As a creative professional or hobbyist, the often-necessary process of periodically upgrading your computers operating system has the potential to be a confusing and frustrating time, and that’s If everything goes smoothly…
Approach With Caution!
For those that use their Macs in combination with creative software such as Pro Tools as a source of income, anything that can potentially cause instability or downtime for arguably one of your primary work tools should be approached with utmost caution.
With that in mind, a few weeks ago, I made the transition from OSX 10.10.5 Yosemite straight to macOS Sierra 10.12.5 across my main and backup Pro Tools Mac systems. There were many factors and questions that had to be answered beforehand that when combined, made the time right for me to upgrade and contributed to it being a relatively painless process. This cautious approach was adopted after several disastrous OSX upgrades over the years that either left me stranded without access to the software or plug-ins I wanted to use or without critical system functions such as WIFI on my laptop for nearly 6 months!
I’d like to share some of my thought processes with the community in that it may help the next time you are thinking about taking the leap.
Why Do I Even Need To Upgrade My Operating System?
The short answer is, you don’t!
I’ll qualify that with saying If you are running a stable operating system that is performing all the tasks you need with good stability and support for all your required software then maybe upgrading your operating system is an unnecessary or even foolish risk to take. This is the situation I found myself in over the last few years, sticking with OSX Yosemite over successive releases of new macOS versions. I had an iMac system that was performing well with very little trouble or fuss so I even took the step of asking my local mac dealer to downgrade the OS when I purchased a brand new MacBook Pro as a backup machine, as I knew I could count on OSX Yosemite with my current combination of software and workflow requirements.
So why would you ever upgrade in that case? Again, the simple answer is ‘things change’. How you combine different types of professional creative software and the way in which you use them is an ever-evolving web of feature sets, capabilities and workflows that are very personal to yours and your client’s needs. What happens when one day your favourite piece of software lands with new features that will save you time and money but requires an update beyond your current OS, or you find out that the industry you operate in has adopted a new way of working that incorporates new software tools only supported by the latest operating systems? It could even be the new operating system itself that promises better performance and integration with the tools you use. There are many factors to consider when asking the question why? But the important thing is to analyse your current workflow, assess whether or not an operating system upgrade will add any value and weigh up the risks vs. reward.
When Is The Best Time To Upgrade?
Ok, so you’ve decided that a macOS upgrade might be a good idea so full steam ahead and hit the install button, right? Wrong!
Choosing the right timing as to when to do your upgrade can make the difference between a smooth transition that ultimately enhances your productivity or alternatively, entering a living nightmare that could temporarily cripple your business at the worst possible moment. With that in mind take into account the following questions when deciding on the right time for you:
Host hardware compatibility: Can your Mac even run the new OS? Are you running an older Mac system that may not meet the minimum system requirements? If so, then maybe it’s time to consider budgeting for a new machine or at the very least maxing out your RAM to ‘get you over the line’.
Key third party software/hardware compatibility: Look through your entire applications and plug-in folders and decide what is the software that is absolutely essential to the continuing smooth running of your system and check whether or not it's supported. Don’t forget to do the same with external hardware drivers such as audio interfaces and peripherals! A wrong assumption made at this stage can prove disastrous! Pro Tools Expert regularly updates a helpful guide for just this purpose.
Is the operating system ‘mature’: When first launched, a new operating system can often be regarded as an unfinished product full of weird and wonderful bugs just waiting to ruin your day’s work and trigger a keyboard mashing meltdown. So, unless you embrace the idea of being a beta tester I’d suggest waiting for a few iterations before jumping on board. Do some research on forums, ask your contemporaries who have already leapt and see if there are any known issues people are facing that could be avoided by waiting it out. I learned this the hard way when getting a new laptop years ago with OSX Lion 10.7 pre installed. A common bug with my hardware configuration rendered the WIFI unusable for nearly 6 months until it was quietly patched in an update - don't get caught out!
Be prepared for downtime: It may seem like common sense but If you’re in the middle of a long-term project or just a particularly busy period then it's most definitely NOT the right time to fiddle around with the guts of your computer. Imagine an ‘unexpected’ hiccup cropping up and delaying an impending project delivery deadline? I assure you that your clients will be less than forgiving in this instance considering you’ve brought the pain upon yourself with bad planning. If everything goes smoothly and you follow a sensible plan you can expect an OS upgrade to take up to a full day of downtime including preparation, research, downloading, installing and troubleshooting. To be completely safe you may want to factor in another day as a contingency. Planning ahead and scheduling during a quiet period is vital so ignore this advice at your peril!
Things To Do Before You Upgrade.
Seeing as you’ve now planned some time dedicated to improving your workflow take the opportunity to do a full system audit and clear out apps, programs and plugins you don’t use. This will not only save time during updates and backups but can also eliminate distractions and help your creative process. This recent Pro Tools Expert article explains this concept in more detail.
Run Disk First Aid on your hard disk and repair any errors: With all the data flying around on a modern computer your hard drives can take a pounding over their lifespan. It’s a good idea to make sure your hard disk is in tip-top shape before attempting this procedure so run ‘first aid’ within disk utility and repair any errors beforehand.
Backups(!): Consider that what you are about to perform could be likened to a major medical procedure. A full skeletal transplant springs to mind (yuck!), with the computer's main supporting framework being completely taken out and replaced with something else. As in real life though, despite everyone’s best efforts, complications can arise during a procedure so complex and the patient (your computer) may not make it through in one piece.
I’m going to assume though in that instance that you will have a backup regime in place to save the day, (time machine, cloned hard drive, whatever!) because if you don’t have one already I advise you to stop reading this article now and read some of these articles instead. Disaster recovery strategies are good to have in place at the best of times but especially so when your machine and livelihood is in such a vulnerable state.
It would be at this stage, only after the planets have aligned and all the questions and tasks stated above have been resolved that I would consider hitting the Install button…here goes nothing!
Things To Do Afterwards.
So you’ve got your new Mac operating system, had a few unfulfilling knock backs whilst trying to chat up Siri and your notes, reminders and documents finally sync to all your devices via iCloud, but the fun isn’t over – you’ve still got work to do…
Update your apps, programs and plug-ins: By now you will have established what needs updating so expect to spend some time watching numerous download and installation progress bars slowly complete as your system ‘rebirths’.
Now is also a good time to reset system preferences to your preferred configuration so the computer operates how you expect. There will also most likely be some ‘cutting edge’ new features that you may want to turn off eg. new notifications settings and your phone calls now routing through your computer! I was a bit alarmed to see my mouse pointer growing every time I shook the mouse until I realised it was a new display accessibility setting that could just be turned off. The main point is to get rid of all the new unnecessary distractions that could interrupt your work.
Troubleshooting: Now once the dust has settled it's time to truly judge whether or not the upgrade has worked for you. Open up Pro Tools (and any other key software you’re running), test your most common workflows and plug-ins, open up old sessions and see how the system performs. Depending on the underlying hardware you may find the new operating system changes the overall responsiveness for the better or potentially worse – it’s up to you to now decide whether the payoff is acceptable. With backups and/or cloned drives in place, you can always revert back to your previous setup if things don’t go quite as intended.
If you’re lucky though and have followed the previous steps of checking compatibility etc. beforehand you may now find yourself in possession of an updated machine that is ready to do some serious work!
The above process describes what I would take into consideration when contemplating a macOS upgrade and I hope it can be of some use to the community but do let us know what rituals you go through when thinking about upgrading to a new operating system? Do you do things differently? Do you dive straight in as a fearless early adopter or do you just avoid it altogether? Let us know in the comments below.