The Leopard Report: Forget the New Features!

July 28th, 2006

Sometimes I put up a headline mostly for the entertainment value, but I’m fairly serious about this one. Mac OS X needs a fair amount of fixing, and a few hundred of those ahead of a few hundred bits of eye candy might be just the ticket.

Now, I can imagine that many of you are drawing up your list of hopes and expectations ahead of the introduction of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard at Apple’s WWDC on August 7. I know I plan to be in the press box at the appointed time, and if we can get a good wireless Internet connection, I have hopes we’ll be able to post updates here as the keynote progresses. But don’t depend on that; we’ll know how the connection rates at the appointed hour and not before.

In the meantime, I’ve already weighed in on various elements that must be addressed even before we are inundated with all that sizzle. It’s quite fascinating, as I’ve examined the online chatter, that gee-whiz doesn’t seem seem to dominate the discussion this year. Instead, there’s the attitude that Apple needs to fix what’s wrong first, then worry about the stuff sell lots of copies and provide extra traction against Windows Vista; that is, when that’s released (as I’m sure it will, eventually).

As I’ve mentioned before, numero uno is the Finder, which has been lambasted over and over again for its poor multithreading performance and inability to stay put when it comes to view settings. I’ve railed against the inability to handle multiple copying operations, which can bring even the most powerful Mac to a halt. But there’s more. Just try this: Mount another Mac as a network share on your computer, and then put that other computer to sleep. That’s a simple, innocent mistake that we all make, especially with a Mac note-book.

So what happens next? Well, the Finder doesn’t get the message that the other computer is asleep right away. In fact, it might hang up for several minutes or more. You could, I suppose, Force Quit the Finder, which isn’t hard to do, but why?

On the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, author and ace troubleshooter Ted Landau wondered about the those occasionally pesky Login items. You know, the stuff that launches when you boot your Mac.

Now a login item may be nothing more than an application that you want to launch at startup, such as Apple Mail or Firefox. But that’s not all. There are some strange things that lurk there as well, background operations that might serve special functions for, say, iTunes, Microsoft Office, and a third party input device.

If you have a startup problem, one common troubleshooting step is to disable your Login items, which can be done via holding down the Shift key as soon as the blue background appears during the startup process. Or just remove some or all of the suspects from the Accounts preference panel.

The latter is, however, dangerous, because you can’t easily restore some of these items, because they are parts of peripheral driver installers, or hidden within an application “package.” It doesn’t just put things in a “disabled” folder, so they can be easily restored and you have to wonder why.

Such subtleties may not make so much of a difference to you, until you consider what might happen if you remove the wrong Login item, such as the custom keys of your fancy mouse or multimedia keyboard failing to work. You suddenly have to rerun installers, maybe even endure multiple startups, to set things right.

You can no doubt list lots and lots of interface and setup oddities that can get you into a lot of trouble if you happen to make a simple mistake. Another that comes to mind is the way Trash has been handled in the Mac OS from Day One. What if you delete the wrong file by mistake? Forget having backups, forget a third party file recovery utility. Even if you do backups, it’s not too practical to do them constantly, and the latter doesn’t always succeed.

But what if Apple offered a trash undelete function, part of the operating system, that gave you the chance to restore recently deleted items? Not a flashy feature, but, when added to a bunch of important fixes to the system, would make Leopard absolutely irresistible to me.

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13 Responses to “The Leopard Report: Forget the New Features!”

  1. Karl says:

    No doubt!!!! The things you mention along with many others drive me crazy. I would love to see some new features but the other side of the coin is, I would love to have those things corrected also.

  2. James Lee says:

    One tiny irritant; Please make it easy to keep the date in the menu bar clock. I know it can be dont, but it is not eay like it was in the past. It is a very handy option and should be rivially easy!

  3. Adrian says:

    I agree!! I am constantly running up against “minor” glitches with Tiger: shutdown or startup hangs, firewire and USB voodoo, system-wide freezes (yes, I know OS X is not supposed to do this), and more. Why should every OS upgrade be “dangerous” to install? Why should we have to address reverting to a previous version (eg.- Quicktime, OS X)? I think Apple should address the fact that the OS doesn’t “just work” and take care of that before adding new features and new eye candy. These “new features” often just push the need for a newer/faster processor anyway.

  4. George Lien says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Leo. As a Mac user since 1988 and a PC user since 1994, I’m glad someone dares to talk about some problems of Mac OS X.

    Best Regard,

    George Lien
    Part of the TWiT Army

  5. Bert says:

    Hear, hear. As far as I’m concerned, Apple’s going on a bug fixing spree first. And should not forget the many faxing problems (under 10.4.7 can’t send more than one page! Which is very unfortunate because I’m running a business, and some with some organisations one is not allowed to email because of legal matters). Spotlight anyone? Can’t find many of my . Or how about being able to use Spotlight’ content finding to find stuff on Mac OS X server smoothly. Steve, servers are not uncommon in businesses. And use do want to find their stuff.


