We’re only a few weeks away from the release of Mac OS X 10.11 (“El Capitan”). Big OS upgrades always present a bit of a dilemma for folks in the video industry. New versions of OS X bring lots of exciting updates, better performance, and new features. But they can also create compatibility problems, and there’s always a risk that things could go wrong. Here are a few of our tips on upgrading.
Before the Upgrade
First things first, WAIT. Seriously, when El Capitan ships, just ignore it. Go about your business. Come back to it in a month or two. If you’ve got a personal machine that you don’t need for production projects, upgrade that one first.
When you’re ready to do the upgrade, there are a few preliminary tasks you should perform. First, check for compatibility with your critical apps. Generally, you’ll want to wait for an “all clear” from the vendors that you rely on. (Spoiler alert: all of our apps are ready for El Capitan) Some apps, like Avid, can take a bit before this happens, because they need to validate many hardware configurations.
Make sure you update any drivers for hardware devices like capture cards or storage arrays. It’s generally best to update these before the upgrade, because a bad driver could potential cause a “crash on boot” situation, which is much more difficult to recover from.
Finally, check your backups. Have they been completing successfully? Are you confident that you can restore from them? Many users like to use a tool like SuperDuper to make a bootable backup, just in case. That makes recovery a lot easier if something does go wrong. This is especially important if you primarily rely on remote backups (like Backblaze or Crashplan), because those can dramatically extend the time it takes to restore a Mac.
Performing the Upgrade
Now you’re ready to do the upgrade. Nowadays, this is pretty simple – you start it via the Mac App Store app, then just walk away for an hour or so. That said, don’t start the upgrade if you’re crunching on a project and need to deliver your output by the end of the day. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have a fresh system, with minimal interruption. If things go wrong, you might need to restore from a backup or do other troubleshooting. It sounds silly, but we’ve heard from more than one customer that’s done a major system update right before a critical deadline. Don’t do that.
Some users prefer to do a “clean install,” which involves wiping your harddisk entirely and doing a fresh install. In the early days of Mac OS X this was done frequently, as the upgrade process was less reliable. Nowadays, most users don’t need to do a clean install, and we’d generally recommend against it. That said, an upgrade is a great time to clear out old “cruft” from your Mac – for example, outdated codecs or apps you no longer use.
Once you’ve finished the upgrade, do a check to make sure all your important apps launch and behave properly. You might need to reinstall some codecs or reset a few preferences, but in our experience the El Capitan update process is pretty seamless.