Snow Leopard ate my data

snow leopard.png

I was really excited to install Snow Leopard on my MacBook. Yay for more hard drive space and better usability for only $30! Less than 10 minutes into the install process, though, I got an error message. Something about not being able to find my drive or not having enough space. And then the MacBook died. It refused to start up. I got a gray screen, and then it turned itself off. Gray screen, off. Gray screen, off. Three times. Starting in safe mode failed, and starting from the disk got me to a disk utility page where it tried to repair my disk and then told me to back up, reformat, and restore.

Luckily, I'd saved all my stuff on the Time Machine two days prior, so three hours later I am now able to write this blog post from my MacBook, where little has changed except for my wallpaper and a couple of notes I took on some Stickies yesterday. Maybe I did something wrong &mdash I should do my homework, read the instructions or the "things you should do before making the leap to Snow Leopard." But then again, I got a Mac so I could stop worrying about stuff like that.

I'm sure Snow Leopard is awesome once it's installed, but right now I'm not willing to invest the time into reading the precautions or to risk losing everything again.

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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50 Responses to Snow Leopard ate my data

  1. Dean Putney says:

    Shame. The risks you take upgrading an OS… Snow Leopard didn’t give me or my roommate any trouble on the two computers we’ve installed it on so far, but I’ve yet to get to my main machine.

    Fingers crossed!

  2. trebomb says:

    This is a non-story. Anything other than a clean install could have an infinite number of complications, and not backing up before a major upgrade is inexcusable.

  3. pidgeon92 says:

    It’s karma. If you fail to back up constantly, you are going to lose data. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will happen. Anytime you do something MAJOR to your computer, you should back up immediately prior. I’ll be upgrading when my disk arrives next week, and I will make sure to have everything backed up to my external drive, and critical documents are always being backed up on Carbonite.

  4. says:

    run a black box os, risk black box errors…

  5. hanzo says:

    I just finished upgrading all the computers in our home, five installs, smooth as silk.

    Too bad it went awry for you, but hopefully you are a statistical anomaly.

    That said, when you do install 10.6, there will still be little (obviously) changed. Same wallpaper, same stickies 🙂

    (assuming you upgrade, of course)

  6. leo says:

    Leap? From what I’ve read, it’s not really much of a leap.

  7. Hybridan says:

    Um, I try to stay neutral when it comes to OS/Hardware/Software superiority options, but I find this post is a strong reminder that regardless of personal choices in hardware or software, any major changes should be preceded by a full backup. Again not to inflame or anger, but purchasing or possessing a specific piece of hardware or software will never exempt a person from needing to be very careful with significant changes. Don’t buy something just so you “don’t have to worry about”… [X].

  8. alowishus says:

    Snow Leopard was hungry for your data. You must feed Snow Leopard.

  9. acb says:

    Sorry to hear that.

    When I do my Snow Leopard upgrade, I’m planning to first make a bootable live backup of my machine’s drive with SuperDuper. Then, if Snow Leopard trashes the machine (or fails to work with my apps), I can roll it back.

  10. sworm says:

    HAving a mac breeds complacency.

    Thanks for the welcome reminder to backup more.

  11. fataltourist says:

    Sounds like you were using a PC, Macs never fail!

  12. Roger says:

    Same issue on my MacBook Pro 15″ (previous generation, right before the unibody release). Install of Snow Leopard reported an error message, rebooted, stated it couldn’t write to the drive. Reboot, reboot, reboot. My mac is dead right now. My iMac works fine post-upgrad, thus my ability to write this. Angry enough to consider Windows 7.

  13. Secret_Life_of_Plants says:

    This makes me sad. Mine upgrade worked fine, but I am still a super neurotic constant backer-upper…not because I think my Mac will fail, but because I take my computer with me everywhere and worry that I will get mugged or hit by a car etc.

  14. Souffle-Of-Destiny says:

    Is your iPhone jailbroken? I ran into similar issues with one of the 10.5.x upgrades because i hadn’t replaced the IOUSB file or whatever.

  15. circa86 says:

    Sorry to hear about the troubles. But it is likely more an issue with the data that was stored on the system, not the install process.

    If there are millions of people out there on millions of different machines installing without a hitch, the likely denominator is the computer you are using.

    Don’t be afraid to give it another go, JUST BACKUP THE COMPUTER BEFORE YOU DO!! what were you thinking, 2 days, that is crazy.

