Reinstallation Insurance

By • July 16, 2009

There are inevitable unpleasantries in life, the most celebrated being death and taxes. A personal bugaboo for me is moving, as in from one residence to another. For professional computer users, however, dependent as they are upon achieving and maintaining the most efficient and up-to-date setup affordable, there are several more, such as hardware and operating system upgrades. Recently, I had to endure both concurrently, a project I’d been postponing for some time due to its inherent high PITA (“pain in the ass”) factor. Not wanting to pay for the same real estate twice, I determined to find a way to make it less painful next time.

The task required transfer and/or reinstallation/upgrading of both data and applications. Data is simply a collection of (hopefully) well-organized and backed-up data files, libraries, preference files, etc., and can be moved either to the new platform directly or stored indirectly to media and restored to its place on the old. There are even automated approaches available to do all this for you. On my Mac, the officially sanctioned approach did not work, and I wouldn’t want to use it for applications anyway. Applications, because of their delicate and exquisitely well-choreographed dance with the operating system, really are too complex for manual or even automated transfer, especially across generations of operating systems. What’s really called for is a complete re-installation of their component parts in multiple places. As most users routinely employ many dozens of applications, the complexity of the whole task becomes obvious. Plus, if one of your applications gets corrupted, it’s a usually a rotten time to organize the reinstallation process.

In my case, I found myself searching all over my office for original installation disks, stored disk images of downloaded software upgrades, and printed registration materials, as well as on the internet for available/advisable upgrade options (forcing decisions on possible changes.) This was interspersed with needle-in-a-haystack searches on my computer for emailed registration and installation codes, purchase dates, serial numbers, etc.

There are probably more than one way to skin this organizational cat, but here is the one I developed: (1) Organize application installation materials physically. Sounds simple and obvious, and it is. As you obtain original installation or upgrade disks from manufacturers, dedicate some safe location where they (and any written materials, but more on that in a minute) can be archived for easy retrieval. (2) Create a master folder on your computer to store all pertinent elements for installing each application. On mine it’s called (arbitrarily) “Application Install/Upgrade Elements.” In it will be a folder for each manufacturer (i.e. “MOTU,”) which in turn will contain folders for each application (“Digital Performer,” “MachFive,” etc.) Within each of those will be a folder for each generation of the software you might conceivably need. In my case, I have many generations of Finale and Sibelius, and I may need to reinstall even the oldest (perhaps even on an obsolete platform,) depending on the needs of my clients. Within each version’s folder will be all necessary disk images, complete programs, serial/registration numbers, installation codes, purchase dates, etc. Instead of some form of word processing file, I just created folders called “Serial Number,” “Activation Code,” “Emails,” etc., and within each will be a folder whose name will be that particular number or code, or whose contents will be pdf’s of any correspondence or website pages. In all likelihood, the file structure concept will outlive any particular file format, so the data will be readable far into the future. If you worry about hacking, encrypt the folders containing the codes.

Over time, as you add each new application or upgrade to your computer, it takes just a minute to add more folders to archive the new elements. It’s a simple matter to back up this omnibus collection as you would any other, and not nearly as often (only when adding new applications or upgrades.) I’m not a PC person, but this approach should work similarly on both Macs and PC’s. Most software seems to be downloaded, which leaves a compressed package and consequent disk image or file which can be stored easily by this method. It will also work for hardware drivers, which experience has shown can be important if your manufacturer goes bye-bye. (However, it’s up to you whether or not you want to keep a complete set of the automatic upgrades that come in through the internet as you work.)

The primary advantage here over written logs or files is infinite reproducibility, reliable backup-ability and (if a complete reinstall becomes necessary) faster, easier, and more accurate input of codes via cut-and-paste instead of manual entry. For a quick log of all your codes, you can even do a global “open” of all the folders and print out the file structure. By its very structure, it will reinforce good organization.

Obviously, there will be massive installer disk collections and sound libraries require physical storage, but these can either be backed up to other media or, at worst, insured and replaced by the manufacturer. This approach is for the majority of your bread-and-butter applications (with more turnover) which get you through the day.

As I discovered, reinstallations need not be all that traumatic after all. Properly planned, organized, and maintained, your process can have you ready to go in no time.


By Ruckus Skye on July 16th, 2009 at 10:46 am

Good thoughts, but I’m curious… how exactly do you “encrypt the folders containing the codes”

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