UPDATE: I’ve written a free app that pretty much supercedes what I wrote in this post. DetectX 2 now has a system analyser that records and displays changes to your system configuration over time.
Ever wondered if a link you clicked sneakily downloaded and installed some unwanted software on your mac? Or have you suddenly found your mac behaving weirdly, a situation that is often a result of installing new software that conflicts with something else on the system, but can’t remember what you recently installed? In these sorts of scenarios, what you need to do is check your install logs.
I’ll tell you how to do that in a moment – in a number of ways – but first let’s just make a few notes. Firstly, chances are you’ll find more than one install log in your logs folder. The most recent one is simply called
install.log, older ones will have a filename ending with
.bz2, indicating a compressed file. Secondly, the reason you may have more than one install log is that OS X creates new install logs every time the log file gets to around 1MB in size. It then compresses and keeps the old logs, typically up to five logs prior to the current one.
Pro Tip No.1: if you’re a Terminal whizz and you want to change how many old logs are kept or at what size the log file gets turned over, you can edit the
/etc/newsyslog.conffile, but be sure to read the
Typically, we’re only going to be interested in examining the most recent log file if troubleshooting new problems, but the process that I’m going to describe here can also be used to view the older logs, too. Apple buries the logs deep into parts of OS X that ordinary users typically don’t reach, but fortunately, there’s numerous ways to get at your install logs, and though some of them may be unfamiliar, none of them are particularly difficult or dangerous.
1. View only recently installed items
Open the Terminal.app (Utilities/Terminal.app) and copy and paste this command:
grep 'Installed' /private/var/log/install.log
This will return a list of every item successfully installed since the new log file was created. If there’s nothing of interest there, but you think there should be, then you’re going to need to see a bit more of the log file, and perhaps find out when it was ‘rotated’ or ‘turned over’ (i.e., the last time the system archived the install.log and created a new one).
2. View the entire install log
If you’d like to see the whole log for this reason, or perhaps you want to see whether something failed to install, it’s probably best having the log displayed in TextEdit rather than Terminal, so copy and paste this command into the Terminal window:
cat /private/var/log/install.log | open -f
You’ll see at the beginning of the file it’ll tell you when the file was turned over. Don’t forget you can use TextEdit’s search facility (Command-F) to search for particular instances or items you’re interested in finding. When you’re finished viewing this file, you can simply close TextEdit and discard it. It isn’t the actual log file, but rather a local copy of it.
3. Using Console
Alternatively,, if you don’t feel comfortable in Terminal, you can view all your install logs in the Console.app. You can open Console either through Finder by navigating to /Applications/Utilities/Console.app or just by typing ‘cons’ in either Spotlight or Launchpad. Once Console is open, scroll down the sidebar, looking for /var/log. Click the disclosure triangle if it’s not already pointing downwards and look for install.log. Click on that, and then in the filter bar in the main window, type installed (unlike the grep command I gave you above, this one is not case sensitive and will return both ‘Installed’ and ‘installed’).
Notice in the screenshot above, I’m examining a turned over log, not the current one. As this particular install of Mountain Lion was only done on May 3rd, there’s only one turned over log file.
Pro Tip No.2: You can force the system to turn over all the log files, including install.log even if they haven’t reached their maximum size. As it says in the
newsyslog, this can be “useful for diagnosing system problems by providing you with fresh logs that contain only the problems.”
To force all log files to be turned over, simply enter
sudo newsyslog -Finto Terminal. Hit ‘return’ and supply your password, as always with the
4. Using Finder
If Console is a bit too off-territory for you, there’s nothing wrong with viewing your logs in Finder and TextEdit. To do that, click on the Finder, then hit ‘shift-command-G’ on the keyboard (or click ‘Go’ in the menu bar and choose ‘Go to Folder’). Type or paste this into the dialogue box:
and hit the ‘Go’ button.
