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Mac OS X 10.3.8: The Last Panther Update?

Every good thing comes to an end, and Wednesday’s release of the 10.3.8 update for both the client and server versions of Panther ought to be the end. That is, except for possible security updates. Or at least that’s how it seems. After all, isn’t it time to fast track towards the release of Tiger?

Of course, Apple hasn’t said precisely when Tiger will appear, except some time in the first half of the year. In any case, if you are collecting bug lists, here’s the short one for 10.3.8. Well, not short, really, because it is the entire list, one far smaller than in previous updates.

One hopes that the list is short because Apple is running out of things it has to fix. Of these, the only one I’ve seen from this list is the longstanding black screen bug on a PowerBook G4. I’ve observed that on several versions of these PowerBooks in recent years, and it’s nice to see that it has finally been addressed, or at least successfully addressed. But if anyone still has the problem, let us know.

As usual, 10.3.8 comes in both delta and combo updaters. The first weighs in at 27.7 MB, but the version that appears in Software Update may be smaller in some models, such as the Mac mini. While Apple may have good intentions here, in the hopes of reducing file size for some people, the net result is that you can’t deploy the smaller update on other Macs at your home or office. If you’re not already running 10.3.7, the combo updater measures a whopping 103MB, but it packs a lot of stuff into that file.

Bill Fox, at Macs Only, ran some benchmarks to check for possible improvements in graphics performance. He found modest increases on a 1.5GHz 17-inch PowerBook and dual 2.5GHz Power Mac G5. A run on the newest PowerBook revealed only a barely detectable change, perhaps because that model may already have the faster graphics drivers.

While it’s hard to gauge reaction after just a few hours, most early reports on 10.3.8 seem favorable, but there may be a trouble spot here and there. MacFixIt is tracking the scuttlebutt, and it is already receiving complaints about higher fan activity on a Power Mac G5, and an irritating audio issue on the MDD version of the Power Mac G4. The latter results in a sudden boost of volume level after a restart.

So far, I haven’t seen any problems, or any noticeable change for that matter, though, as I said, I’m hopeful about the PowerBook G4’s black screen bug. In any case, you should be skeptical of reports of trouble unless a number of people experience the very same problem. Then you can see a trend. Don’t forget that, with so many possible installation scenarios out there, a unique bug report might merely indicate a problem with a very few specific systems.

If you’ve moved from 10.3.7 to 10.3.8 and it’s not doing it for you, first open Disk Utility and run the Repair Disk Permissions tool. If that fails, go for broke, and download and install the 10.3.8 combo updater. Yes, I know it’ll be a chore on a dial-up connection, and it may be nearly impossible to sustain a connection for that long, but it’s worth a try. Or perhaps you have a friend who might have broadband and would be generous enough to download the file for you and copy it onto a CD. If you have an Apple Store or a friendly independent dealer at hand, you might be able to get the update from them. It’s common, for example, for folks to bring their iBooks and PowerBooks to Apple’s own retail stores to download system updates.

Regardless of which update you take, fixing disk permissions is always a good idea after the update is applied and you’ve restarted.

As for me, I hope for a clear path to Tiger now, but I’m not going to guess when 10.4 will appear, although I suspect a May or June timeframe. I just don’t see it happening any sooner than that, but do not, under any circumstances, take that prediction to the bank.