Adventures in software installation, part 3

In which I encounter an error message I’ve never seen before. Which is interesting, because like all computer users, I’ve seen a buttload of error messages.

The third backup attempt again failed to produce a bootable disk. Not sure why, but okay, next approach: instead of starting the experiment by installing a new system on top of my main drive, let’s install a fresh copy onto this backup drive — then I can boot from that drive to see how many things broke in the process, and more importantly find out whether it actually fixes the crashiness and slowness (which is the point of this exercise, after all.) If it doesn’t work, I can save myself a step and just revert to 10.3 instead of going through all the reinstalls for 10.4.

So I put in the happy Tiger install DVD, start the happy installer, click as quickly as possible past the happy legalese and encounter this message (paraphrased, because I just rebooted):

“You cannot install the system software on this volume. This volume cannot be used as a startup disk.”

Well, yes, I guess I was aware of that, given that I’ve tried and failed using it as a startup disk several times now; but would you care to tell me why it can’t be used as a startup disk? It’s just a firewire disk. Nothing special. It should work.

Apple error messages used to all look like this: a “bomb” icon, with the text “System error: -254”. If you were in the know, you would have a printout somewhere of all the numeric codes and what they corresponded to — usually something terribly informative like “memory overlap error” or some such thing. The point is, they were terribly unfriendly error messages: the numeric code was useless unless you had a cheat sheet, and the bomb was scary to novices. (Emily tells me a story about how her old Mac SE once displayed the bomb icon to her, and then started literally physically vibrating — now that’s an error message.)

So they replaced the error messages with more friendly ones, which are even less informative than the old ones used to be. Seriously; it could just say “Error: something ain’t right in cowtown” or “oops” and I’d have as much information about what the actual problem might be as I do now. I know error messages are tedious and no fun to write, they’re on no developer’s list of favorite things to do, but come on.

So I rebooted, then decided I wanted the actual error message text to put into this post (I’m typing this all on the other machine, by the way, in case you were wondering how I’m continuing to type this through multiple reboots) and this time, it worked. No problem. No explanation, either. And they say computers are deterministic. Nohow. They’ve got as much free will as we do. So now I have another round of progress bars to sit through. Currently we’re “Installing Additional Essentials”, which is a lovely phrase.

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