What I thought was a minor issue turned out to be more when I ran Disk Utility and the message came back to back up important files and reformat the hard drive. Thus began the journey to start from scratch on my MacBook Air that was little more than a year old. Was I prepared for disaster?
Away from home but with a reliable high speed WiFi connection, my MacBook Air could no longer boot after Verify on the Disk Utility was unable to fix a cluster on my solid state drive (SSD.) The only option left was to boot in Recovery mode (holding down the Command-R during bootup) as Safe mode (just the command key) no longer worked. Recovery Mode, new to Mac OS X with the advent of Lion, boots from a separate small partition that is set aside when Lion is installed. This requires an internet connection and your exisiting network connections area availalbe in this mode.
The first thing that happens when you choose to reinstall Lion in Recovery Mode is that it downloads it again from the internet. Unfortunately, it took several attempts, each a couple of hours long, until I sought a solution to a known issue - the computer thinking you cancelled the download of Lion. Your only options are to either "Cancel" or to "Cancel Download" both of which stop the reinstallation of Lion. OOPS! If you choose cancel, all you can do is try to re-install Lion and again you will get the same non-sensical option to cancel or cancel.
The solution which I found by combing through numerous discussion forums was to flash the PRAM then try again. To do this, hold down CTL-OPTION-COMMAND-P-R when booting...allow the screen to flicker and then reboot into recovery mode with COMMAND-R. Now if you try to re-install Lion, you will find the download had indeed almost completed before and within just a few second the download finishes and the reinstallation continues properly.
Now, what about all my lost data? I've been at this long enough that MOST things were backed off in the cloud just fine. 99% of my documents are in a DropBox account so my first step was to just redownload the dropbox installer and then all my files re-synced to my MacBook Air from the dropbox account. Using my Carbonite account, which constantly backs everything to the cloud, I was able to download a handful of files that I had not stored in dropbox very easily.
Reinstalling my apps was a different matter and this is something that is still not ideal. Most of the cloud services will not back up apps and my Time Machine backup, a feature built-in to every Mac, was sitting at home - and I was not at home. Any application that I had purchased in the Apple App Store was a breeze...just connect with the App Store, look at purchase history and redownload them all. Other apps that I purchased on-line were easy to redownload and install thanks to my 1 Password app(that stores its data in my DropBox folder.) This handy program is a safe storage for all my application license keys and also stores the URL for the download page of every application I've installed over the years. As the data file is stored in my DropBox documents folder, once I reinstalled 1 Password, I had all my download URLs and license keys. Unfortuately, my iWork, iLife and Aperture apps were purchased before there was an App store and Apple has yet to have a cloud matching service like they do for iTunes music. This means that even though I have paid for legitimate copies of all the programs, I need the DVDs to do the reinstall. Same goes for Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 which is not even available in the App Store. I won't tell you what I did but will say it might rhyme with "zit borrent" and an app called Transmission.
So, Apple, I am hoping that one day you will allow folks who have purchased your Apps on DVD and installed them on their computers, to have this registered in the App Store as a purchase so that the app can be redownloaded in an emergency. In the meantime, I strongly recommend these tips based on my experience:
- Use a cloud backup service such as DropBox that always automatically synchronizes your data across all your computers
- Have a Time Machine backup always running wherever you use your computer the most so that you could restore anything; but you still need cloud options for when not at home or when even the backup could be corrupted
- Backup everything constantly in the background using a service like Carbonite or CrashPlan
- Get a license/password storage app like 1Password and be sure to keep its data file in your cloud storage so that you can access the information about any app installed on any computer when needed
- If possilbe, buy apps from the Apple App Store as once purchased they can be downloaded anytime to any of your computers (Hopefully, one day Apple will have an app matching service so that if apps are installed via other means such as download from developer's site or installed from DVD then you can download it from the App store like their iTunes music match.)