How to Start Preparing for OS X Mavericks

As invariably happens with the release of a major new operating system revision, bugs and other issues are practically guaranteed! Additionally, due to some new software technologies, you can expect there to be incompatibilities with some current software applications installed on your Mac. Some of you are really “into” this kind of thing - you know, the "Power Users" and "Über-Geeks." You guys are probably eager to upgrade. Go for it! But, please donʼt stop reading here; you, too, are subject to warnings and recommendations.

As of this writing in early August, we find ourselves one to three months away from the day that OS X 10.9 Mavericks surfs its way into the App Store and onto your machine.

Mavericks logo with text

What to do? How to prepare?

You need to make an informed determination on whether or not you – and your Mac – are ready. Many issues and considerations will come and go regarding your final decision on whether or not to forge ahead with the upgrade. Perhaps you might even decide to wait until the inevitable "kinks" are worked out in the initial release.

Without going into any details regarding the actual step-by-step upgrade process – as there are no publicly available details at this point – let's examine what to consider when preparing for the upgrade. At least you have time to investigate and make preparations in a measured and informed manner.

The first – and easiest – thing to do when preparing for the OS X upgrade is to ask yourself, "Is my Mac eligible for the upgrade to Mavericks?" This is an important consideration as, given sufficient time, all Mac models reach a point where they are no longer upgradeable to the latest software releases – both operating system and applications. This is mostly due to the evolution of hardware technologies – the processor being a typical example – resulting in older Macs not being capable of sustaining minimum requirements imposed by the software.

As of this writing, there is still no official word from Apple regarding hardware compatibility – which Mac models can support the upgrade to Mavericks. However early indications and implications indicate that any Mac that can run OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is likely to be Mavericks-compatible:

  • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

The first thing to do is to determine your exact Mac model. You can get this information by reviewing your "About This Mac" panel, which can be called up via the Apple Menu. Per se, the initial panel does not provide sufficient information. Click on the More Info button. Doing so launches either the System Information app in Lion and Mountain Lion systems or the System Profiler app in older ones.

The System Information app is a newer style and offers a friendlier view of technical information and specifications particular to your machine. Your Mac's model name, and other information, is presented clearly. For those with older systems who will be running System Profiler, you can retrieve your model specifications by copying the serial number and pasting it into Apple's Service and Support Coverage page. For more detailed information on retrieving your system information, please refer to my article here on TMO: How to Find Your Mac’s System Information (& Why You Need it)

The About This Mac panel and System Information.

OS X Lion and Mountain Lion offer a new "About This Mac" called System Information.

Don't forget to check the amount of RAM memory that is present in and recognized by your Mac. This information can be found directly on the About This Mac panel. It remains unclear if Mavericks' minimum RAM memory requirements will increase from 2 to 4 GB, so keep this in mind as we near release date. In any event, if you have 2 GB in your Mac, and it's user-upgradable, you should consider an upgrade to  4GB or more for a nice boost in performance.

Once you have your virtual green-light to proceed, you need to next take six crucial steps, all of which should be taken any time a system upgrade installation is contemplated:

  • Fix any current problems
  • Perform Apple software and firmware updates
  • Verify application compatibility
  • Verify hardware compatibility
  • Backup important files and folders
  • Backup and document critical software settings

Fix Any Current Problems

If you are currently having any issues with your Mac, you could carry some or all of these issues over to your new OS X environment. In fact, things could get worse if not remedied ahead of time. Problems include slowdowns, persistent crashes, troubles with data storage devices – especially mechanical disk drives – or even damaged file directories and system files. At the very least, launch Disk Utility from Finder via Go > Utilities, click on the First Aid tab, then click on Verify Disk. After a few minutes, Disk Utility will inform you of the disk's condition.

The Disk Utility application running a Verify Disk operation.

The Verify Disk operation in the Disk Utility application should be performed before OS X upgrades.

If Disk Utility suggests a disk repair, be sure to quit the utility first, and run a backup of your data before proceeding. Since I can't go into details in this article, be sure to read the Disk Utility help file under the Help menu for the proper procedures before effecting the repair.

Perform Apple Software and Firmware Updates

When the time comes to upgrade to Mavericks, it is likely – but not yet confirmed –  that the minimum operating system required before the upgrade can happen is either the final version of 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.7 Lion or 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Prepare accordingly, and always with an eye on the steps listed above. If running Mountain Lion, be sure to apply all system software updates as they become available prior to Mavericks' release. You can stay current by confirming the entries in System Preferences > Software Update.

The Software Update Preferences panel.

Stay informed of software updates as they are made available via the Software Update Preferences panel.

Don't neglect any Apple applications that are not part of an OS X update package. The apps that are particularly important to monitor the update status of are the iLife apps – especially iPhoto – and iWork apps: Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. More often than not, updates to OS X include support for new functionality being made available for these apps, so it becomes critically important to keep these up-to-date.

