Aug 082013

micromat makes the techtool utility; a troubleshooting tool for your mac.

micromat’s techtool pro 7 damaged an OS X startup volume — my OS X startup volume — and rendered it useless.

i’ve owned most flavors and releases and updates of techtool:

  • techtool deluxe 3.0.3. the powerpc version of the utility shipped as part of the applecare protection plan for my new G5 mac running os x 10.4/tiger. june, 2005.
  • techtool pro 4.5.3. purchased from apple after upgrading to os x 10.5/leopard. october, 2007, $108.45. it wasn’t obvious until the software install that the purchased version did not support leopard. their support desk eventually shipped me a compatible version.
  • techtool deluxe 3.1.2. this version of the utility shipped as part of the applecare protection plan for my new intel mac pro running os x 10.5/leopard. august, 2009. (an aside is that even though the shipped version was intended as a bootable disk, it would not actually boot the machine. apple didn’t seem to care a great deal about that.)
  • techtool pro 6 upgrade. purchased from micromat. june, 2012. $21.59.
  • techtool pro 7 upgrade. purchased from micromat. july, 2013. $39.99.

the techtool utility for me was more of an insurance policy; i never actually needed to use it but it was supposed to be a great tool and i wanted to be proactive in possessing it in the event that i actually needed it for disk recovery.

my new mac pro (august, 2009) had one 3.92TB RAID volume on it (named brock) that was my startup volume and held all my data. it had been running my system for at least a couple of years, with tons of data having been written to and deleted from it. i thought it would be a good idea to defragment it and optimize it, something that techtool pro was born to do. supposedly. after trying to do that and running into some issues, i called micromat technical support and spoke with a support rep. after some back and forth the rep finally asked if i was using a “large” volume. turns out that they did not support volumes larger than 2TB because their app was still 32-bit. too bad for me; nothing else to be done. that was 2011 or early 2012. (even then micromat failed to display meaningful diagnostic messages; it took some time with a support rep to determine the issue was because of a >2TB volume. so much time and frustration could have been saved even then by simply making the application more user friendly. i should have taken that experience as a sign of things to come.)

then, in june, 2013, i received an email from micromat announcing tech tool pro 7 … a 64-bit version of their app. i purchased, download, and installed the thing. yay. or so i thought. i’m still using the same mac pro with the same 3.92TB volume and with even more data having been written to and deleted from it. once again i thought i might get a little performance boost if i optimized the volume. (a specific reason i thought that optimization might help is that i was seeing a lot of os x beach balls when editing video projects using final cut pro.) micromat says that for the best results you should run a file optimization, then a volume optimization, then a directory rebuild.

so, then:

i backed up my large startup volume and then booted my machine from an external hard drive (which is running the same version of os x as is my large startup volume, for what that is worth).

i installed techtool pro 7 on the external drive and began to avail myself of its tools (the numbers in parentheses link to a screen grab of the corresponding report):

(1) 7/25 20:36 file optimization; completed successfully. techtool pro reported simply “Optimized 59 Files (60 Total Files)”.

(2) 7/25 20:43 since 59 is not 60 and, with no explanation from techtool pro as to why it wasn’t 60 out of 60, i ran a file optimization again. it completed successfully; “Optimized 2 Files (3,759,729 Total Files)”. not exactly what i expected; i thought maybe their would be one more file optimized.

(3) 7/25 21:05 file optimization again; completed successfully; “Optimized 1 File (2 Total Files)”. again, wtf?

(4) 7/25 21:12 file optimization again (expecting one more file to be optimized); completed successfully; “No Files Optimized (3,759,728 Total Files)”.

i don’t know if “No Files Optimized” means no files *needed* to be optimized, but it seemed like a good stopping point for file optimization. on to the volume optimization.

(5) 7/25 21:12 volume optimization. i cancelled the job pretty quickly, so techtool reported “incomplete”.

(6) 7/25 21:38 volume optimization. techtool reported it was canceled (by the tool, not the user.) “An unexpected error has occurred. You probably should try running the repair function and see if it can resolve it.”

(7) 7/26 00:53 volume optimization again. again, canceled (by the tool, not the user.) “An unexpected error has occurred. You probably should try running the repair function and see if it can resolve it.”

(8) 7/26 07:19 volume rebuild. failed. “Rebuild Error Encountered Rebuild Error Encountered”.

(9) 7/26 08:19 volume structures. passed.

(10) 7/26 08:33 file optimization. completed. “No Files Optimized (3,647,468 Total Files)”.

