I suppose that the argument over whether Leopard is a major disappointment, a promising work-in-progress, or the ultimate operating system, won’t be settled right away. While our ongoing poll showed that about half of you have had excellent, trouble-free experiences, there are far too many question marks at this early stage.
On the other hand, I expect that, if Apple’s past history is the guide (and it should be), most of the lingering problems will be resolved in near-term maintenance updates.
Yes, I agree with many of you that Leopard left the starting gate much too early. This is an unfortunate part of the software business, where marketing considerations may trump common sense and the presence of annoying bugs in the new product. Here, for example, Apple had already delayed Leopard once, and the coders were under great pressure to get their work done in time for an October release. Imagine how the tech press would slam Apple if it announced yet another delay? Imagine the impact to their stock price?
Well, they made their deadline, of course. Some of you may wish they didn’t.
But if you go through the history of the Mac OS, right from the beginning, you will see system software that’s required updates from time to time, particularly in the weeks following a major upgrade.
I remember, for example, when the first Power Macs with PCI peripheral ports came out. I won’t get into the thoroughly evil RAM installation routine for the 8500 and 9500, which made the Mac mini look simple in comparison. Instead, I remember my accursed 9500 crashed so often I hardly got any work done for a few days. The original system version, a 7.5 variant, was soon updated and the worst of the ills were vanquished, more or less.
When you go through Mac OS X’s history, you’ll find a similar situation. A new release appears with great fanfare, followed just weeks later by the inevitable bug fix to repair the serious stuff, and then, over time, more updates to fix up most of the remaining defects.
How many of you recall installing Mac OS 10.3 Panther, only to discover that some FireWire 800-based drives stopped working. This particular problem could be blamed on Apple and the need for some drive makers to deliver firmware updates for certain FireWire controllers. Indeed, this particular problem was far more severe than most anything that ailed Leopard (except for the notorious Command-drag file move bug), because it would destroy or damage a drive’s partition map, which meant a trip to the drive recovery center to recover your data.
It actually infected me, and it happened at an awfully unfortunate time, because I had just sold one of my older Macs and I was busy setting it up for its new owner. However, the affected FireWire drive just had some old backup files that I didn’t need.
Yes, I installed the firmware update, and the inevitable 10.3 fixer-upper from Apple, but I learned my lesson all-too-well. From here on, all my desktop Macs would be purchased with — or retrofitted with — a second internal drive where possible. Two backups are better than one. Today, I have Time Machine handling my external FireWire drive, and SuperDuper! (only partly functional in Leopard) doing its thing for the second internal drive. By the way, the SuperDuper! issue relates to making a proper bootable clone, but the data is otherwise intact, and the Leopard-compatible version should be out soon.
Now do you think Tiger was the greatest version of Mac OS X ever? That’s the way the Leopard doomsayers want us to remember 10.4, but that may not be true. When Tiger first came out, the major changes to the underlying networking architecture made third-party VPN software — required for many businesses — non-functional or partly-functional. Don’t believe me? Well, check the history over at John Rizzo’s MacWindows cross-platform information site.
Indeed, those problems took an awfully long time to resolve. In the end, it required updates from both Apple and other companies to set things right, and some say that problems persisted until the very end. So some of you may indeed think of Panther as the best Mac OS, except for that FireWire 800 data loss bug, of course.
But even the ongoing network repairs didn’t make Tiger perfect for everyone. There are lots of troubling reports that the 10.4.10 update caused a positively huge amount of harm for some of you, if the comments posted here are any example — and I think they are. I suppose 10.4.11 helped close out Tiger with most of its reputation intact, though.
So I am not surprised to see Leopard beset by various and sundry issues, at least for some of you. What makes them seem all-the-more notable in the scheme of things is Apple’s incredible success in moving so many copies in such a short time.
Consider: If only a few percent of new Leopard users encountered problems of one sort or another, that’s a large number, and people who complain tend to be far more vocal about their difficulties than people for whom the Leopard upgrade went perfectly, or almost perfectly. And, please, don’t use our random polling about Leopard as anything more than an intellectual exercise.
That’s why, for example, troubleshooting sites tend to have a huge percentage of problem reports. This doesn’t mean they should be ignored. You just have to put the information in perspective, and make sure that the bugs posted are repeatable among a cross-section of users, for otherwise it may be just one of those things that affects but a few and that’s about the size of it.
So what are we to conclude about all this? In the scheme of things, I think Leopard is no worse than other Mac OS releases. In fact, for me and others, the experience has been far, far better.
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