The Macintosh community is on the verge of releasing a new operating system. Anticipation is rising, people are clearing hard drives, and Macintosh Web sites are being devoured for any scrap of information available on Mac OS 9. Operating system software usually doesn’t garner this much interest, but Apple is slowly adding features users have been clamoring for—for years.

With the introduction of System 8 and above, Apple added resources that changed the way we work. Mac OS 9 promises even more enhancements. Any information available now is purely speculative, but Apple has said that the new OS release includes 50 new features, including Sherlock 2, multiple user logins (with individual preferences), a password tracker called Keychain, an auto update features, file sharing over the Internet, Voiceprint passwords, and more. In a future article (after Mac OS 9 is released), we’ll examine several of these new features.

In the meantime, let’s clear the first hurdle, which is installing new system software in the least problematic way. A new release of the software, which I hope makes your hardware chug along faster and leaner, usually has new code that can foul up some favorite applications—especially if you use shareware. Any applications that don’t follow the Apple Interface Guidelines may break. As developers scramble to make sure their products are bug free, let’s take a look at some of the maintenance an IT or MIS manager and user can do to minimize any potential problems.

Before you take another breath, back up your data to an external source. Hard drives are so inexpensive these days that a spare drive to copy all of your files on is just as good as using removable media. If you back up multiple machines, Retrospect from Dantz Development Corporation is a painless way to achieve solid backups. It can run over a network, too, so backups can be done at night when only the mice are around.

It’s always wise to make sure your hard drive is in tiptop shape before you install any new software. There are a few utilities that are indispensable for any manager working with multiple machines. Disk First Aid from Apple comes with every OS release. Needless to say, it’s the first line of defense in troubleshooting, repairing, and performing basic housecleaning tasks.

Disk First Aid verifies and repairs any damage in the directory structure on a hard drive. Any version after Mac OS 8.1 will work with HFS (hierarchical file system) and HFS Plus drives, but you should always use the latest version. Disk First Aid 8.5 is the earliest version you should use on an HFS Plus drive because it contains code which can repair damage done by other utilities on an HFS Plus drive. The latest Disk First Aid is version 8.5.2, and it shipped with Mac OS 8.6. Run this utility off of the System CD whenever possible because you can’t repair a drive with open files.

My next choice is to run Disk Warrior from Alsoft . Disk Warrior is a lean and mean application that simply replaces your desktop file with a nice, new, clean one. It does not repair damaged partition maps, corrupted disk drivers, or mechanical disk problems, but it can occasionally find lost or missing files.

The third application I run is Norton Utilities . Norton can check the drive for bad blocks, corrupted files, and a host of other glitches that can create an unstable work environment. Many users prefer Tech Tool Pro from Micromat for this task—individual preferences prevail.

The most overlooked housecleaning task is defragmenting and optimizing your drive. A heavily fragmented drive can’t install new software properly and results in a slow down of drive performance. Although Norton and Tech Tool Pro include defragmenting software, my choice is Disk Express from Alsoft. It’s fast and sleek, and it performs well even if the procedure is interrupted.

The last step in preparation is updating your hard disk drivers. Apple’s OS installer will update them automatically, but if you use third-party formatting software, you’ll have to update them yourself. Before installing any new OS, check your hard drive manufacturer’s Web site or send e-mail to their support for the latest drivers to ensure your driver is compatible.

Once your drive is in tiptop shape, you can install a new OS with a peaceful mind. An OS update install modifies the existing system folder, which works well if you don’t use a great deal of third-party extensions and control panels. Although you can always update your existing operating system, I recommend the clean install option—at least on your first machine.

A clean install simply creates a sparkling new System Folder with only standard Apple software installations. Your old system folder is renamed Previous System Folder, and all of the software is left intact. Let’s face it, why update a system folder that probably contains many files in it you don’t even recognize? The Mac OS installers walk you through the process, and it’s painless, indeed. Once you’ve determined your system is functioning normally, you can either reinstall your third-party applications from the original disks or drag the extensions, control panels, fonts, and preference files of your favorite applications to the new system folder. It’s recommended you do one application at a time and restart to make sure everything’s functioning smoothly before moving on. You should allot two to four hours to bring your new OS back up to its old tricks.

If you restart and incur bombs, error messages, or other problems, remove the last software you copied over, and look for a new version or help from the application company’s tech support. We’ll discuss sources of tech support in future articles.

You can reserve your copy of Mac OS 9 and view some of the new features through at Apple’s Web site .

Ilene Hoffman, MS, is a Macintosh/Internet writer, trainer, and consultant based in the Boston area. She is senior editor at, contributing editor at MacTech Magazine, and the perpetrator of the Hess Macworld Expo Events List . She also hosts weekly Mac conferences on Talk City and AOL.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.