(11) 7/26 08:48 volume optimization. canceled (by the tool, not the user.) “An unexpected error has occurred. You probably should try running the repair function and see if it can resolve it.”

so, basically, from step (6) things just went to hell. although i was still able to boot from my startup volume after techtool pro had its way with it, many of the os x applications were unusable. e.g., in /System/Library/CoresServices would crash upon launch because of issues with some dynamic libraries (per the crash log). iCal simply would just not launch (the icon would animate in the dock for a while, then that would just stop.) ditto for the messages app. and so on and so forth. some icons were overlayed with a circle with a diagonal line through them (indicating the app could not be used on this machine); other icons had been changed to the generic application icon (meaning, i think, that the real icon for that app could not be found, thus indicating some damage to the app.) needless to say, the system was unusable. lots of the applications in /Applications were damaged in some way; almost everything in /Applications/Utilities was damaged in some way.

i spent a lot of time researching the issue but came up with a big fat zero. the micromat forums were of no help, either. i didn’t want to do a full system restore (because i would have had to first back-up a lot of additional stuff in my Documents folder that didn’t get backed up by the backup i did before using techtool (e.g., virtual machines), then do the system restore, then restore the “additional” stuff). but after a bit more searching i came across the tmutil command, which allowed me to restore just the /System, /Library, and /Applications directories. so i did that and i was back in business.

i contacted micromat technical support via email and they have been anything but helpful. some questions i had were

(a) why is there so little feedback in the reports? e.g., “An unexpected error has occurred.” micromat seems to consider that helpful; it is not. they did not answer that question.

(b) “You probably should try running the repair function and see if it can resolve it.” well, i asked, which “repair function”? there aren’t any. nothing that is clearly marked as such, anyway. there are two places in the tools where the word “repair” is used. do i choose “volume rebuild” or “disk permissions” or neither? i asked if they meant “volume rebuild”? the message is pretty generic and basically useless. i suggested that if they meant “volume rebuild” then they might say “volume rebuild” instead of “repair function”. i am stunned that a message that is so serious is so generically cryptic. it turns out that micromat does mean “volume rebuild” and the tech person said they would “certainly see if we can change the repair text in the Volume Optimization to make it clearer“. “certainly see” usually translates to “possibly maybe perhaps”. yeesh. the message is wrong. fix it, ffs.

(c) how do i find out more detail about all the incredibly generic messages being displayed? i noticed reports in ~/Library/Application Support/TechTool Pro 7/TechTool Pro 7.reports that might contain more detailed info but they didn’t appear readable by mere mortals. sure enough, micromat said those reports themselves are indeed not readable by mere mortals but that the information they contain is displayed by the techtool application. which means, in my opinion, that they contain very little useful information.

(d) if they had any idea why the number of files reported in (4) was one fewer than the number reported in (2). the volume being optimized was a static volume and was not being accessed by anything other than techtool, so i’m unclear as to why there were 3,759,729 total files reported at 20:43 and then one fewer file at 21:12. micromat did not answer that question. (indeed, after using the tool in step (10) there are 112,260 fewer files but i’m assuming that is because the damage had already been done.)

micromat is good at ignoring any questions you might ask. they’re not so good at helping resolve a problem they caused. but they do try and gather information so they can improve their product in the future. which makes me a beta tester. not something i signed on for.

what they did do “for” me was to ask me to send them a complete system report. there is a *lot* of information in the system report, some of it sensistive. it contains things such as the list of all applications you have installed on your system, your wifi configuration, and a list of fonts on your system. and a lot more.

i asked their support rep why they needed the entire system report, asking what information about my installed fonts did they find useful, what about the type of bluetooth mouse i have connected to my system is useful to them, and what part of knowing my wifi configuration would help resolve the problem. no answer. they also have no policy governing how this type of information is protected or disposed of. micromat said “It appears our Privacy policy doesn’t specifically address data gathering for troubleshooting customers’ support inquiries. I’ll ask what we can do about that, but in this case I will be more than happy to delete any files after we’ve concluded communications.” sure. and you send me your social security number, full names of mom and dad, birthplaces of all involved, and a dna swab, and i’ll be sure to delete everything after we’ve concluded communications.

the net of it is that micromat’s techtool pro — designed to resolve and recover from disk problems — has failed miserably at that endeavor and has caused more harm in the process, rendering useless a startup volume it was supposed to be optimizing.

eight years on, $170 later, and five versions and multiple dot-releases and counting and all i have to show for it is being without my machine for two days and spending more than 15 hours of my personal time using and recovering from using micromat’s techtool pro 7. no thanks. never again.

(and ffs, if they can’t even run a low-volume website how the hell can they be expected to put out a quality product and provide customer service? their website was down for at least several hours today.)

i have no confidence that micromat will do anything other than say “we don’t know” when trying to figure out why this problem happened. and they admittedly have no privacy policy to govern how they use, store, access, protect, or dispose of my personal data (which is what a system profile report is). as such, i’ve requested a refund of the amount i paid for techtool pro 7. micromat should be thankful i’m not requesting refunds for everything i’ve paid over the years and that i’m not billing them for my time.

the better alternatives are the os x disk utility and alsoft’s diskwarrior.

micromat’s techtool pro 7 damaged an OS X startup volume — my OS X startup volume — and rendered it useless.

run, don’t walk, away …

 Posted by at 12:12