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  • The Snow Leopard Report: How Much Abuse Should You Accept?

    September 17th, 2009

    As you have probably heard, NDP Group, a well-respected market research firm, is reporting stellar sales for Snow Leopard. The long and short of their survey is that sales over the first weekend were twice that of Leopard its launch weekend, and nearly four times that of Tiger.

    NPD Group's vice president of industry analysis, Stephen Baker, tells The Night Owl that they are not releasing actual figures, though other estimates peg the number at two million. If sales through the remainder of the quarter remain extremely high, you can bet that Apple will likely have a press release touting that achievement ahead of their quarterly financials next month.

    Of course, it's also fair to say that two factors influenced those numbers. First is the $29 upgrade price for Leopard users, and the second is the mere fact that there are many millions of additional Mac users now than there were when Leopard came out.

    From Apple's standpoint, this is a great thing. It means they'll recover the investment in development fairly quickly and if a large portion of eligible Mac users -- those with Intel-based models -- adopt Snow Leopard quickly, developers are apt to work that much harder to take advantage of the new performance-enhancing features. Right now, as with the very first PowerPC Macs, the things Snow Leopard can accomplish are largely theoretical. Except for Apple's own system-related apps, such as the Finder, and a few third-party offerings, support for 10.6 is largely confined to compatibility.

    Certainly it would be nice to see Adobe release a plug-in for Photoshop that supports Grand Central Dispatch, which would allow the more resource hungry rendering functions to harness the power of multicore processors. That approach would be similar to what Adobe did back when the PowerPC was first introduced. Then it was a free plugin, and it would be a good idea for them to do it again, assuming it is possible from a programming standpoint. Otherwise we'd all have to wait until next year for CS5 which, no doubt, will incorporate that support.

    If such a plugin does appear, and the ball is certainly in Adobe's court, it would also be really useful to see support for OpenCL, the Snow Leopard function that offloads work to the graphics chips. That would be a killer add-on, and perhaps it would fuel extra sales of CS4 until CS5 is closer to release. In other words, it would be a huge advantage for Adobe, since income generally drops in the months prior to the announcement of a major upgrade.

    While most everything is surely coming up roses with Snow Leopard, there are still those lingering issues that make some media pundits skeptical. One of those scribes is even now telling us that we should give up Macs and move to Windows 7, even though the latter hasn't been officially released. I won't mention that person's name because I used to think better of him, and don't feel I should join the crowd in embarrassing him in print. Let his words do that.

    Certainly Snow Leopard isn't perfect. There are surely plenty of bugs left for Apple to fix, and some have seized on the fact that 10.6.1 came out a mere 13 days after the original release. But this is nothing new for Apple. All or most previous system releases have seen maintenance updates within a few weeks after the initial version hit the streets. Unless the system is afflicted with data-destroying bugs, most issues aren't apt to be terribly serious. In large part, the initial releases are meant to address those various and sundry bugs that crop up during the dark days between declaring a Gold Master release and the actual product launch.

    Surely nobody is surprised to realize that work on 10.6.1 clearly began well before 10.6 was sent to the DVD pressing plants, and that 10.6.2 and even 10.6.3 are probably well underway. How could it be otherwise?

    Furthermore, even if Windows 7 is all or most of what Microsoft's devoted followers claim, you can bet that developers are hammering away even now on lingering bugs not addressed before it was released to manufacturing. There will be incremental updates early on to address the most serious issues, and a Service Pack will appear probably within a year.

    So it's really unfair to pound Apple for simply behaving in a normal fashion for a tech company. You know software is buggy, and releasing a product is a balancing act. The marketing people want to deliver the goods as fast as possible to ensure high sales. Most developers are dedicated to their craft and want to make sure that all important defects are fixed. At some point in time, though, they have to recognize reality and give the green light. Of course, they also keep their fingers crossed that nothing critical was missed, and sometimes even their best efforts don't quite succeed when the fruits of their labor finally goes on sale.

    To look at the dark side, certainly Microsoft's leadership would prefer that Snow Leopard falters in its early days. That hope may have fueled some of the worst criticisms. A few too many unfavorable or even lukewarm reviews can be enough to sink a product, or at least gut sales. Think about what happened with Windows Vista. Certainly Microsoft doesn't want to go there again.



