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Uninstalling Mac OS X

Suppose you want to uninstall Mac OS X—because you no longer want to use it, or you no longer want it on a particular volume, or you're having such problems getting the OS to start up that an uninstall followed by a fresh installation is the only possible solution. How do you go about it?

By far the most direct approach is to erase the entire volume. Of course, you'll first want to back up any personal files (most of which will be located in your home directory) that you want to save.

Manual uninstall?

In some cases, you may be reluctant to erase the volume. Perhaps you also have Mac OS 9 software installed on the volume and don't want to erase it. Or perhaps you don't have a full backup of all the files you want to save (and you're not prepared to back them up at the moment). In such cases, you would prefer to just delete all files associated with Mac OS X and leave everything else intact. This is also likely to take less time than erasing the volume and restoring saved files from your backup. Can this type of uninstall be done?

The answer is yes—but with difficulty. Apple offers no officially supported uninstall method. To do so requires starting up from another volume and manually deleting all Mac OS X–specific folders from the desired volume. Many of the Unix software folders (such as dev and var) remain invisible even when starting up from another volume, so you will need to either make them visible in the Finder or use Terminal to delete them. The fastest way to get an overview of what needs to be deleted is to launch Terminal and type ls -a /. This lists all files and folders, invisible and visible, at the root level of your current Mac OS X startup drive. Use this command to make a list of all the items you intend to delete. The list should include .hidden, .vol, Applications, Library, Network, System, Users, Volumes, automount, bin, cores, dev, etc, mach, mach.sym, mach_kernel, private, sbin, tmp, usr, and var—as well as any other items you know you want to delete. But I would use such an approach only as a very last resort. Given the low cost of FireWire and USB hard drives today, you'd be much better off backing up your important files and then doing an Erase and Install.

Using DesInstaller?

DesInstaller (http://krugazor.free.fr/software) is a shareware utility that can be used to uninstall any software that has a receipt file in the Receipts folder. It uses the information in a receipt file to remove all of the software that was originally installed—even if the software has been modified. It can archive the removed files and create a reinstaller for future use. You can also create a reinstaller without removing the software—which can be useful for software for which you do not have the Installer .pkg file.

DesInstaller is not really useful for a complete uninstall of all Mac OS X software, but it can be great for selective uninstalls of updates.

Keep in mind, however, that it's also a potentially dangerous tool. If it makes an error and uninstalls more or less than it should, you could wind up with an unstable system. For example, I would not use this utility to remove Mac OS X updates, as it might delete critically needed files. Ultimately, a complete reinstall of Mac OS X may be needed. So use at your own risk!

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