Right-click on any of the logs you want to open and choose ‘open with’ from the contextual menu. Choose ‘TextEdit’ or your favourite plain text editor app. If none of your text editors show up in the menu, click ‘Other’ and change the ‘Enable’ menu to ‘All Applications’. You will now be able to choose TextEdit or some other editor if you have one. Note that unlike Step 2 above when we used a Terminal command to open a copy of the install log in TextEdit, here you are viewing the actual files rather than a copy of them. Although the log files are not important to the running of your system and can be deleted or altered without causing any consequences, they do provide useful records for troubleshooting so its always good practice to keep them in tact if you can.
And that, in a nutshell, is how you view your install logs! 🙂
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Featured picture: Rectangleum by *Eccoton
To find out which model of mac you’ve got, hold down the option key on your keyboard and select
> About This Mac
Check the ‘Model Identifier’ against this list:
Of course, just because your machine’s listed, it doesn’t mean it will necessary meet all the specifications, so be sure to check the tech specs too.
With the last seven days of July upon us, the suspense is just killing some people waiting for the release of Apple’s latest version of OS X, 10.8 Mountain Lion. While rumours abound for just about every conceivable day left being the ‘official’ release date (with the 25th being the most popular, it seems), the sensible are making sure they’re prepared. So here’s a few things to do both before and on the big day:
1. Check the tech specs
Check out the tech specs for Mountain Lion and the list of supported machines to make sure you can run it on your current system. If you are upgrading from Snow Leopard, you should also check out will my old apps work with Lion?.
2. Run Software Update
Make sure you have the latest version of everything by running
> Software Update
before you upgrade. This will help to cut down any compatibility problems when installing Mountain Lion.
3. Backup your current install
Without a doubt the biggest cause of trouble and frustration with every OS release is among users who didn’t backup their systems before trying to install the new one. Like Lion, Mountain Lion will be delivered as a download from the App Store, and while this method is certainly convenient, corrupted downloads are not uncommon. Moreover, even when the install proceeds as expected, you want to be able to get back to your previous system if you find things are not to your liking. An OS installation is like performing major surgery on your computer and the chances of complications are always a significant risk. As the old boy scout saying goes ‘Be Prepared’. Backup, backup, backup.
4. Remove everything from your Login Items.
For Lion users, that’s
> System Preferences…> Users & Groups | Login Items
If you’re upgrading from Snow Leopard 10.6.8, go to
> System Preferences…> Accounts | Login Items
There’s a couple of reasons for doing this, but mainly it’s to ensure that you can log in without difficulty. Login Items are one of the main causes of OS problems at the best of times, but with a major upgrade like this, you don’t want any incompatible software choking the system from booting up. See Steps 8 & 9 below about re-activating your Login Items after the installation.
5. Uninstall AV software & other utilities
If you have Sophos, VirusBarrier, iAntiVirus, F-Secure, or similar uninstall these prior to upgrading. After upgrading, if you must use them, look for updates. Uninstall MacKeeper, Little Snitch, LogMeIn or any other 3rd party utility that runs prior to user login.
6. Be prepared for slow download times
Apple’s servers will be hotter than a forest fire on release day, so you can expect download times to be pretty poor. At the very least, connect your computer to your router via ethernet cable rather than wifi – that’ll at least help push things along a bit faster at your end. If you can do it from the office or somewhere else that has a lot more bandwidth than the usual home connection, do so.
7. Save the installer
After the download completes the installer will run automatically. Do NOT click ‘Install’, but instead quit it. Then go to your Applications folder and copy the ‘Install OS X Mountain Lion .app’ and save it to your Downloads folder or somewhere else. Then you can run the installer in your Applications folder.
The reason for doing this is that when you install Mountain Lion the Install app in your Applications folder will self-delete. If the install shouldn’t work for some reason the first time round, you won’t have to go through the whole tiresome wait of a download from the App store again if you save a copy to your Downloads folder.
8. Update 3rd-party apps
Assuming Mountain Lion boots up just fine, the first thing you’re going to want to do (after having a nose around, of course!) is update your 3rd party apps. Start off by opening the App store to see if any that you’ve sourced from there have updates waiting for you. After that, start up all the main apps that you normally use and use their ‘Check for Updates’ option (usually in the Apps main menu), or contact the developers through their websites. If you use Parallels 7, you will need to update that before trying to run your virtual machines.
