Last Week on My Mac: Deleting the SSV to free space

While we’ve been busy debating matters SSD, I answered a question from someone trying to upgrade their iMac to Monterey. They had come here after running into difficulties with an odd error thrown when making the step up to Big Sur. As they were concerned at that error, they posted a question on Apple Support Community Forums. One thing led to another, and they happened to mention that their boot disk was short of free space. They were then asked to post a screenshot taken in Disk Utility.


After a brief exchange with a Level 10 expert there, they were told that they could delete a large snapshot on their Mac’s Fusion Drive ‘to free up space’. The snapshot in question was clearly the Signed and Sealed System Volume (SSV) from which their Mac was currently booted.


Thankfully, the user hesitated at that advice and checked here, and in any case macOS wouldn’t have allowed them to do what that Level 10 expert recommended.

Recently, I’ve heard of other disturbing problems occurring on those same forums. One concerns recommending solutions which involve turning SIP off, and similar essential manoeuvres. Much as we all dislike doing that, there are times when you can’t solve a problem with SIP turned on, and that’s an intentional security feature. However, it’s apparently well known that if you post a solution there explaining how to do that, your response will be removed. It seems that, as a matter of unwritten policy, that’s not allowed.

So how do we tell whether an expert’s recommendation is credible let alone wise, or which procedures we can discuss openly, and which must take place behind closed doors?

Getting sage support for Macs is becoming increasingly difficult. Other places offer forums, in which a mixture of the excellent and absurd abound in equal measure. Telling them apart is just as hard whether they flaunt hundreds of thousands of points, many awarded for attending Communities meet ups (25 points) or someone liking your User Tips (10 points), or just give the air of knowing what they’re talking about. That Level 10 expert might have earned most of those points from their deep knowledge of Mail or Photos, and be completely unaware of huge swathes of macOS.

Apple Support Community Forums have other problems too. Many of the most knowledgeable Mac users work full-time in the industry, often developing or supporting commercial products. While it makes good sense to ban the promotion of products, that has the unintended consequence that a real expert can’t even mention their own product, leaving them hamstrung. Imagine being one of the engineers working on SoftRAID, consequently being unable to mention your product, only AppleRAID.

These problems arise because the computer industry has worked so hard to cut out the middleman, and destroyed the support pyramid. When you buy a new car, you normally do so from an official dealer. When you need support, perhaps to explain how to use its electronics systems, you go back to that dealer, whose mechanics and other staff are trained by the manufacturer. If they don’t know the answer, they contact one of the manufacturer’s support agents who, when necessary, can raise the matter with the engineers responsible.

Most of us either buy direct from Apple, or from a dealer whose technical support is essentially non-existent. All problems and questions are then laid unfiltered at Apple’s door. Instead of having to deal with a highly selected set of more technical questions, Apple Support is inundated with the minor and mundane, and finds it hard to recognise those needing escalation through layers of expertise until they eventually reach an engineer who really does know what they’re talking about.

Apple Support Community Forums are an alternative where you hope you’ll come into direct contact with an expert who will give free advice. But that Level 10 with so many points could already be out of their depth when still at the shallow end of your problem. Or they may know an answer which they’re not allowed to give, because someone has arbitrarily decided that mere users can’t be trusted to know how to solve certain kinds of problem.

Without a support pyramid and a system of training, users will continue to be recommended to delete their SSV to free space, and worse. And the isolation between engineers and users will remain.