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Living with Leopard: Book VII — So How Many Bugs Does Leopard Really Have?

Some years back, one of the developers for Mac OS 7.0 told me about a very obscure bug that had been allowed to persist in the operating system. It seemed that something would crash on the twentieth level of a new folder if you did something to it, such as create another new folder nested inside.

Well, I don’t know if they ever fixed that particular oddity, since I don’t know an awful lot of people who bury their stuff that deeply, but I suppose it does happen. So I wouldn’t break out your Classic Mac to see if you can reproduce it, but I’d be curious, I suppose, to hear if you do.

The point of this little remembrance, however, is not to dwell on an insignificant bug, but to explain that they remain ubiquitous in an operating system, even if you and I might regard them as quite stable. In fact, I venture to guess that there are hundreds of bugs in Leopard that Apple has logged.

I am not kidding. The headline is not meant just for show, or to paint a lurid picture on the subject. And, no, I’m not giving you any top secret information. In fact, that number may well well be in the thousands, as it is with any software of this vast scope. But before you rush to remove Leopard from your Macs, or consider sticking with Tiger, let me assure you that this isn’t anything you should be concerned about.

You see, many of those bugs are strictly cosmetic, while others can only be invoked by an obscure set of steps that aren’t likely to happen very often in the real word.

In software development, bugs are traditionally rated in accordance with their potential impact on the user. Indeed, if that bug bites, and it can cause your Mac to crash on a fairly consistent basis — or result in the loss of data — Apple will give it high priority and do their best to get it fixed as quickly as possible. The same is true for any responsible company, and — no snickers please — even Microsoft’s committees will institute crash programs to repair such issues in any of their products.

I said no snickering please, unless it’s just the candy bar!

In any case, bugs of that sort, if they exist, would cause you to see a 10.5.1 pretty quickly, but there are lesser issues that might impact you in a pretty serious fashion. Take AirPort reception, for example. If you can’t get a consistent connection with your home or office Wi-Fi network, or the one at Starbucks, you’re apt to be pretty upset. Indeed there have been reports of problems of that sort and they, too, would require quick fixing.

As I’ve said in my earlier commentaries, I am having difficulty printing documents with Microsoft Word 2004. Indeed, Microsoft’s PR admitted they’re aware of a rare problem of this sort and they’re working with Apple for a solution. Now this might just be some errant line or two of code somewhere that’s causing page ranges to be out of bounds. It may take five minutes to fix, but days to isolate and qualify for release. But it’s surely serious enough to require a pretty rapid repair, and, no, the recently-released Microsoft Office 2004 11.3.9 update did not address this particular oddity.

No, folks, Apple didn’t do anything to deliberately cripple printing in Word. It’s quite true that Office is a sprawling suite with millions of lines of code, and plenty of room for things to go wrong. That they spent a year migrating to Apple’s Xcode ahead of developing Office 2008 indicates that they have a huge amount of work to do even for the simple things. Indeed, it’s clear to me that Apple’s developers and Microsoft’s Mac developers do talk without pulling revolvers and swords. In fact, they are probably quite friendly in the normal course of events.

Naturally, some bugs are of far lesser importance, because there’s a workaround that allows you to avoid them. For example, we use WordPress for content management of this site. It’s easy, convenient and, in fact, has some pretty prestigious users, such as The New York Times.

What I like about WordPress the fact that you can edit your content from any computer with an Internet connection simply by launching a browser and logging in. You can also email your content, but I’d rather take a more direct approach.

However, WordPress and Safari 3 don’t like each other when it comes to writing and editing copy. When you save your document, Safari manages to strip out the paragraph breaks, which isn’t a problem if you prefer one long paragraph, but is otherwise a serious issue. Previous versions of Safari didn’t support the visual editor in WordPress, which puts a simple formatting bar on the top of a page.

Now I realize this particular anomaly isn’t a show-stopper. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the developers of WordPress or Apple and Safari, although I have no problems performing the same tasks in Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer or Opera. Moreover, I don’t know whether this requires a full-scale upgrade to Apple’s WebKit, perhaps in a future Leopard update, or it will remain an issue for the people at WordPress to address.

But you see where I’m going. The WordPress issue is probably not considered significant enough on Apple’s end to be worth a high priority, but it is still a bug that someone has to fix. The same is true for lots of other oddities that you might find in Leopard’s performance or appearance that disturb you. There are other defects that are so subtle, you may never see them, or invoke the rare set of concurrent conditions that causes them to appear.

As you can see, when I speak of hundreds or thousands of bugs in Leopard, I might, in fact, be very conservative in my estimate.