    Also, if you have an issue, pop in the Snow Leopard disk and use the “Restore from Time Machine Backup” in the Utilities menu bar, and you shouldn’t lose anything at all as along as you are doing a full complete backup with Time Machine, which you should be doing. Don’t exclude anything and you can always go back, simply and actually faster.

    Nature of computers though, give it another go, you may have to due a clean install “Using Disk utility to reformat the drive, then use the Migration assistant to move your data over, still a pretty easy process, although a bit long.

  16. bbum says:

    This sounds more like your hard drive is failing. An OS Install will write to parts of a drive that have not been written to in ages. If a drive is going to go wonky anytime soon, an OS install is likely to trigger it.

    Have a look in the console to see if there are any I/O errors to the drive.

    A reformat for restoration purposes may have either caused the restore to avoid the bad spots or may have triggered the drive to mark the sectors as unusable.

    (The hard drive in my MacBook Pro went bad not long ago — they do that — and I had similar problems, only it was triggered by a software update)

  17. Adam Pitman says:

    Same thing happened with mine. Quit ten minutes in then gray screen of doom!!!!

  18. Pants says:

    This happened to me too!!!! Apple is sending me a new install DVD; they figure it was a problem with the actual disc as one of the error messages said something to the effect that necessary packages couldn’t be moved off the DVD. Frustrating. Scary. All better now (and my system seems to be eating up less RAM so maybe a restore was helpful).

  19. rageahol says:

    “But then again, I got a Mac so I could stop worrying about stuff like that.”

    Tell us more about what it feels like to be a toolbox. I am intrigued.

  20. Herro says:

    Guess it “just works”. Kekekeke

  21. KC says:

    Well for one you are one lucky person!!
    Two: Never, ever buy the first release of an OS. It is full of bugs.

  22. sparky says:

    I have no polite comments for Lisa. Idiot is the mildest I can manage at this time of the day.

  23. mikegraham says:

    My install went well, just like the others posting here. Its too bad that happened to you, but as you said, at least you had backed everything up. Be glad you have a Mac and didn’t have to watch the blue screen of death pop up repeatedly.

    There is something mildly cathartic about the Mac’s gray screen when you’ve screwed it up, isn’t there.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Did Bill Gates write this post?

  25. chrgra says:

    Hmm well if you don’t have time machine, a backup partition, or even another harddrive, I’d recommend this:
    Use Dropbox for key documents/pictures you want to backup.

    For iTunes content, just save it all on your iPod and then use Pod-to-Mac.

    Everything else you can backup on a flash drive or just max out on Dropbox.

  26. gobo says:

    @19 and 16
    Please explain why the author is an “idiot” and a “toolbox”. She used the built-in Mac tools to set up regular backups, resulting in no lost data when her system (for whatever reason) didn’t successfully install an OS update. There’s a dozen things that can cause an update to malfunction, from unforseen system conflicts to RAM errors. I’ve had the same thing happen myself, but like the author, my daily backups saved me.

    Again, before you sling schoolyard insults around, I think you need to take a step back and explain your impolite, foolish comments.

  27. Aether says:

    I am having problems open Mail after installing snow Leopard anyone had the same problem? Is there a fix?
    I click on my mail icon and it doesnt respond it just sits there, any ideas on how to fix this?

  28. Chuck says:

    Ditto on the hard drive crash on install. Mac tech told me “Snow Leopard didn’t cause the drive to crash, it just brought issues forward.” I said that’s like telling the person who’s been in a car wreck that he was going to have a heart attack in a couple of weeks. Switched to Apple to eliminate this kind of catastrophic analomy. Bummed to the max. Tricked out MacBook Pro is now a doorstop.

  29. ginshirou says:

    “Please explain why the author is an “idiot” and a “toolbox”.”

    A computer is a complicated machine. Pretending it’s not because you believed Apple marketing campaigns is a bad decision, and blaming the OS designers for your believing in marketers’ promised infallibility is an ignorant statement.

    Yes, she backed up, and good for her. It makes her a smarter idiot toolbox than most computer users.

  30. MoonMoth says:

    Well, what did you expect. A software manufacturer (yes, folks I’m talking about Apple) provide an upgrade but there is only one problem. There are lots of different , and I mean completely different, Macs out there. Lucky for some it works on their Mac but unlucky for you it doesn’t. I have a Windows PC and I apply upgrades and enhancements all the time but at least they don’t brick my machine. So far. Welcome, Apple to the fold of the ‘Corporations removed from their users’. You’re already in illustrious company.

