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Mars Report:

Trying To Tame Mountain Lion Without A Hat

Published December 29th, 2012

Remember my angst about whether I should migrate my computing life to Mountain Lion? Well, that story's now over, and Mountain Lion has won.

Mounting A Lion VirtuallyMore on that in a moment, but first I want to briefly describe my experiment in using Mountain Lion as a virtual OS inside Parallels Desktop — an experiment I've now abandoned. The process was quite simple once I figured it out, but it took more setup than expected. You have to install Parallels Desktop on both Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion, and then, on Mountain Lion, make a virtual disk of the Mountain Lion OS, which is one of the default choices when defining a new virtual OS in Parallels.

Once I had the Mountain Lion virtual disk, I could import that as a new virtual instance in Parallels on Snow Leopard. Doing so was simple and straightforward, and I don't recall running into any glitches. After the import, I could "boot" into Mountain Lion as an instance of Parallels desktop, and then switch back and forth between the two OS's as I would between two applications.

The reason I abandoned this effort is that when I installed CrystalClear Interface (CCI) or Crystal Black (CB) on the Mountain Lion instance, Safari would repeatedly crash. Disabling CCI for Safari made no difference. Only by uninstalling my software would Safari work again. I tried various other tricks to overcome this, but failed. Since debugging Safari on Mountain Lion was one of the primary goals of this whole effort, this failure effectively shut the project down.

At that point, I was stalled on CCI vs. Mountain Lion, so I turned my attention to migrating from the old Quicken 2007 for the Mac, because it won't run on Mountain Lion. That migration could be an article on its own. :-)

The Unthinkable Lets Loose A LionAnd then, in a matter of moments, Mountain Lion became my default OS. Snow Leopard has now become a legacy OS for me, as has each Apple feline in its turn before that.

In those few moments, the unthinkable happened. Suddenly, the dark shade of death descended from the top of the screen, signaling the warning that all the busy bits we rely on to keep the trains running on our Macs had given up and gone home — and we had better do so as well.

Well OK... no big deal, right? I've experienced this kind of kernal panic message before and come out unscathed after a restart. But not this time.

This time, after the reboot, rather than returning to Snow Leopard, I found myself in Mountain Lion.

How could that be? And why couldn't I find the regular volume for Snow Leopard in the Finder? Likewise, why did Disk Utility show new partition names for the volume that used to have Snow Leopard on it? And why couldn't Disk Utility mount either of the two partitions on that volume?

It turns out that the volume files — the ones that store information about the folders and files on the volume — had been corrupted, and none of the tools I used to try to repair the partitions or volume worked.

Anybody who wants to bail on the rest of this story now are well advised to do so, since it's just going to get more boring from here. :-) I'm doing this mostly so I can remember what happened and what I did... just in case.

Eventually I gave up on the old volume, and after confirming that Time Machine had the files I'd need to restore, I proceeded to set up the two partitions anew. Though I thought I'd be able to restore everything, I was hardly feeling nonchalant as I clicked the button that erased all my files and settings for my old Snow Leopard partition.

I was able to restore all the files on the second partition, which houses most of my third-party apps, but when I attempted to reinstall Snow Leopard on its partition, I realized my stay in Mountain Lion would be even longer than I'd imagined.

It turns out that my install disk for Snow Leopard was corrupted, and I had no other way of getting Snow Leopard onto my Mac.

On the phone with Apple support, I paid $19 for a one-time technical support incident. The upshot of that call was that Apple would express-mail new install disks to me for Snow Leopard — at their expense. As nice as this was, it was late on a Friday afternoon, and I knew it would be at least Monday before the disks arrived.

Trying to Resuscitate Snow LeopardSo, here I was, abandoned in the relatively unfamiliar world of Mountain Lion, not yet having tested all my apps to see what might not work right. Since I use this Mac for running my businesses as well as for personal use, I naturally began to panic that I wouldn't be able to work as effectively as usual. Or worse, there might be some critical task I wouldn't be able to do at all.

