Fixing OS X: Update Instead of Reinstalling


A few weeks ago my new AirPort Express showed up. To use it, you have to install a new piece of software, the AirPort Express Assistant (the old AirPort Assistant doesn't work). No big deal, however, as I was installing the software, just after the installer started its traditional disk optimization phase, my TiBook shut down. I'd forgotten to plug it in and it picked that moment to run out of juice.

I plugged in the power supply and brought the computer back from sleep mode, but the installation had gone horribly awry and so I started it over again. Stopping a disk optimization in mid stream is not a good idea. There's no telling what might have been messed up. Over the next few days I noticed a few odd things.

First, none of the Apple supplied menu bar items worked anymore. Things like the clock, AirPort status, and so on wouldn't start and gave strange error messages on the console. Menu bar items from third parties continued to operate fine. No amount of plist deletions, cache clearings, or rebootings would bring them back.

My iPod wouldn't sync with iTunes anymore. It would mount on the desktop and the iPod updater recognized that it was on the firewire, but iTunes couldn't see it.

I tried several things, including restoring some files from backup, but nothing seemed to work. I knew that the disk had been hosed somewhere that affected the system software, but it wasn't clear where. I was considering reloading the OS. I happen to have a spare 12 inch Powerbooks right now and I thought maybe I'd just transfer my working files to that and then reload in peace and safety. Then while searching Google for tips to make sure I knew everything I needed before I began, I ran across an idea that worked for me.

Rather than reload the entire OS, I just downloaded the OS X 10.3.4 combined updater and ran that. Luckily, it fixed both of the problems I'd experienced. I may not be out of the woods yet; I may yet find some lurking problem that requires that I reload the OS, but for now, I'm golden and with much less effort that would have been required to reload the entire OS.