  31. Spike the Dingo says:

    Meow. -well I guess snow leopards don’t really meow…

  32. balexander667 says:

    BBUM is absolutely correct in this point. I see quite often drives failing after or during a large update (10.5.8 combined). If something important gets pushed to a block of dead sectors *poof*. Basically if you want to blame someone, blame *insert random drive manufacturer*. Personally I had no one come in on Friday or Saturday with any dandruff kitty install failures. I am very sorry to hear about your big kaboom though. While I’m sure your erase & Install probably turned out great, if you’re still under warranty, I’d hit the bar, and see about getting a new drive in there. If you don’t have time to get to the bar, I would suggest zeroing the drive. When you write zeroes it tends to mark off bad sectors which can help stop things like this from happening any time soon. Like I said though, it sounds like it will starting clicking soon.

  33. remmelt says:

    I guess 90% of commenters above didn’t read the part where she was back up and running inside of three hours, no data lost. Sure, not on the new OS, but then again, computers are made to work, not to not work. If the only way to get people moving again is to go back to the old OS, then that’s the way to go.

    On the whole, this is kind of an empty story. “I have a problem with my computer”

  34. gobo says:

    blaming the OS designers for your believing in marketers’ promised infallibility is an ignorant statement.

    You’re intentionally putting words in the author’s mouth to make her seem idiotic, which is very disingenuous. The fact is, she did exactly what anyone should do before a major OS upgrade — back up her data — and followed instructions to the letter, but still got the Mac equivalent of a BSOD. The author isn’t pretending computers aren’t complex, but she’s rightfully wary of reinstalling a buggy OS release that didn’t work on her computer. Again, calling names is grade-school weak sauce.

  35. tom says:

    I, too, believed the marketing and David Pogue. I switch two computers to Mac OSX 10.6. The first two macs upgraded without a hitch, however, my backed up computer, a pre unibody macbook pro crashed. I could not get further than a grey apple with a spinning gear. At the Apple store the technician took my back-up hard drive and started the hard drive rebuild using snow leopard. Unfortunately, same result – that same spinning wheel.

    Now, Apple support has promised a fix. We’ll see. In the meantime, all my addresses, photos are in limbo.

    Shame on you Apple for not fully testing this program

  36. doggo says:

    Sorry Lisa, but Snow Leopard didn’t “eat your data”, you had a Time Machine backup. And saying stuff like “I got a Mac so I could stop worrying about stuff like that” just pisses off people that have to support users with attitudes like that. If you’re gonna use a tool, know how to operate your tool.

    Operating installs/upgrades are the most complex part of computer maintenance. Back up first.

    My upgrade went smoothly, but then I did a backup, and ran through the AUTO sequence with Applejack first.

    Try again.

  37. Dave says:

    But why were you trying to install snow leopard on a PC? I can’t think of any other explaination for your difficulties!

  38. dculberson says:

    Anybody reading this then insulting Lisa is an asshole. Just FYI.

  39. Austin Lang says:

    I think the issue might be that you hadn’t cleared out your hard drive before you started the install.

    I think you need like… 5GB Free? Did you remember to check how much free space you had?

    Here, try the Lifehacker guide:

  40. Rob F says:

    I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work as hoped, but these things happen, and it’s a good reminder to everyone to diligently back up their systems with Time Machine. I don’t think there’s any cause to bash Lisa for being frustrated, but it’s silly as well to suppose that any complex process like a system software install is going to be 100% perfect 100% of the time. There are too many permutations, especially when hard drive errors and idiosyncrasies get involved.

    With that said,I just installed it to my iMac and it was flawless. The changes are subtle but I definitely notice an improvement in the zippiness of my system and I’m glad for the reclaimed space. I like the new Quicktime, though not everyone will appreciate its streamlined (but some will think excessively simplified) interface.

  41. Enochrewt says:

    Doggo said:

    And saying stuff like “I got a Mac so I could stop worrying about stuff like that” just pisses off people that have to support users with attitudes like that.