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    27 Responses to “The Snow Leopard Report: How Much Abuse Should You Accept?”

    1. dfs says:

      Is it really possible to make any application Grand Central-friendly by the simple addition of a plugin?

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @dfs, Some rendering functions keyed to the plugin perhaps. I don't claim to be the final authority on that one. Perhaps one of the developers in our audience can let us in on the possibilities.

      Peace,
      Gene

    2. DaveD says:

      One of those scribes is even now telling us that we should give up Macs and move to Windows 7, even though the latter hasn’t been officially released.

      A statement told by a tech pundit that
      1) should have retired long ago
      2) is trying to get lots of hits
      3) is getting payola from Microsoft
      4) is all of the above
      5) is a "Rob Enderle" clone.

      Any attempts to stomp all the bugs would be a non-releasable product that might get to see the light of day after years of effort. In tech time, obsolescence is always just around the corner.

      How soon do some of the more vocal "Snow Leopard" complainers forget? Leopard was late getting out of the gate (due to a cell phone) and was quite shaky. There were three updates that followed in the hundred-of-megabytes plus size.

      My MacBook is running 10.5.8 and is quite stable. Snow Leopard can wait. Obviously, any SL complainers should have waited.

    3. Sean says:

      I installed Snow Leopard on 4 Macs of varying models and users in my home. Not one issue has come up.... NOT ONE. It was the easiest upgrade I have ever made. The only thing I had to do was update iBank and iStat on my MBP (for free), and that was it.

      I can't say the same thing for the copy of Windows 7 I installed on my MBP to see what all the fuss was about. I even used it for 2 weeks straight so I could understand all the features and debate them intelligently. Needless to say, it would take me another 2 weeks to write about all the shortcomings Windows 7 has compared to the Mac OS. I find it very hard to believe people actually defend Windows after using it for awhile. It's awful in my opinion. i will continue to convert all of my friends and family to Macs, knowing I am doing the right thing for them.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Sean, Good points. Despite what Microsoft wants you to believe, Windows 7 is nothing more than an update to Vista with some interface changes to make folks believe it's a major upgrade.

      It may be perfectly usable and all, but it's far from a game-changer.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. AdamC says:

      I could be wrong, when Windows 7 hit the shelf the early adopters will have a nightmare installing and using it, my premise is the RC is a virtual machine so it could be optimized but the actual release may be a different cat (pun intended) and most PCs may not have the hardware to run it.

      So let's wait and see what nightmare MS will be having when Windows 7 is released.

      Sorry to side track.

    5. DaveD says:

      I am going to do excavation work on my friend's Dell this weekend. The "Green AV" (malware, adware, scamware, scareware, whatever it's called these days) got implanted into Microsoft's Windows Vista Home Basic. I need to get rid of three or four of the Green AV programs and remove that entry from the (ugh) Registry.

      Oh, the joys of using Windows.

    6. Peter says:

      I installed Snow Leopard on 4 Macs of varying models and users in my home. Not one issue has come up…. NOT ONE. [...] I can’t say the same thing for the copy of Windows 7 I installed on my MBP to see what all the fuss was about.

      Okay, just so I'm clear on this.

      You installed a released product, Mac OS X 10.6, on some Macs and it worked flawlessly. You installed a beta operating system on a machine that emulates a PC (via bootcamp) and you had problems?

      "I installed Mac OS X 10.6 on my Dell via some hacks and had nothing but problems. Windows 7 installed without a hitch."

      You might want to consider a slightly more fair comparison next time.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Peter, Supposedly Windows 7 is at the RTM -- Release to Manufacturing -- stage. So if someone uses that, which allegedly represents the most recent online release, then they are getting what the Windows user gets when they buy a new PC or OS upgrade.

      Peace,
      Gene

      DaveD Reply:

      @Peter,

      “I installed Mac OS X 10.6 on my Dell via some hacks and had nothing but problems. Windows 7 installed without a hitch.”

