Enterprise Software

A cautionary tale: Program installs on Mac OS X can be complex

Do you need to install an older program on a Macintosh computer running OS X? While the system will probably run the software just fine in its emulation mode, installing a program not meant for OS X should be done with caution. Here's why.


Traditionally, one of the strong points of Apple’s Macintosh platform has been the simplicity of certain support functions—such as installing programs.

But this proficiency is changing with the newest operating software from Apple—Operating System 10 (OS X). While the installation process itself remains a simple matter of clicking on an install icon, other aspects of program installations on OS X are considerably more complex.

Elements contributing to potential confusion over this platform include:
  • Installation labels and instructions that aren’t up-to-date.
  • The fact that all OS X machines are essentially dual-boot machines.
  • An emulation mode that is used to install older software.
  • Recovery from an installation disaster.

In this article, we’ll examine what makes the OS X different from previous Macintosh platforms. We’ll also share a story from the TechRepublic office about a program installation gone awry on OS X—and how we eventually got it to work.

Why does it matter?
While Macintosh computers make up only about 5 to 7 percent of the total computer market, Macs can still be found on a significant number of networks.

A recent poll on TechRepublic indicates that Macs are present on more than a third of networks (see Figure A).

Figure A


If you provide support for one of these Mac-present networks, chances are good that you’ll soon be asked to install a program on a Macintosh running OS X. If you are, there is one cardinal rule you must know:
Even though the operating system requirements may say “For OS 8.x and higher,” that doesn’t include OS X.

While 10 is obviously a higher number than 8, OS X is not merely the next option in a line of platforms; it is significantly different from the previous platforms. This makes it more of a new breed rather than a step up. Herein lies the problem.

OS X is UNIX-based with the BSD kernel at its core. Over the years, Macintosh software developers wrote software that could be supported back to some point in the operating system’s evolution, and they use that as the starting point for compatibility with their programs—thus the propensity for the instruction “For OS (some number) and higher.” OS X is one of those evolutionary starting points.

Remember DOS programs and Windows 95?
The situation with Apple’s new operating system is analogous with Microsoft’s transition from DOS programs to Windows in Windows 95. Windows could run in DOS mode so those programs could still be run with the new operating system.

That concept is similar to what Apple is doing with OS X. In an attempt to migrate users to the new operating system, machines with OS X must also contain OS9.1 if older applications are needed. This means the Mac with OS X is a dual-boot machine that can be started in either OS 9.1 or OS X.

For the sake of convenience, OS X contains an emulator called Classic that allows users to run their older programs without rebooting their computers.

When an older program is launched within OS X, the Classic emulator is launched—if it hasn’t already been launched either through user preference at startup or by using an older program earlier in the user’s session.

Theoretically, if the user or a support person were to start an installation program written for the older operating system, OS X would switch to the Classic emulation before attempting to install the program.

Theory and reality clash
This recently happened at TechRepublic when a pocket-size, 20-gig, USB Pockey hard drive was being tested for review.

The reviewer, a seasoned Windows user and MCSE, noticed that the installation CD claimed to support “Macintosh OS 8.6 or higher.” This reviewer was testing the utility of the Pockey drive on various machines on TechRepublic’s test network, and there happened to be a Macintosh G4 machine in the office with OS X installed.

Using the rationale that 10 was higher than 8.6, our reviewer popped the CD into the Mac and double-clicked the install icon. The Mac froze and, when restarted, could not find its system folder.

A more Mac-savvy editor soon had the G4 machine on his desk.

In Mac troubleshooting, when the operating system gets hosed, the standard operating procedure is to force a start from the backup CD by holding down the C key during the startup.

This procedure works with OS X, and so the user was taken to the installation menu. The typical system installation sequence was followed, but only a fraction of the operating system (about 350 MB compared to about 600 MB) was replaced on the machine. One of the dialog messages stated Determining Changed Files during the Preparing Mac OS X portion of the install, where it can be assumed that only affected core files were identified.

When the reinstallation was complete, all of the network and user configurations remained untouched, and the computer was able to reboot normally.

Oddly, this Macintosh had been updated through the required sequence of Software Update 1.3.1, 10.0.1 Update, and 10.0.2 Update before the crash. After the reinstall, the system was back to 10.0.

The Software Update feature (found under System Preferences under the blue Apple), originally used to make the updates mentioned above, would only reupdate Software Update 1.3.1 on our repaired system.

When 10.0.1 and 10.0.2 updates were downloaded onto the machine from Apple’s support site, the 10.0.1 Update would not install, but the 10.0.2 Update would.

In an attempt to install the Pockey drive software, the Mac was restarted in OS 9.1. Curiously, we found that the software had already been successfully installed before the crash, and the Pockey drive showed up on the Mac’s Desktop as was intended. Because Pockey had not updated its software for OS X, the portable drive could not be used with the new system software.

Several attempts to replay the crash of the Mac by installing the Pockey drive software from OS X, after uninstalling the Pockey software first, were unsuccessful. The installation software would launch the Classic emulator, complain that it could not save the installation software in its preferred location, and then force the user to save the software in a location of the user’s choice. The install program was then launched from the hard drive in OS X and successfully installed in the system directory of OS9.1.

According to Apple
Officially, Apple states in its instructions for installing Classic software that the user should:
  • Follow the installer’s instructions and choose the OS 9 Applications folder.
  • Be aware this may require the user to be logged on to the machine as an administrator.
  • Try installing the software after restarting in OS 9.1 if the first two suggestions fail.

The third option is probably the best because a restart only takes a few minutes compared to reinstalling the system, which takes about 30 minutes, including downloading and installing the updates.
Apple says you can install non-OS X software from within OS X. What do you think? What have been your experiences installing software under OS X? Share your thoughts in the discussion below or send us a note.

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