Firmware is named as such because it rests somewhere between software and hardware. Actually, firmware is software that resides semi-permanently within hardware components. It's used to facilitate the startup and management of system hardware. As for updates to firmware, these seem to come up sporadically for any Mac model. Usually they appear in order to fix bugs and other issues. Older Macs may require firmware updates to properly access all the features of an upcoming release of OS X. Firmware updates will appear as part of the normal Software Update mechanism, so you shouldn't miss any if you have it enabled as described above.

In spite of the automatic firmware update notifications, some Macs may require manual firmware updates. It's always prudent to check for firmware updates prior to installing a later version of OS X. You can find correct updates for your specific Mac model at the Apple Support Download page. Alternatively, If you are able to access the newer System Information utility described previously, from the Overview panel click on the Support tab, then follow the links by clicking on the  Specifications button.

Verify Application Compatibility

When upgrading to a new version of OS X, third-party applications may require updates as well in order to function properly. The System Information or the older System Profiler, both available via Apple Menu > About This Mac > More Info (button) > System Report (button) will collect a nice list of your installed apps for your perusing pleasure. You will also be able to retrieve other metadata about the app, especially the version number. [Note: If using the older System Profiler, make sure that View > Full Profile is enabled.]

Reviewing installed applications in the System Report panel.

The System Report panel allows us to examine a list of installed applications to help determine version numbers and other information.

The Application list may also show apps that are installed as part of your current build of OS X. Examples include Mail, Calendar, and Contacts. You needn't worry about those as they will be replaced during the OS X upgrade process.

For any Apple or third-party apps obtained via the App Store, be sure to check for any last-minute updates by running the App Store application, or via Apple Menu > Software Update. For any third-party apps that were obtained directly from the developer, run any software update mechanism that may be built into the app, or check the developer website support areas, developer blogs and user fora.

While OS X now includes it's own internal list of known incompatible software and will quarantine such software within a folder named Incompatible Software, It's best to conduct your own due diligence in order to ensure a smooth upgrade.

As this article is being written, I notice a scarcity of information out there on the Inter-tubes regarding app compatibility, vis-a-vis Mavericks. For the past two or three OS upgrades, there was an awesome website offering a huge compatibility list that was updated several times per day as the release of the next big cat loomed over the horizon. I found the information at quite useful, up-to-date, and generally accurate. It appears that they may be preparing a new site for information regarding Mavericks compatibility. Who knows, perhaps they're looking to change it to SurfingApps or something. Be sure to check back often.

Verify Hardware Compatibility

With any major operating system upgrade, often overlooked is the necessity to ascertain that any support software and device driver software is not only up-to-date but explicitly compatible with the new version of OS X. This includes printers, especially higher-end photo printers, scanners, external file storage devices, pointing devices, and more. During your research, you may even find a firmware upgrade or two for your external devices.

Backup Important Files and Folders

If, like me, you listen to a considerable number of Apple-related podcasts, and you read up on the daily tech news and how-to articles out there, you'll undoubtedly be pummeled with advice on performing backups and how important all this is. Clearly, having a current backup of – at the very least – your most critical files, is of the utmost importance before making significant changes to your Mac's operating system. If an upgrade is done improperly, or there is some sort of hardware failure during the upgrade process, there could be resulting data loss – guaranteed to ruin your day and/or make you an unhappy camper.

I won't cover details on backups in this article. As alluded to, you can find tons of information and how-to articles right here on TMO and elsewhere on the 'net.

Backup and Document Critical Software Settings

We've talked about the importance of backing up your data files. But there's more! Just about every Mac app has customization and other configurable settings in the application preferences. These settings are unique to you and your workflow requirements.

Some apps maintain other critical data that is associated with your user account. Examples include your Calendar events, your Contacts, your Reminders, your Notes, your mail, and your iPhoto pictures, just to name a few. Other apps have critical support data without which would not operate as expected. When you upgrade to a new machine, the Migration Assistant application knows exactly where your data is and where to move it.

In the meantime, say in preparation for an in-place OS X upgrade, all of the aforementioned software settings need to be included in any backups that you maintain. The old-fashioned drag-copying method of backing up files is no longer adequate because the locations of many of these settings and app-specific data files are rendered invisible by OS X. Nevertheless, it's critical that these be backed up along with your document files. The use of Time Machine and drive cloning are two easy and guaranteed methods to include all your data.

Finally, document and keep track of any special system and application settings that you may have painstakingly configured at some point along the way. This becomes important should the files that maintain your settings become corrupted or lost. For example, I keep a collection of screen captures of all the various configuration panels within my Mac's Network preferences. The same thing applies for individual application preferences. Changes to my default Photoshop and Lightroom preferences are very particular to the way I like and need to work in these apps. Documenting my application Preferences panels via screen capture is a big time-saver should something untoward happen during the OS X upgrade process.

For plenty more information on doing screen captures on your mac, see my article here on TMO: How to Get Screen Captures with Stock Mac Software – Part 1 and Part 2.

In conclusion, during the upcoming weeks, you are going to see plenty of coverage on the Mavericks upgrade process. As you readers in the northern hemisphere go finish up your summer, why not take some time now to start your preparations for an eventual upgrade to OS X 10.9 Mavericks? This deliberate approach will do nothing but ensure a successful, stress-free and enjoyable upgrade to the new "California Locales" operating system.