Notes on the macOS Sierra reinstall process Part 1

Skilled Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, and macOS users choose to perform a clean install of their system only when they really need to, or if they prefer to have a clean system to work with. As with many tasks involving operating systems, your user habits, the amount of software you use and the activities you perform directly affect how much software you have to reinstall. Incredibly ignorant and uneducated users tend to complain about the number of software they have to reinstall in Windows, but the truth is, if you were only running Office and Skype, your hardware components (processor, hdd type, RAM) affect your reinstall time more than the software installation process itself. If you run lots of freeware, need to set up a development environment, or install PC games, there's the illusion of a lengthy process. MacOS arguably has a smaller library of software for mainstream users, enforcing the illusion that the initial install process is "shorter".

MacOS 10.x has long had an advantage over Windows, FreeBSD, and Linux users in terms of the reinstallation/recovery process. There is very little user intervention, and the only requirement is a working Mac and a network connection. The clean install process of macOS is polished and almost worry-free, lending credence to Apple's reputation of simplying everything for the normal user. It matches the number of prompts of a base installation of FreeBSD and Ubuntu, depending on whether you want to set up iTunes and iCloud. Moreover, since most users install applications from the App Store, standalone installation downloads are unnecessary.

I recently performed a clean install of a Macbook Air (2015) which originally came with macOS Yosemite. Apple publishes an excellent support page for the macOS recovery process. As with Linux distributions and FreeBSD installs, I prefer a clean install and decided to wipe the misleadingly named Startup Disk (which is nothing more than the macOS primary disk).

macOS Disk Utility

As mentioned, the only important step to get a fresh install going is the key combination on boot. Option-Command-R is arguably what most users would want, since it reinstalls the latest macOS version on the machine.

The support page dissuades users from wiping the Startup Disk with good reason, since mainstream users are generally unaware of the files on their hard drive and Apple doesn't want to be liable for users from losing their data.

Note: While working for level 2 Dell tech support two decades ago, Windows clean installs were a regular request from home and office users. Suprisingly, home customers were pretty cavalier about going through the lengthy Windows 98SE, Windows 2000, or XP process and losing all their data. Although Dell didn't have a disclaimer ready for such requests, I often confirmed the request repeatedly with the customers, worried that they didn't back up their photos or documents. With most people dispensing Windows PCs for smartphones today, I wonder if requests for Windows clean installs have increased in frequency. I have a notion the technical competency for PCs have dropped even more since the widespread dependency on smartphones.

The aforementioned macOS support page describes the Startup Disk erase process very well, but I myself encountered a snag when I performed it on my Macbook Air (2015).

After clicking the Erase button and filling out the Name, Format, and Scheme, Disk Utility displayed a message regarding unmounting the drive and then a brief disk progress bar, after which macOS crashed. On reboot, the system displayed a familiar error to macOS administrators - the blinking folder with a question mark indicating the absence of a hard drive.

The issue was easily resolved by launching Disk Utility once more from the Recovery tool (Option-Command-R) on boot and then "activating" the hard drive. No additional formatting and steps were then needed for preparing the disk for macOS installation.

Note: Unmounting the hard drive before formatting is a standard process for all partitioning and disk tools in Linux and FreeBSD, so it was unusual that my Macbook Air crashed after clicking Erase. Perhaps it was because my Air "only" had a 256 GB SSD hard drive. However, it was a curious incident considering that openSUSE Yast2 Disk Management, FreeBSD's text partitioning tool, GParted, Partition Magic, Red Hat's Disk, and even Windows fdisk had never triggered such an outcome. The only disk issue I've really only encountered is when a Unix disk utility refuses to format a particular partition, which occasionally occurs if you've been working with file systems such as ZFS or XFS.

Continued in Notes on the macOS Sierra reinstall process Part 2


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