      I believe that is the way it is suppose to work according to Apple's EULA.

      The issue with Window 7 and Boot Camp could be that Boot Camp does not support Windows 7 yet.

      Brian M Reply:

      @Peter,
      bootcamp doesn't emulate a PC, it is a utility to help partition the hard drive, to take a normal windows install, then once windows is installed, Apple has made it easier to get the necessary drivers for the hardware by using their disc. If you don't want to use apple's driver set, you can get most functionality by tracking down the various drivers yourself (except certain things like the iSight, and trackpad if I remember right)
      Once you reboot to the "bootcamp partition" it is windows, no emulation.

    7. Andrew says:

      But in the case of Windows 7, it is Windows un unsupported hardware without some drivers. PC owners have the same problem, as I can attest on my ThinkPad T400 which is a real and proper PC, but doesn't (yet) have Windows 7 drivers available for some of its components, specifically the switchable graphics.

    8. Louis Wheeler says:

      I think what is happening is that Apple stole some of Microsoft's thunder by an early release in August. Wintel pundits and fans are trying to snatch some of that thunder back.

      What Microsoft had planned was that Snow Leopard still would be having teething pains when System Seven was released. That way, there would be less of a stark contrast between them.

      But, Snow Leopard is settling down very rapidly. It was a very easy upgrade for most people. Even the developers who were planning on a late release in September are submitting updates, now. The list of apps which haven't converted is getting short.

      The developers next job is to upgrade their applications for 64 bit code, Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL. There will be impressive speed boosts from using those new fundamentals. But, this upgrade process will take most of next year.

      Microsoft's 64 bit versions will be ignored for the next five years. MS has a very long and difficult upgrade path before it. Apple's conversion to the 64 bit kernel should be substantially completed within the year.

      By the time that System Seven is released, Snow Leopard will be fit for Critical Path production machines. I suspect that another point release will appear, before System Seven does, to squash any glaring problems. Mac 10.6.1 included upgrades, issues and improvements which didn't have time to be evaluated before the cutoff date for the Grand master -- two weeks before release. Adobe's Flash plugin missed the cutoff by about five days, so Apple went with a buggy version which Adobe had submitted to them.

      Microsoft's concern must be that when System Seven arrives, it will be seen as buggy, slow and awkward compared to Snow Leopard. Of course, Microsoft cannot stand for that, so it must crank up its FUD machine. It's pundits and fans have to be fielding absurd headlines -- it's their job.

      One of the more absurd was Mr. Miller's, of ConSecWest fame, statement that Apple's Address Space Layout Randomization isn't as good as System Seven's. Well, of course, if you are comparing the 32 bit Snow Leopard kernel to 64 bit System Seven kernel. ASLR needs to be in 64 bit mode to hide essential system files from hackers in a much wider address space.

      Apple will be booting into the 32 bit kernel for most of next year, so that the developers can get their act together. I suspect that, within six months, most users will have upgraded to enough 64 bit applications, so that they can boot into 64 bit, themselves. Apple will probably delay that another three to five months, just to keep down the complaints. Mac 10.6.3 or .4 will probably automatically boot into the 64 bit kernel. That is when ASLR will start being effective, not before.

      Meanwhile, even those people who convert to System Seven will be doing so in the 32 bit mode. The 64 bit version is merely theoretical, because practically no one will be using it.

      Brian M Reply:

      @Louis Wheeler,

      booting into 32bit is more for kernel extension & device driver reasons. the 64bit kernel can launch 32bit applications without problem. (windows or Mac)

      as for ASLR, I believe as implemented in Mac OS X, 32bit or 64bit it behaves the same way, partially randomized, not fully.

      Louis Wheeler Reply:

      BrianM said:

      "booting into 32bit is more for kernel extension & device driver reasons. the 64bit kernel can launch 32bit applications without problem. (windows or Mac)"

      It's a bit more complicated than that. I can't use 64 bit Safari, for instance, because an application I use, 1Password, does not work in 64 bit mode, yet. There are many other applications which depend on and work with the fundamentals. We'll have to wait for upgrades. They will be soon coming.