    You sir are the reason IT people are stereotyped as inconsiderate, know-it-all assholeanerds. The user is there to USE the computer, not troubleshoot it. Frankly, that’s what the vaunted Apple Geniuses are for if you buy into Apple’s line of thinking. If you are in a tech support-related field, you might need to find a new line of work.

    Lisa, you should just back it up, take it to the Apple store and escalate the issue when you don’t have any work to do. Either you’ll find out you need a new hard drive that you’ll need eventually anyway, or they’ll know something else that will resolve the issue. It’s silly to buy anything and not be able to use it, even if the product costs less than your shower rack 😉

  42. Halloween Jack says:

    I’m sorry that you had problems, Lisa, but “right now I’m not willing to invest the time into reading the precautions” just sort of makes all your tech guru credentials (and if you don’t have such credentials in the first place, why are you posting here?) vanish like your data. I installed Snow Leopard and it was fast and completely trouble-free. If you wanted to “stop worrying about stuff like that”, why did you get Time Machine?

  43. Ito Kagehisa says:

    Sorry to hear about your upgrade troubles, Lisa. Better luck next time!

  44. trn says:

    all I heard was, “i’m lazy and ignorant so i lost all my shit”

  45. tony says:

    Did you ever change the hard drive in your MacBook or is it the one that came with the machine? Did you let the MacBook sleep at any time?

  46. Kagemusha says:

    Tried installing Snow Leopard tonight.

    Grey Screen, then it went black. This happened to a one-month old Macbook. One month old, people.

    All I can say is thank God for Time Capsule.

  47. Ian says:

    I had the exact same problems with my imac.I did get it to install after many tries. Not much change I thought. Then last night I checked the version I was running it it was STILL the older OS X version I had been running. I tried yet again and it did install OS 6, Snow Leopard this time. Check that it did corectly instal.

  48. Jason says:

    This problem has been reported before, but don’t panic! It can easily be ‘solved’ (worked around).

    It seems that the screen brightness is not reset properly when the installation begins, but this can still be read by using a flashlight/torch:

    Bizarre, but true. Good luck.

  49. RJP says:

    One thing Snow Leopard doesn’t work with Front Row.
    It took away 3rd party users for the remote. Like Plex media center wont work with Apples remote.

    And any Video_TS folders wont play with Front Row Very choppy.

    Even Apple Trailers are choppy.
    The problem is in Front Row if i drag a Video_TS folder into DVD player it works fine!

    Same if i use a DVD. All my movies wont play with Snow Leopard & my printer drivers dont work.

    Hold off on the upgrade until Apple fixes the problems

  50. To counter one person’s comments, while you’re right about backing up before an upgrade, Apple actually recommends that you do NOT do a clean install, but an upgrade in place. And this is a very smart way of looking at the world.

    While certain things are faster, I am definitely getting odd delays with Leopard that I didn’t before, and it’s something to do with video. Also, by default, Safari’s Top Sites will bury your machine. There should be a limit on updating them so that the machine doesn’t grind to a halt.

    But I had a similar problem installing Leopard:

    I have Two Macbook Pro 15″. One for video and one for writing.
    During the upgrade, Leopard Ate my boot sector. Locked the drive.
    Would not restore from backup (obviously) because the hard drive is dead.

    $115 for a copy of Diskwarrior
    $100 for a new 500GB Drive
    $30 for a cable
    $499 for a new Time Capsule
    28 Hours of unproductive time, including travel and sleep.

    What I love most about Mac’s? NO WINDOWS REGISTRY. Copy from the old drive image to the new, and everything works.

    I could not believe that Registry decision at the time, and I still can’t believe they use such a ridiculous technology, simply because they wanted users to stop editing text files, and so they could reduce the cost of support. There were more reasons but that one was decisive.

    Win 7 is better. But until MS owns Dell and makes it’s own hardware, quality control is something they can’t control, and Apple quality is something you simply can’t buy on the market as a consumer.

    When Outlook is available for the mac, then the only issue will be to get excel for the Mac so that it is as powerful as it is for PC’s. At that point, I can be totally disconnected.

    One fascinating cultural difference: there are a lot of PC support guys who are ignorant but arrogant, there are lot of Apple support guys who are ignorant but not arrogant. The problem is that I can ignore the fact that they’re arrogant, but it doesn’t help me that they’re ignorant. If I worked in tech support, I wouldn’t answer a single question without searching the web for the customer’s complaint, so that I was as informed as he is about the problem. It’s crazy.

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