  6. Kip says:

    That issue you described with putting a MacBook to sleep while connected to my desktop is a major pain. Watching in frustration as the rainbow wheel spins forever and thinking to myself is this really the best OS on the planet??

    I agree entirely with your notion that perhaps maintenance release that fixes all the existing issues is a priority over any snazzy new feature. Although I can’t wait to see those too. 🙂

  7. brett says:

    Agree completely. Trouble is, it’s the “snazzy new features” that make for exciting press announcements and hype people into paying for a new iteration of the OS. I’d guess that too few people will want to plunk down $99 or whatever Apple charges for Leopard for something as mundane as “stable, solid performance.” Do you think that causes too much of the development effort devoted to OS updates to be devoted to new features rather than stabilizing (and simplifying and ensuring consistency in things like UI) the old ones?

  8. rik says:

    “Mount another Mac as a network share on your computer, and then put that other computer to sleep….”
    man, if that was the ONLY fix in leopard, it’d be worth the $129 we’re gonna hafta pay again!

  9. zahadum says:

    yes – oh yes – for the love of god, PLEASE y-e-s!

    alot of apple’s franchise is with plug’n’play and fit’n’finish —

    and when sooooooo many — i mean

    /// sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo many many many many many ///
    loose ends still hanging around MORE THAN A YEAR AFTER the release date! —

    apple needs to take the extra 2 or 3 months in the leopard scgeule to solve every bug!

    the whole feedback & crash report mechanism needs to be totally revised — it needs to be tied into to a posgress db residing on the local machine & integrated with webobjects — so that a sematically useful abstraction of the problems can be built up — i am sure that the xisting opaque reports dont really help that much.


    fix the bugs!

  10. Stephane says:

    While I’ve learned something today thanks to your article (that you could disable login items after your login by pressing the Shift Key and clicking on the Login button), I think there’s one confused point in it.

    There are actually 2 kinds of StartupItems:

    – those who are launched when the Mac starts up: they are located in /Library/StartupItems and /System/Library/StartupItems. They are disabled when you start in Safe Boot. They usually launch System background process or load Kernel Extensions or Drivers.

    – those who are launched when a user logins and not when the Mac starts up (automatic login may make someone think they are): they are defined in the Accounts Preference Pane. They usually are applications or Background task.

    Apple did a nasty job in Panther when it decided to rename Login Items to StartupItems.

    I share your pain with the Finder. It’s plagued with bugs, performance issues (it’s just slow even on a Quad), regressions from Mac OS 9 (I’m still waiting for the View > Arrange menu to return to the Finder contextual menu).

    Regarding the AppleShare your-server-is-gone issue, Apple tried to improve that in 10.4.7. AppleShare folders are cached in the Finder, so you can have the server being away but you can still move back to folders you’ve already seen. It reminds me of Windows as this is bad from a User experience point of view.

  11. Javaholic says:

    As the saying goes, “it’s always the little things”. And theres a real laundry list of those ‘little things’ that can, at times make OSX feel like hard work. And then theres the Finder (ugh…).

    I can’t ever imagine Steve standing up on stage at WWDC saying “theres one more thing…We’ve listened. We’ve externally beta tested. We’ve been back over OSXs backyard and we’ve finally pulled the weeds!” Hardly as exciting as say, widgets (which I’ve still never used), but I’d applaud the day there is actually more steak and less sizzle in a major Apple OS upgrade.

    I have no idea what to expect from Leopard. I’m sure there’ll be some cool ideas and whiz-bang demos that we’ll be told will make our lives better. But as far as pulling those weeds go? Hmm… I won’t hold my breath.

  12. DWalla says:

    Yes… Finder is the Achilles Heel of Mac OS X… this HAS to be rewritten from the ground up. Multi-threading is critical. The network hang issue is even more of a pain in a studio that may have 20-30 Macs operating and sharing. Put one machine to sleep and you can make a dozen machines hang.

  13. kdaniel says:

    MAIL… I’ve had more problems from Apple than any other mail client I’ve EVER used. Even on Windows. I constantly receive mail with attachments that will NOT open on OS X but open just fine on XP. No way to show/subscribe to only some of the folder on an IMAP server. And it crashes way too often. Mail data is stored in ~/Library… not Documents, where it’s more likely for the novice user to back it up (yea, I know… who backs up data)… AND, how in the hell can you create an archive of mail that can be opened by anything… even on Windoze, you can copy email into a folder and it creates ‘.eml’ files that at least the email client really can open in it’s original form… what a concept!

    The “ignore accidental trackpad input” needs LOTS of help… IMHO it should ignore touches while you’re typing (ie, time how many milliseconds since the last keystroke and ignore IFF too low), but it introduces unusable delay in actually using the trackpad well after typing has stopped.

    BLUETOOTH is virtually useless… especially the built-in BT on the MacBook… although all BT on macs is much more problematic than between a headset and a cellphone… which costs way less than my MB did, has way less memory and way less powerful processor to work with.

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