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Living with Leopard: Book I — Ignore the Fear Merchants!

You just knew it had to happen. Within a day or two after Apple releases a major product or product enhancement, all bets are off. The ugly face of whatever it is they delivered comes to the surface, and, before long, you begin to wonder how such an abject failure can actually succeed — until you begin to separate facts from fiction of course.

Now most of you know that I have written several fiction books with my son, Grayson, and a lot of factual books and articles too. So I think I know how to separate one from the other, but I sometimes wonder if others have the same set of values.

Take a headline I read this week from Jason O’Grady’s PowerPage site, where he points his readers to an article he co-authored with David Morgenstern over at ZDNet, a CNET affiliate, entitled “Apple says to Archive and Install Leopard.”

Now, if you take the statement at face value, which I expect most readers might do until they read the fine print, it clearly asserts that Apple is admitting that the standard Upgrade Mac OS X installation scenario for Leopard won’t work, so you must use the semi-clean “Archive & Install” method instead.

But when you read the actual details, you find that it’s just not so. In its Knowledge Base document on the subject, Apple is actually addressing a small minority of installations where a third-party system enhancement, probably an older version of Unsanity’s Application Enhancer, may cause a blue screen of death when you restart your Mac after performing an Upgrade installation of Leopard.

The solutions include reinstalling Leopard with the Archive & Install method, or using the Terminal to zap the offending system extender. But that’s mostly a case of closing the barn door after the cows have departed. The real solution is just to remove your third party system goodies before you install Leopard. Some of these utilities have uninstallers. Others, mostly the ones that fiddle with Mac OS X’s hidden settings, such as TinkerTool, include the capability of restoring your system to its default settings, and you should definitely take that step if you don’t find an obvious removal method of the software itself. That is, besides just throwing out the application, of course.

Either way, that should remove the the most obvious threat of a startup failure. So the headline for that article from O’Grady and Morgenstern is not just misleading, but dead wrong except in cases where you forgot to remove the third-party system enhancement.

In fact, other than defective hardware or a corrupted hard drive, you can probably blame most Mac OS X update troubles on a system that’s been manipulated via Terminal trickery, or by adding a third-party toy. It’s a word to the wise, and should be considered before you throw caution to the wind and proceed with your installation as if nothing could possibly go wrong.

To be sure, Apple has clearly tested Leopard installations on all of their hardware, so they do — or at least should — know all about the potential downsides. In saying that, the two Leopard installations I performed for a client this weekend were simple upgrades. Nothing special, because I knew he hadn’t done any nasty things to his operating system’s guts. As I expected, it was flawless in every respect, as I suspect most Leopard installations of that sort will be.

The other concerns I have concern the recent instructions about installing Leopard on unsupported hardware. Yes, perhaps your Power Mac with a pair of 800MHz processors will work as well or better than a single 867MHz chip after you install Leopard. But for whatever reason — and certainly selling new hardware has to be a part of it — Apple chose that specific line of demarcation.

If you dare to cross it in some fashion, such as accessing that Mac’s startup drive via FireWire Target Disk mode from a Mac that’s certified for Leopard, the installation may succeed without any problems. If the specs of that Mac are close enough to the minimum requirements — and you have lots of RAM available — you maybe perfectly happy with your Mac’s performance. Indeed, for most of you, and my own experience bears this out, Leopard is quite a slick and snappy beast.

But what happens when Apple releases the inevitable slew of system updates. For example, Login & Keychain Update 1.0 appeared the day after Leopard’s official release. I’ve little doubt that those updates will show up in the Software Update screen on one of those officially unsupported Macs. However, when you try to run the installer, don’t be surprised if you get the message that the hardware isn’t compatible.

So what do you do then? Why of course you can probably return to the method you used to induce installation in the first place, and do all your updates manually as they show up, by downloading the files direct from Apple. I suppose that clever scheme will succeed in most cases, so perhaps there’s nothing to worry about.

But what if the Mac you used to force the original installation is not available? What if you just borrowed it from a friend to get Leopard to work on your aging Mac? What if that update fixes a critical system bug and you try to beg your friend to use his machine again, only to find he’s on a one-month vacation in Spain?

Yes, some folks will delight in telling you how to do things that you’re not supposed to be able to do. But if you depend on your Mac for your business, I would be extremely cautious about whose advice you listen to. If something goes wrong, it’s not as if you can make them pay you for the lost production.