Apple’s Mountain Lion Developer Preview Bricked My MacBook

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No really, the developer preview of Mountain Lion bricked my MacBook Air last night. As we’re fond of saying here at Techland, “Whoopsie-doodle.”

I blame myself, of course, something I’m fond of calling “bad user on device error,” though inside, I was silently picturing Apple’s new slightly-more-hostile-looking kitty growling “Brick you, Peckham.”

On a whim, I’d signed up for Apple’s $99 a year Mac developer program yesterday afternoon to have a look at the Mountain Lion developer preview, which Apple just released. After waiting a few hours for the nearly 4GB of install data to come down (courtesy the App Store), I did an over-the-top upgrade, just as many of you probably did when you first bought Lion. The install proceeded apace, rebooting my system to the installer, greeting me with Apple’s latest feline mascot and running a progress bar left to right until it completed. Then presto — I was up and running Mountain Lion.

(MORE: Apple’s OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion: The Mac Gets Even More iPad-Like)

I poked around for a bit, fiddling with the new Notification Center stashed way over on the right and playing with the touchpad gestures that can help sort what it shows you. Messages (which replaces iChat) I’d already fooled with earlier courtesy of the public Lion beta, so I clicked around in System Preferences and noticed the MobileMe icon was gone. I use iCloud, but also iDisk for my volatile data, e.g. documents and such. For reasons I’ve never been clear about — no doubt some byzantine technical issue — Apple kept iDisk separate from iCloud in Lion. In the Mountain Lion developer preview, however, it’s nowhere in sight.

When I first logged into Mountain Lion, I noticed the shortcut to my iDisk ‘Documents’ folder, which I keep in the dock, displayed a giant question mark (OS X’s way of shrugging and saying “Beats me!”). Clicking on the question mark crashed Finder. Clicking on the same shortcut in a Finder window (on the left sidebar) also crashed Finder. And for the coup de grace: Clicking ‘Go’, ‘iDisk’, ‘My iDisk’…yep, it crashed Finder, too. So with no way to access iDisk, short of bringing it up in Apple’s clumsy browser interface, I decided it was probably time to switch back to Lion and wait for Cupertino to release a less buggy preview. [Update: Apple says iDisk won't be available after June 30, 2012, so it makes sense that it's only partially here (it's still available through Finder's 'Go' feature), but I still would've needed to be able to switch back to Lion.]

Only what I didn’t realize, and maybe I missed it somewhere in the fine print, is that the developer preview replaces Apple’s hidden system restore partition — which on my summer 2011 MacBook Air had been packing Lion — with Mountain Lion. When I dropped back to the system restore feature by holding down the “r” or “option” buttons at reboot, my only choice was to restore a clean copy of Mountain Lion itself.

And even that has problems in the preview. Apple, in its infinite wisdom, requires that you have a network connection (Wi-Fi or Ethernet) to complete a restore, a “feature” they introduced with Lion. Without one, reinstalls won’t proceed. But in the Mountain Lion developer preview, the wireless icon was missing, and if you click the space where it should be, it wouldn’t properly connect to an access point. Plugging in a USB Ethernet cable was just as pointless, since the preview didn’t appear to recognize it, either. My options at this point were: Limp along with a buggy, feature-shorn version of Mountain Lion until the next update, or — I thought anyway — go buy a USB copy of Lion for $60 and restore from that.

Off to the Apple Store I went, just before close, dropping $60 on something I’d technically already paid for (as Billy Joel would say, “And so it goes…”). Only that didn’t work either. Attempting to restore from the USB stick just brought up a giant circle with a slash through the middle, making me wonder whether Mountain Lion hadn’t switched out something at the firmware level. Defeated, I left my laptop at the Apple Store with a request that they zap the thing back to Lion using their doubtless broader array of imaging tools.

Like I said, I blame myself, not Apple (though it’s not just me — the developer forums are full of others having exactly the same problem). But what a night…and another cautionary tale, for early adopters.

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