      "as for ASLR, I believe as implemented in Mac OS X, 32bit or 64bit it behaves the same way, partially randomized, not fully."

      I don't believe so. If you are confined to a 4 Gb address space, it is more predicable and thus much easier for a hacker to find a place to attack.

      Again, my point was about Mr Miller duplicity. He was telling the truth, but was spinning it in a non straight forward way. He wasn't telling the whole story. He was comparing 32 and 64 bit kernels, but didn't tell you that he was.

      Brian M Reply:

      @Louis Wheeler,

      in the case of 1Password, you could still boot 64bit kernel, but still run Safari in 32bit mode for compatibility

      but yes, as developers get these various components, plugins & hacks caught up, that will mean smoother sailing, and a possible switch later on as you indicate to 64bit kernel for most users. (Maybe a new system pref panel to allow a default to be set like Startup Disk, to help those people that must stick with 32bit kernel for a particular device)

      even Leopard could address more than 4 GB of ram, that hasn't changed much really. full 64bit does make it harder, but some elements like dyld still aren't randomized.
      "It fails to randomize core parts of the OS, including the heap, stack and dynamic linker." - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/29/snow_leopard_security/

      Louis Wheeler Reply:

      @Brian M,

      Yes, I could boot into 64 bit Safari, but it didn't recognize the 1Password application. I purchased the next upgrade and down booted into 32 bit Safari, which did.

      I could have used the beta version, but I judged that it wasn't far along enough to warrant it. I suspect it will take another month or so before I'll give the beta a try. No big deal; 32 bit Safari is okay.

      Yes, the 32 bit Leopard kernel could use more than 4 GB. And it could run 64 bit apps and programs. But, it uses an awkward system of swapping out memory. The Snow Leopard 64 bit kernel is much better, as is its security.

      So far, as I understand it, the 64 bit kernel includes randomizing core parts of the OS, including the heap, stack and dynamic linker. I remember reading about those things on the Apple's Snow Leopard webpage.

      The only problem is one of practicality. Until enough developers upgrade their apps, we have little reason to boot into the 64 bit kernel.

      Mr Miller implied that these capabilities are not there, rather than waiting for the proper time to utilize them.

      Apple is in no hurry: it is not under systematic attack the way that Wintel is. Apple has the luxury of biding its time.

      I just see no point of Mr. Miller hyping a problem which is a chimera. Something which harms no one now and will be gone in less than a year. The Mac OS has a Unix permissions system which protects it from Virus', worms, adware and Spyware. We Mac users never see those. The only malware we have are Trojan horses, spam and phishing attacks.

    9. Louis Wheeler says:

      I don't think that a plugin for Grand Central dispatch is possible.

      I've been reading the reports over at http://www.roughlydrafted.com. The jest that I get is that Grand Central Dispatch does only half the job. The developers must identify those processes which can be spun off to work on other cores -- take other paths. GCD makes it easier to develop for multiple cores, by providing a scheduling system for the threads.

      A good physical example to use in thinking about GCD is that it is much better in a railroad yard to have a dispatcher up in a tower controlling where the trains will be going. This prevents delays and collisions. It makes for a faster transition through the yard.

      But, the engineer (the developer) must decide where the train is going, what cars can be dropped off to be moved independently through the yard and to communicate that fact to the dispatcher. Only the Developer knows what results he wants. The dispatcher provides an orderly assistance in helping to move the cars. He lessens confusion and lost time.

      Brian M Reply:

      @Louis Wheeler,

      Photoshop got a "MP plugin" back when apple first introduced dual core CPUs to help with the threading of certain tasks, and at least as of CS3, still has this plugin "MultiProcessor Support.plugin" along with plugins for certain things like "AltiVecCore" for G4/G5 systems, and "MMXCore" for intel based systems.

      This doesn't mean a GCD plugin is possible for sure, but they have designed Photoshop to be pretty extensible.

      Louis Wheeler Reply:

      @Brian M,

      The devil is in the details, BrianM. I have no Idea what that Adobe MP plugin did.

      All I was doing was to repeat what I read about GCD. Then I relayed a representation which seemed to explain Apple's intent.