9. Test your Login Items apps
In particular, you’re going to want to test out the apps that you want to put back in your Login Items, before you put them back in there. Run each app and play around with the system for a couple of hours before deciding to put it back in your Login Items list. If you notice any weird behaviour with Finder, the Dock or Desktop backgrounds, problems with wifi or graphics, chances are one or more of your 3rd party apps needs updating to work with Mountain Lion. If there is no update yet, stop using that app till one becomes available or find an alternative. In general, it’s always best to keep Login Items down to a bare minimum. Running apps at login is a sure fire way to slow down boot up times.
10. Check back with Applehelpwriter.com
As always, I’ll be here with tips on how to get the most out of OS X and how to solve some common problems. See you then! 🙂
If you have Parallels or VMFusion, you can download and run Ubuntu as a guest OS for free. Ubuntu has some nice features including a Spaces-like desktop switcher and loads of free software available in the Ubuntu App Store.
For those still on Snow Leopard but wishing they could have the benefits of iCloud, Ubuntu provides an interesting option: the open source OS comes with its own Cloud service and 5GB free space. You can sync it with Windows, Android and iOS, and it even allows you to stream music from the Cloud to your devices. If you run Ubuntu in Parallel’s ‘Coherence’ mode, you can take advantage of Ubuntu’s mail, calendar and music apps and have all your other devices synced to your Mac.
If you want to read more, go to the Ubuntu website. When you’re ready to give it a spin, it couldn’t be simpler:
1. Go to the Ubuntu download page, and choose either 32-bit or 64-bit depending on your current Mac OS (if you’re running SL 10.6.8 or later, go for the 64-bit). Ignore the advice about creating a CD or USB stick (it doesn’t apply to us as we’re going to install it via Parallels).
2. Click the big red/orange ‘Download’ box, and make a cup of tea while the .iso file downloads to your computer.
3. After the download has finished, start up Parallels. From the Parallels Desktop menubar, choose File > New.
4. From the resulting dialogue box, click the drop down menu and select Choose an image file…. Browse to your downloads folder and choose the .iso file you downloaded in step 1.
5. From here on in, Parallels will pretty much take care of everything else for you. Your virtual machine will restart a couple of times and you will get asked to choose a couple of options (like setting a language, region and password), but it’s all fairly self-explanatory. Accept the default options for now.
When the install finishes, the first thing to do before trying it out is to set the amount of RAM available to the Ubuntu install. You’d want to set this to at least 2GB, but 4GB is better to get a really fast machine.
6. To set the RAM, first shut down Ubuntu. Do so by going to the Parallels menubar and choosing Virtual Machine > Shutdown.
7. After the OS has shutdown, go back to the Parallels menubar and choose Virtual Machine > Configure. Click on General and set the slider to as much RAM as you can spare…
8. Finally, go play! Depending on your download speed, the whole procedure shouldn’t take much more than an hour or so. If you need documentation, just go back to the Ubuntu site and you’ll find plenty of resources there.
Nearly three months since the initial public release of OS X Lion 10.7 and a couple of updates later (we’re currently at Release 10.7.2) a lot of upgraders are reporting problems to Apple Support Communities. These problems could be avoided or their severity reduced if people upgraded in the right way.
There’s a wrong way? Oh yes…the Apple way is to encourage you to click on the App Store, click on Lion, pay your money, sit back and watch as everything falls into place without barely a finger lifted from the user. That’s great — when it works, but as noted, a lot of people are finding that all sorts of things are going wrong from software incompatibility to hardware incompatibility and sometimes (like in my own case) just plain user incompatibility (yes, some of us — and it could be you too! — are just not that thrilled with the reduced configurability and usability of Lion compared to Snow Leopard, even when it works as intended). There’s also some reported problems even with Apple’s own products: Time Machine, Time Capsule and Spotlight are all being reported as having problems for some users.
