is a specific subdirectory, such as your documents folder under various things like ‘Downloads’ and ‘Dev’ and ‘pr0n’, etc… Then next time you do a fresh install you just copy it to an external location and then copy it back.

Careful with applications though, i had a few dissapear on me when copying them back… But things like music, pictures, etc, all work out great, you just copy your entire documents folder back in and they replace the ‘default’/mostly empty system ones.

Then get a cool desktop background, install quicksilver and textmate and you’re good to go :)

Erik Swanson

• Skip installation of Apple-supplied printer drivers
• Skip installation of “Extra Fonts”


I recently did a bit of this myself. Here’s the setup I ended up with.

I got myself a copy of SuperDuper! ( and two external hard drives. Using SuperDuper!, I made a bootable backup copy of my iMac’s entire hard drive on the first external drive. Next, I made another bootable copy of my iMac onto the other hard drive, and set my iMac to boot and operate from this drive. This drive is now my “sandbox.” If I install an update or application that hoses something, it’s no big deal, as my iMac’s internal drive was untouched. I need only to reboot from the iMac’s internal drive, us it to restore the sandbox and I’m all set. Disaster recovery in a matter of minutes. Once a patch is released to fix that faulty update (or application), I can install it on the iMac’s internal drive.

Chris Holland

i recently did a clean install over xmas to get rid of that botched iTunes install from versions back, but it was an archive install, so i got to keep everything i had, and i liked that very much :o

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