      A good metaphor can help to nail down the essentials. Moving railroad cars through a rail yard has similar scheduling problems to moving threads through multiple cores.

      Brian M Reply:

      @Louis Wheeler,

      for sure, the information about GCD is good, I was just addressing the plugin bit.

      Adobe has already done the work for threading, Apple just made it easier/more efficient to manage the threads with GCD. The correct number are made for the hardware with reduced memory usage to boot.
      Some linux guys were getting pretty excited about it, but without the "helper" code from "Blocks" in the main gcc branch, GCD isn't as easy to implement as it is for XCode/Mac OS X developers.

      Louis Wheeler Reply:

      These technologies are a learning experience for all of us. Apple uses Open Source; it develops and refines it. Apple creates this technologies for itself, not for the linux users. There is nothing in the Apache License which demands more than delivering the source code. It has. What else does Apple owe you?

      Many Linux users complain that Apple does not provide enough help to make it possible for them to utilize these developments. But, Apple assumes that Linux users are competent enough to figure these things out. How much hand holding is necessary?

      The main problem is that "blocks" are not yet part of the "C" language. Linux users will be forced to code Apple's developments to fit their system, or not. Linux distros often don't use Apple's Darwin code, nor should they. Linux doesn't use Launchd yet and it has been in Mac OSX for over ten years.

    10. John says:

      It is ratheer interesting to see the uptick in attacks on SL from the MS camp. Insecurity? Payola?

      My installation of SL went flawlessly. It seems more solid. It fixed several small issues I had in Leopard. I'm quite happy with it so far and look forward to the app updates that will make use of it's new technologies. In particular I'd like to see updates for Aperture, iMovie and Keynote.

      Louis Wheeler Reply:

      @John,

      I've only had minor problems in upgrading. I had one app which has to wait for the 64 bit version.

      My printer had been rendered Legacy in Leopard, two years ago. I could print in Snow Leopard, but the black cartridge wasn't printing and I couldn't get the utilities to load to clean it. I could have cleaned the print head by rebooting into 10.5.8 on another partition, but I said "forget it."

      I went out and found a bargain. A better printer for $20 less that the original printer had cost me. I got four good years of use out of that printer and it was getting rather noisy to use. I like being cheap, but I took the advantage of Snow leopard to upgrade. Sometimes, you have to let things go. Otherwise, you get like Microsoft Windows with a very long legacy tail to support. My 24 inch iMac is two years old. I am likely to replace it in 18 to 24 months when 10.7 comes out.

      The big thing about Snow Leopard is that it leaves behind old technologies ( the PowerPC code and hardware, the Carbon API's, etc.) It embraces new technologies which we don't know the full ramifications of (64 Bit code, GCD, and OpenCL.)

      Currently, I am only able to utilize some of those technologies. I have a 64 bit chip in my iMac but I need new firmware to run 64 bit. I have two cores, but even iMac's should have four or more cores in two years. I don't have a GPU which can utilize OpenCL.

      I normally have a four year hardware upgrade cycle, so I'll be ready to get leading edge again, soon enough.

    11. Perry Lund says:

      I just checked my email this morning and received an email from Magic Mouse Productions who makes the CD/DVD disc labeling program called Discus. It was an email warning people about their poor decision to upgrade to Snow Leopard or Windows 7 RTM without waiting for 6 months. I will quote some of their email.

      We are seeing huge numbers of problems with Snow Leopard in general however as Apple really bungled their recent release. Apple had to rush out a service pack (6.1) to prevent a riot, and many defects remain. If your livelihood depends on smooth functioning of your Macintosh, please avoid installing Snow Leopard until 6.2 is released. Snow 6.0 almost completely ruined printing. If you have already installed Snow, be sure to download the latest versions of printer drivers, many companies like Epson updated their drivers after Snow shipped, and some like DYMO have not yet released Snow drivers.

      We are old hands at computers, going back to the punch card era, and can state with authority that if you value your time and would like to avoid unnecessary frustration in your life, we recommend that you NOT UPGRADE TO ANY NEW OPERATING SYSTEM UNTIL SIX MONTHS HAVE PASSED. The trusting people who recently purchased Apple's Snow Leopard and immediately installed it were greeted with hundreds of terrible bugs. It was reckless of Apple not to test their system more thoroughly before releasing it to millions of paying customers.