But much of this need not give you a headache, put your computer out of action or require a call to Apple Support if you follow the golden rules to doing any major OS upgrade.
Golden Rule No. 1: Check the compatibility of your key software tools.
Why do I need to do this?
Lion does not support a lot of older technologies such as Rosetta and PowerPC apps. If you make heavy use of these programs in your daily use, you’re going to need to upgrade those too or continue to run Snow Leopard on an external disk.
Golden Rule No. 2: Buy an external disk and clone your current system to it.
Why do I need to do this?
Without a doubt, this is the most important thing you should do before upgrading. What cloning means is that if anything goes wrong with the install, if it doesn’t work, or it isn’t to your taste, you can simply boot back into your old system within minutes (no longer than it takes to restart the computer, in fact). Your clone is your insurance, a fail-safe against the unexpected. Don’t even think about hitting that App store upgrade till you have your clone in the bag.
Or what? Simply put, if you don’t make a clone of your system, you’re going to have to live with any problems until you can work out a way to either solve them (and some issues haven’t even been resolved yet) or revert back to your previous OS the hard way, with the potential of data loss.
Although cloning your system will cost you the price of an external USB or Firewire hard disk, it’s an investment you should not overlook. Even if your upgrade goes well, keep the clone for a month or so till you’re sure everything works fine. Once you’re happy, you can use that disk to clone your Lion OS regularly as an incremental backup (like Time Machine only more configurable and less erratic!).
Golden Rule No.3: Make sure you have a bootable DVD or USB recovery disk.
Why do I need to do this?
Unlike every other proprietary OS upgrade ever, Lion is downloaded from the internet and does not come with an install disk. Does it matter? Well, yes. Sometimes Lion doesn’t install properly for a number of different reasons and sometimes your system just goes belly-up. Now you may have heard that Lion comes with its own recovery partition, but that assumes that the recovery partition installs properly, and it relies on having an internet connection. Re-downloading the installer takes a lot longer than simply copying it the first time and making a bootable Lion recovery disk in case of emergency.
Golden Rule No.4: Do a clean install to your internal disk.
Why do I need to do this?
A clean install basically means two things: you wipe the history of the disk you’re going to use for your new OS, and you don’t import any settings from your previous OS. This should ensure that the OS installs exactly as it was designed, without being infected with any hidden or unknown problems from your previous OS install.
Golden Rule No. 5: Use the clone to add manually the stuff you use everyday, and as-and-when you need it for other stuff.
Why do I need to do this?
Using the auto-upgrade, Time Machine or Disk Migration features have been known to introduce problems such as corrupted files and permissions that Snow Leopard ignored for some reason or other but which Lion won’t tolerate, and/or files and settings which are just plain incompatible with Lion. Trying to find out what is causing your system problems is a gruelling process if you just import everything en masse. On the other hand, if you import things manually over time, it’ll be both a lot easier to figure out which change caused the problem but also — using your clone — to roll your system back if needs be.
Let us know your upgrade stories in the Comments below. Was it just one-click to happiness or a whole world of pain? 😉
It’s been over 10 days since the jury went out to weigh up the evidence for and against Mac’s new operating system, 10.7 (OS X Lion). With Apple announcing a million downloads in the first 24 hours, there’s been no shortage of heated debate across the blogosphere and discussion boards (this thread runs to 60 pages and counting! Also see this witty and perceptive post about one user’s frustrations with the upgrade).
So it appears that some love it, others hate it, many are merely sanguine about the whole experience. A number of people are reporting trying it and reverting back to Snow Leopard with brow-mopping relief. My guess, though, is that the vast majority of Snow Leopard users are patiently waiting till a few updates have been released and all the early bugs ironed out.
It’s worth remembering the options: even if you buy Lion now to take advantage of the $30 opening price, you don’t have to install it now. You could buy it and leave the installer app in your Apps folder till the updates get released. Nor do you have to install it over the top of your existing installation. You could install Lion on an external disc instead, or move your Snow Leopard to an external disc and have Lion on your internal disc. Either of those options will allow you to play around with it and switch over fully when you’re truly ready. Don’t forget you can check out whether your existing software will work with Lion.
