How to reinstall Mac OS X

Question: I read your recent article on rebuilding hard drives to cut down on stalls on a PC. Does this process also solve similar problems on Macs? If so, is there a different process involved for the Mac system? —A.L.

Answer: I’m no Mac expert, but I know a few around the Internet and the man I turned to for this answer is an Australian by the name of James MM Rolevink, a diehard Mac reseller who publishes a blustery e-mail list about the decline and fall of the Microsoft empire, at least as he sees it.

You can read his anti-Microsoft musings, which are often fist-shakingly caustic, yet sometimes poignant, at

Here are Rolevink’s seven steps to performing a clean installation of the Mac OS.

1. Put your Mac OS System CD into your CD-ROM drive.

2. Restart your Mac holding the “C” key down; the Mac will boot from the CD as a result.

3. When the Mac has finished booting from the CD, double-click on “Mac OS Install”.

4. Select your destination drive, if you have more than one (almost anything from a Zip disk to a second hard drive can hold a bootable Mac OS System folder; the “Start-up Disk” Control Panel lets you select between multiple drives containing valid System Folders).

5. To perform a clean installation, click on the “Option” button and select “Perform Clean Installation”.

A clean installation will put a completely fresh System Folder with fresh contents on your hard drive, and rename your previous System Folder as “Previous System Folder”, so that you can sort through any old preferences, or third-party system extensions, control panels or startup screens you might wish to keep and transfer at a later stage.

A word of caution here: Should you be experiencing problems with your Mac, it is highly recommended that you only implement old system items in a cautious and logical manner that allows you to find the damaged culprit.

The majority of problems on Mac systmes are caused by a damaged preference file. Corrupt fonts, if you use volumes of dodgy third-party fonts, can also cause Mac problems.

Most issues can be avoided long before a clean install is ever required, in which case you simply delete the culprit preference file, and let the Mac build a new one.

To find a problematic preference file, temporarily move preference files starting with “A-M” from the “Preferences” folder in your “System Folder” to a spare folder on your desktop.

Restart and see if the problem goes away. If it works, split “A-M” into “A-G” and “H-M”, etc., until you find it. You can use variously colored “Labels” – under the “File” menu “Label” to help differentiate among files.

If the culprit isn’t in “A-M”, repeat the exact same procedure with “N-Z”. Don’t forget to copy all of your good preferences back into your Preferences folder when you are finished, replacing the new ones that the Mac OS creates along the way.

6. The Mac will choose an easy install by default. If you want to customize the install, click on the “Customize” button and select only the items you want.

7. Wait five to nine minutes, then let the Mac restart to a completely fresh Mac OS!

Rolevink added, in his inimitable way, “The Mac OS works in a far superior manner than the Windows OS for ease of troubleshooting. A comparison might be that the Windows OS installs system files like a game of Kerplunk; pull one out, and the whole system can come crashing down around you. One the other hand, the Mac OS is fully modular, more like a row of pigeon holes, that can be turned on and off as you choose.”

Here are some additional troubleshooting tips:

Temporarily turn off third-party extensions / control panels by restarting with your “Shift” key down (the Mac OS start-up screen will display “Extensions Off”). This allows you to verify the core system files. If this procedure passes muster:

(a) Toggle suspect items on and off in your “Extensions Manager” Control Panel, which can even be accessed at start-up by holding down the space bar. Use the preference file segregation method described above. You can permanently save extension “Sets” when you are finished. Different sets of extensions can optimize your Mac for games versus desktop publishing etc.

(b) When you have found the culprit, uninstall the problem application. If it doesn’t have an uninstall option, put it and any associated System files (Control Panels folder and / or Extensions Folder) in the trash and restart.

Rolevink also recommends regular use of a good maintenance utility like Norton Utilities, Alsoft Disk Warrior or Tech Tools.

“By putting this simple routine together, you should NEVER have to do a clean install in the first place!” Rolevink added.