      While I am sure problems and bugs did affect some Snow Leopard upgraders, I am appalled, though not surprised, at a company trying to "blame Apple" and "admonish Mac users" for support problems with their software. The statement that gets me is, "trusting people... were greeted with hundreds of terrible bugs." I am sure Magic Mouse Prod. will have documented and be able to expound on all those hundreds of terrible bugs? I am disappointed in this company and their FUD spread by their "punch card era" technical support folks.

      What does this say about a Mac software company when they use FUD in an email list to its customers to tell people how bad Apple and their customers are for doing an OS upgrade? I no longer use Discus and have always been a little disappointed in their software's crude interface and slowness to be upgrade. Now I know why. The philosophy is to never upgrade, lest the company be accused of unleashing terrible bugs and thus never innovate.

      Brian M Reply:

      @Perry Lund,

      yeah, pretty bad statement from another software company...

      personally I only encountered one program that didn't work after updating to 10.6.1, and it mostly worked, just couldn't use a particular network function it used in 10.5/10.4 to collect its data, they had a fix out within 2 days.

      My 2 printers continued to work perfectly. Some customers I do support for did have to re-add printers manually to get them to work again, but not all. (And a couple had some approx 10 year old printers stop functioning, but by connecting them to another older Mac OS X mac, and share printing, they regained the use of them)

      10.6 was a much smoother update than 10.5, which had so many core changes meant that many programs had compatibility issues at launch. I think I finally upgraded my primary workstation once 10.5.3 came out.
      and as Louis says, with backups (Time Machine) it is easier to go back if there is some unforeseen problem.

    12. Louis Wheeler says:

      As a rule, Perry, it's not wise to trust computers or upgrades. You don't upgrade to .0 software on critical path production machines. Some people don't even trust .1 software. It looks as though Discus doesn't trust .4 software.

      I waited a week before I installed 10.6.0. I only did so, because I heard of so few problems. Leopard 10.5 was much more of a headache for the early adopters than Snow Leopard was.

      The way I upgraded was to protect myself fully. I backed up everything on my disk to a combination of CD's and Time machine, just in case. If I had had a spare thumb drive, I would have made a bootable copy. But Instead, I partitioned my disk and installed 10.5.8 on the part farthest out. The neat thing about partitions is that you can wipe them out and do a clean install, periodically. This helps keep the OS uncluttered and the disk drive orderly.

      I got that system working several weeks before I even ordered Snow Leopard. Amazon was much quicker than I expected, so when I got my Snow Leopard disk on Friday, September the fourth. I installed it on the innermost vacant disk. Then, I played with it throughout the weekend.

      I had some hitches, but mostly it was from learning new things. My Leopard 10.5 disk was an upgrade, it wouldn't instal on a blank partition. I had to first install Tiger 10.4.10, then upgrade it to 10.5, before installing 10.6. This was what my EULA insisted on. That turned out to be unnecessary, since I could have just installed Snow Leopard onto a blank partition. Live and learn.

      The point is, Perry, it that there are "Suspenders and Belt" guys. They learned from the school of hard knocks not to take chances. If you are in business, for instance, you let the early adopters work out the bugs.

      Even so, Discus's recommendation seems excessive. I remember upgrading to Leopard 10.5.0. It was much worse than Snow Leopard. Some people backed out of Leopard, into Tiger and stayed there until the .3 or .4 release.

      I'm not much of a truster. It was a good bit of work to do it my way, via partitions. What it gave me was confidence. I ran into hitches, but I kept persevering until I got it right. The Snow Leopard 10.6.1 upgrade was no problem, at all. It's been over two weeks since I upgraded. I only occasionally reboot into my Leopard 10.5.8 disk.

      I consider Snow leopard a very easy upgrade. I never read of "hundreds of bugs." I'm fairly certain that i'll be hearing of those with System Seven. The reports are good for it, but an upgrade never gets stressed out until it is released.

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