I have to say though, after ten days, 10.7 is starting to grow on me, and I think the external drive with Snow Leopard sitting on it is going to be gathering dust in a cupboard from now on. That’s not to say I’m thrilled with all that Lion has to offer. It’s a mixed bag, so sit back and let me read the court’s judgement in full. 🙂
The Good, …
— yes, I have unwillingly been converted. The four-finger screen swipe (left/right to change screen, up/down for Spaces and Expose, respectively) is addictive, and now I don’t think I could live without it. The truth is I could never get along with Spaces or Expose in Snow Leopard anyway, but Mission Control really does sort of force itself upon you. I do miss the App Switcher that is no longer available via the trackpad (Cmd-Tab still invokes it). There are free 3rd Party programs that you can get to add it back into the trackpad, but my experience is they are awkward at best.
— this is an app I use a lot and I love what they’ve done to it. Preview’s enhancements are one of the most undersold changes in all the talk about Lion. It’s always been ahead of Adobe Reader to my mind, but it did have shortcomings, particularly with adding and placing comments neatly and readably. The new Preview has tidied that up nicely, with the comment markers placeable with much finer precision and clear, neat lines indicating which comment each belongs to. The full screen feature also looks great and makes reading a pleasure.
— is growing on me. Switch it back to Classic view for a tidier interface, but there’s still lots of nice things about it. The animated display when you double-click to open a message is very neat (note: you won’t see the animation if you’ve got your IMAP account settings set to ‘Don’t keep copies of any messages’ in Mail Preferences | Advanced).
the Bad, …
Well, overall, the worst thing about Lion is that most of the good things are really cosmetic. There’s not a lot of new things you can do with Lion, and what there are, I don’t like much, particularly the triumvirate of data guardians otherwise known as
Resume, Autosave and Versions
— Apple has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure every keystroke, every page, every file you ever open is remembered somewhere (and often in multiple somewheres) on your internal drive and your backup drives. It’s worth noting that not all of these are places the average user can either find or remove. This is something that not everyone is thrilled about, and certainly it’s raised a few eyebrows among the security-conscious. If I were a Chinese blogger, I’m not sure I’d want to update to Lion (you think the Chinese don’t buy Macs? Oh,please!). Another thing worth noting about the Evil Trinity is that Apple has also made them extremely difficult to turn off. Resume, despite what you might be reading elsewhere, cannot be turned off by default (or at least no one’s found a way to do it yet).
However, with all these things, it’s not so much that you can’t beat them, but that you have to work around them. Adjusting your workflow to avoid Resume, Autosave and Versions is certainly possible, but something some may rightly begrudge paying $30 to have to do (in which case, that external backup of Snow Leopard I mentioned above is your friend!). I’ve already written about Resume, and I hope to post workarounds for Versions and Autosave in the near future (sign up for the RSS feed).
The only other ‘bad’ thing I have to say about 10.7 is LaunchPad. This is the iPad look-alike-finger-swiping app display (known as ‘springboard’ on the iPad). A complete waste of time: literally, it’ll take you forever to organise it, and even then it’s a very slow way to find anything but your most familiar apps. There have always been much faster and more efficient ways to get to both your most-oft used apps (the Dock) and those you only occasionally fire up (Finder).
…and the Ugly.
It’s not often that Apple do ugly, but its been universally acknowledged that the designs for iCal, Address Book and Photo Booth are a real eyesore. Fortunately, it’s easy to get rid of them with a bit of mucking about.
So should you upgrade or not? Well, why make it a black-and-white decision when you could have the best of both worlds? If you have a spare drive hanging around, whip it out, pay your $30 and take Lion for a test-drive. If it’s not for you right now, just put it away till the updates smooth it out and the time is right regarding compatibility. After all, if you’ve invested heavily in Apple products or have a lot of legacy material, then it’s probably only a matter of time before you give in and let the Lion tame you, too!