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  • Mac OS 10.4.10: The Worst System Update Ever?

    July 23rd, 2007

    The other day, I was interviewing MacFixIt’s Ben Wilson for one of his periodic slots on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. During the conversation, he remarked that reader surveys had shown that the recent 10.4.10 update for Tiger was the most troublesome in recent memory.

    This surprised me, largely because I never seem to have any of the problems that other people seem to encounter with regularly. I don’t know that I’m necessarily doing anything different, other than to be a little cautious about third-party system toys, or maybe I’ve just been lucky, and now things will change for the worse because I’ve mentioned them here.

    While troubleshooting forums might be heavily weighted towards people with problems, I accept Ben’s comments as entirely accurate. Clearly there’s a disconnect between my experiences and those of others in our audience.

    So what went wrong? Well, some folks are encountering AirPort wireless connection issues and related kernel panics, primarily on recent-generation MacBooks and MacBook Pros. Well, my MacBook Pro is of the first generation variety, and it has been outfitted with a replacement AirPort card from our friends at FastMac to support the 802.11n draft standard, so I don’t really fit into any of the conventional categories, but I haven’t had any troubles at all.

    Another problem, fixed by a more recent update, caused a popping sound on some of the Intel-based Macs. This isn’t something I can check for myself, since the bottom tip of an audio jack remains stuck in my MacBook Pro’s output port. So much for sound, although I installed the update anyway without incident.

    Apple also released and quickly withdraw a SuperDrive firmware update that had the nasty side-effect of disabling drives, which will no doubt keep their service departments busy for a while.

    There are also reports of issues with QuickTime 7.2 but that, technically, is not a 10.4.10 update, so we have to put it into another category.

    So why is these problems occurring? Did Apple fail to test the 10.4.10 update because the operating system team was too busy putting in the final touches for the iPhone and to get Leopard development back on track? I don’t pretend to have any hard answers, especially with no personal experiences to help illuminate possible causes.

    But assuming everything is as bad as it seems, does that mean Apple must put up a 10.4.11 update to set things right? Or will that just create more problems than it solves.

    It’s a sure thing, though, that as the Mac OS X user base continues to grow, there will be more opportunities for things to go bad. That’s the nature of the beast, because it also increases the opportunity for unique installation scenarios that might cause some of these ills.

    However, I have to tell you that no Mac OS X update was ever as bad as some of the garbage that passed for a Mac system over a decade ago. Let’s return to 1995, for example, when Apple switched to PowerPC computers with PCI expansion slots. Now ditching NuBus for PCI was a great idea, because it made it possible to get accelerated graphics card for much less money, since a manufacturer could leverage their PC product with new firmware. Or at least that was the prevailing theory.

    But the Mac OS 7.5 versions that shipped with those computers caused endless nightmares. As I recall, that PCI Power Mac, a 9500, shipped with 7.5.2. It was crash city, and it started misbehaving not 15 minutes after I set up that computer for the first time, and continued every hour or so until Apple delivered relief in the form of the 7.5.3 update. In retrospect, 7.5.3 was nothing special, but after the misery caused by 7.5.2, anything would have seemed a vast improvement.

    Although cherished by some old-time Mac users, I don’t recall System 6 as being especially reliable either. I recall working at a pre-press studio in the late 1980s, and hearing Macs restarting several times an hour. Of course, they were running heavy-duty and notoriously bug-prone content creation software too, but you had to wonder how they ever got any work done, and how the Mac came to dominate the graphic arts business. Then again, those early versions of Windows were far, far worse.

    Indeed, things have changed far more than our fading memories realize. However severe those problems with the 10.4.10 update might seem, they pale in comparison to what we encountered way back when.

    That, however, doesn’t lessen Apple’s obligation to fix the things that are broken, even if it means that Leopard may ship a little bit later.



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