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A Clean Start

Step1 shelf macbookpro 13 022411

OVER LABOR DAY WEEKEND, I made a clean start on my 13" MacBook Pro. Over the past few weeks I'd become aware of OS slowdowns, system quirks and a variety of little issues. A fresh start was in order.

Annoyances Added Up

My MacBook isn't old. I bought it at the end of 2009 and it's been the best Mac I've ever owned. Because I had to be up and running quickly for work, I used migration assistant after taking it home. This approach worked as planned, but carried forward the digital cruft of several years running OS X.

Lately I'd noticed the little annoyances — slow performance, disk space running low, font oddities and other strange issues. Years of OS barnacles needed to be scraped from my machine and a fresh coat of paint applied.

Diving In

It was Friday night of the Labor Day weekend, when I realized I had a 4 day window to start this cleansing and freshening, so I dove in. Taking a 640GB external USB drive I'd bought to archive files and movies on, I redistributed those files back to the MacBook and a spare FireWire drive, the reformatted the external USB drive to create a bootable backup.

SuperDuper took care of the rest, fixing permissions on the newly formatted drive, and preparing it for backup. I went to bed while SuperDuper cloned my drive, waking the next morning to a perfect copy.

If you're reading this and don't have SuperDuper, go get a copy now. SuperDuper is one of my most valued utility apps.

Resurrecting Lion

In July I upgraded the MacBook to Lion, which has gone very well, Unfortunately, Lion cleans up after itself and deletes the installer once it's installed. In order to wipe and install a new version of Lion on the startup drive of the MacBook, I needed to re-download the installer.

After a quick search, I learned that pressing the option key while clicking the Purchased tab in the Mac App Store turns the Download button into an Install button, which allowed me to reinstall Lion on my drive.

A bit of research turned up articles about Lion clean installs and making a bootable Lion DVD or USB thumb drive from the Lion installer. I backed up the installer image to a thumb drive and created a bootable DVD to work from.

The Cleansing Process

Once I had a clone of my MacBook's internal drive on an external drive, I initiated an Erase and Install of Lion from the bootable DVD I'd created. In 40 minutes, a fresh version of Lion was ready to go on the MacBook.

My next task was re-installing apps I use, rather than moving the whole lot over again. I wanted to start with as fresh and clean of a system as possible — to free up disk space and create a faster, cleaner system.

This approach worked great. By Saturday evening I was installing a variety of my most-used apps, with old app remnants and crufty preferences left on the external drive, in case I might need them later. The system was noticeably faster, with windows snapping open and apps running quickly.

App Installation

Bringing new apps into the system was relatively easy, especially apps purchased on the Mac App Store. In that case, a matter of logging into my Mac Store account revealed a list of apps ready to download.

A few apps were brought over from the backup drive, and in some cases (like TextExpander) preference files were brought over as well.

In some cases it was easier to install apps from disk or download the latest versions from the developer websites. I also found indy Mac app developers do a great job with serial number recovery, which I needed a few times.

After installing Adobe CS5, I intentionally un-installed flash. I'd done the same on the old system and it really helped Safari. I make use of extensions to handle video in Safari and Google Chrome for flash-dependent pages. Learn more about the flash-free approach on Daring Fireball.

I had the idea going into the cleansing, recovering apps would be the most painful part of the process — but it wasn't. I wish I'd cleaned house earlier.

Current State: Awesome

As I write this post I'm enjoying a revived MacBook Pro. With a clean, quick system, I'm using the machine more than before, especially unplugged from the AC adapter and big screen. It's like a new MacBook Pro.

I plan to add notes to this post as I encounter things relevant to the clean start process, and would love any suggestions you may have.


Shirt Pocket Software: SuperDuper
Lion Clean Installs
Burn a Bootable Lion DVD or USB Thumb Drive
Smile Software: TextExpander
Daring Fireball: Going Flash-Free on Mac OS X

Reader Comments (4)

I am actually lamenting the install of Lion. I have had a ridiculous amount of font issues in Safari since I installed.

Going back and reading over this s-l-o-w-l-y. Hoping to garner a little wisdom that will alleviate the ever-present spinning pinwheel.

September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOMSH

Fonts can be a big issue. I think Font Book is pretty good about seeing issues with them, but they can cause problems. I'd suggest starting with the default and only adding what you need until you find the culprit.

September 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

I also saw the infamous "Last Resort' font issues following upgrading to Lion. This is caused by Safari 'sandboxing', where access to fonts outside of the system are disallowed. Here's a link to an article on Cnet that fixed it for me:

Basically this allows Safari to see the fonts in locations other than it's default. No problems at all since I implemented this.
Good thing too as it was wasting tons of my time & driving me nuts!

October 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid McDonald

You have tipped me over the edge... same device, same challenge... but have been procrastinating the clean install... and now I have bookmarked your instructions so that it will be done. Thanks.

January 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConor Neill

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