Fortunately, as it turns out, most things I need to do daily work fine on Mountain Lion. There are just enough "gotchas" that I still don't feel quite at home here, but it's working out better than I'd feared. Which is a good thing, because after the Snow Leopard disks appeared and I reinstalled the OS on my old partition, I discovered that restoring my user account was not going to be easy.

Normally, on the Mac you use an app called Migration Assistant to restore user accounts and files from another Mac, another partition, or Time Machine, and it's a painless and reliable process. That's how I set up my user account on Mountain Lion — I cloned it from my user account on Snow Leopard.

I had planned to do the restore from my Time Machine backup, but when I attempted this, Migration Assistant couldn't find any user accounts on the Snow Leopard backup. The only accounts it found were on other partitions on my Mac, including my account on Mountain Lion.

After much gnashing of teeth, I decided to try to restore my account from the one on Mountain Lion. Since this was a clone of my Snow Leopard account, I thought this might work.

The restore did indeed work, and I thought I was a little closer to returning to my beloved Snow Leopard.

Unfortunately, the restore didn't move all the files needed for various applications to work, and it contained Mountain-Lion-specific preferences that merely confused some apps. This meant I had to try manually restoring files from Time Machine, a time-consuming and error-prone exercise that took several hours. Most of the files I was trying to restore reside in the top-level /Library folder, which is why they didn't get properly migrated with my home Library.

I finally got my iWork apps to run, but Photoshop simply wouldn't. "Your license has stopped working," is the error message Photoshop gives me. Now, I could reinstall Photoshop, but this might screw up Mountain Lion, where Photoshop works pretty much as expected. (I'm still using Photoshop CS4.) On the other hand, my developer tools — Xcode and Interface Builder (I'm still using Xcode 3.x) — worked fine on Snow Leopard. All of my projects could be opened and compiled, and each still had its whole history of "snapshots," which I use to track changes in the code. On Mountain Lion, by contrast, I keep running into permissions problems in editing project files, and compiling fails with inscrutable messages. Just as serious, Xcode refuses to read the Snapshots disk image for my projects, so I have no code history.

Facing Mountain Lion Without My Lion-Tamer HatMeanwhile, I've spent nearly all of my time since the crash on Mountain Lion, because that's where my day-to-day work now occurs. I've grown to appreciate more of Mountain Lion's enhancements — particularly document "versions" and application "memory" that restores active files automatically on launch — and I feel increasingly distant and nervous about trusting work done on my rebuilt Snow Leopard instance. Mountain Lion also solves my envy problem with iCloud, which doesn't work on Snow Leopard.

At this point, there is really only one barrier to my feeling completely comfortable on Mountain Lion: Xcode. If I can get Xcode to behave reliably on Mountain Lion, I'd have no compelling reason to boot into Snow Leopard. But as it is, I have to do all my design work on Mountain Lion and then compile code on Snow Leopard. When time permits, I'm going to figure out what I need to do to reconnect my snapshots to Xcode, and then Snow Leopard will be as obsolete for me as Leopard, Tiger, Panther, and Jaguar before it. (If any reader knows how to reconnect Xcode snapshots on a new volume, let me know!)

So, what does this mean for CrystalClear Interface and Crystal Black?

For now, the MarsThemes software is in maintenance mode, meaning I'll be releasing updates to keep the software working, but not adding any new features. Bug fixes will be included in maintenance releases, but without my Snow Leopard debugging power I can't address any application-specific bugs. On Mountain Lion, Safari remains an enigma, and it troubles me that I have to keep CCI and CB disabled for it to run. It's extremely frustrating to not be able to debug Safari on Mountain Lion, but that was a problem before I found myself facing Mountain Lion without my lion-tamer hat.

So here I am, using Mountain Lion as my default OS and running back to Snow Leopard to use Quicken and Xcode. It's not the migration I would have planned — if I decided to migrate at all — but at least I'm through the worst of it and have survived.

The good news is that CCI and CB both run reasonably well on Mountain Lion, and I now go weeks without having to provide customer support. Who knows... maybe in a few more months I'll actually learn to love my new OS. I just hope Apple waits longer this time around before trying to move everyone to a new platform!

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