Is Leopard a Failure?

December 17th, 2007

After long months of anticipation, Leopard went on sale in late October, and I’m sure many of you succumbed to the lust for eye-candy and the promise of over 300 nifty new features and placed your orders early on. I know I did.

Others waited for hours for the big bash at an Apple Store, as if some famous entertainer was going to be present. All this for a personal computer operating system? Well, in 1995, Microsoft got a similar reception to the introduction of Windows 95. How times have changed!

But has Leopard truly realized its potential? Did Apple deliver on its promises, or deliver a buggy product that a few tech pundits are even comparing to the dismal Windows Vista rollout?

The problem here is that there’s a huge disconnect between reality and some of those published claims. At the heart of this is the fact that, like all new operating system releases, Leopard was plagued with some annoying bugs when it left the starting gate. True to form, Apple probably released the product a little early in order to meet the deadline of shipping by the end of October.

But most of the serious problems were fixed within weeks with a fast 10.5.1 update, yet the perception some so-called journalists want to convey is that those fixes never existed, or just weren’t very important.

Among the complaints that were supposedly so serious: Failing Wi-Fi connections, application crashes and, of course, that infamous bug where you could lose a file while moving it to another drive or partition using the seldom-used Command-drag process.

But, as I said, that’s a moot point, although I grant some of you are still having problems that, one hopes, will soon be solved by Apple or a third-party developer in the very near future.

What is a fact is that Leopard had a terrific reception out of the starting gate, garnering some two million sales the very first weekend. I don’t presume to have the figures since then, but I think it would be fair to say that there are probably going to be another million or two Leopard users by the end of the quarter, even if most of those sales involve copies preloaded onto new Macs. My impressions of Leopard’s ongoing success are apparently confirmed by a MacNN report about the results of a recent NDP retail study.

With such a fast influx of new Leopard users, you have to expect some ongoing teething pains, but to suggest that Leopard is somehow a failure strains logic. Lest you forget, previous versions of Mac OS X also had their share of troubles in the initial releases. Tiger, for example, had problems with VPN and cross-platform networking, and it took quite a while to sort things out. However, I don’t recall a spate of public pronouncements proclaiming Tiger as some sort of abject failure. In fact, Tiger is considered a great product, and it’ll take a lot for Leopard to attain that status.

So why the difference?

Well, the Apple of 2007 is quite different from the Apple of 2005, when Tiger came out. Although Apple was doing quite well with iPod sales and all, and had garnered great reviews for Macs, sales for the latter had yet to really soar.

Today, Macs are ascendant, and growing fast. There are estimates that some 30% of Americans planning to buy new computers in the next three months intend to select a Mac. This is one extraordinary development with a product line that, only a few years back, had sales of but a few percent even in the U.S., Apple’s largest single market.

With the iPhone and iPod also growing rapidly, Apple can’t do a single thing without attracting attention just about anywhere in the developed world. That is a double-edged sword, because it means that the vultures will be looking hard for bad news to create headlines, even if they have to ignore a few facts.

Now if you have had bad experiences with Leopard, I suppose you might be inclined to believe it has been a failure on an individual level. But when I see it on Top 20 lists among the misses for 2007, I just believe that’s going way too far.

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35 Responses to “Is Leopard a Failure?”

  1. Ron says:

    I installed Leopard and had to go back to Tiger because Maya 2008 wouldn’t run. What I saw of Leopard while I was using it, I liked a lot. And to be honest, I don’t think the failure of Maya 2008 was as much Apple’s fault as it was Autodesk’s (and yes, mine, because I’m an Apple developer and should have tried running Maya so I could have reported problems). The license background program for Maya is so flaky. Often you’ll quit Maya, restart it again, and it won’t run (and that’s in Tiger; in Leopard, the licensing program simply wouldn’t run at all). Sometimes it requires a trip to the Terminal, sometimes it requires a reboot. None of my other programs gave me problems though.

    There were actually a couple of problems that had been bothering me with my WiFi connection in Tiger that went away completely in Leopard. And they bother me all the more now, as I sit and wait to go back to Leopard again.

  2. Rambo Tribble says:

    The real questions surrounding OS X revolve around the hybrid open/closed source development model being employed by Apple. As such, Leopard’s bugs may reflect larger issues of the development process.

    Vista is widely touted as the poster child of a long-standing assertion by the Open Source development community: The proprietary development model, it is said, does not scale well in the face of complexity. Whether the OS X development model also reflects such a situation is still open to conjecture, but there are indicators that this may be the case.

    Since adopting a BSD core for the Mac OS, independent researchers have consistently found OS X to have several times more security bugs than its Open Source antecedents. Additionally, those bugs have been found to have greater severity than those generally found in Open Source projects. Time will tell if Apple will be able to reverse this trend, but so far the evidence is not favorable.

    Analysis of recent growth statistics suggest that Apple may soon face stiffer competition from Linux than from Windows. All complex systems are subject to bugs. Just as Japanese production methods buried Detroit in the last quarter of the 20th Century, the Open Source development model appears poised to deliver a crippling blow to the proprietary software development model. Wide swaths of the ISV community are voting with their feet: Open Source development platforms and targets are seeing a landslide of independent development houses adopting them. Whether Apple’s combination of the two models will long endure is yet to be determined.

  3. Ron says:

    But on the other hand, it may well have been the case that Apple would have wanted to work on Leopard a few more weeks, except for the artificial deadline they’d set for themselves. What do you bet that 10.6 won’t ever have a “We’ll release it in 4 months” promise attached to it…

  4. jsk says:

    Wow, we must really be getting a lot of Windoze converts if completely reformatting your hard disk and reinstalling your OS and all of your apps from scratch has become a commonplace/acceptable fix for minor problems. 😉 (Something, by the way, I’ve NEVER had to do in my 20 years worth of Mac usage, EVER.)

    Failure or success? It just doesn’t matter anymore. M$ and Apple have such a large installed base that success is irrelevant; people will just use their OSes no matter how good or bad they are. It’s their only choice. (Linux?!? Don’t make laugh. 1 web browser and 10,000 command line text editors do not a usable OS make.) As for me and my business, we’ll stick with Tiger. Leopard breaks too much backwards compatibility for us (we’re talking real engineering apps here, not emailer or Word v5.1). For the first time in my 20 year love affair with the Mac I’ll be skipping an OS release. Ouch!

  5. DGD says:

    My Leopard install onto iMac was the most terrible experience in 20 years of using Macs, my first was a brand new 512ke.

    I have never taken a computer in for service for a software problem, I’ve always been able to fix things myself. Not this time.

    I tried to install from the DVD after I had run the option to check the DVD for errors, it claimed that there weren’t any so I began the install. About 20 minutes into the install it quit with an error dialog claiming there was something wrong with the disc and that some package couldn’t be read.

    Ran the error check again and it again found no errors, so I tried the install again. Same result except a different package was called out. Take the DVD to the Apple store for a replacement. Tried the new disc and same thing!! Things were really screwy now, couldn’t even reinstall Tiger, the machine wouldn’t boot from that disc.

    After many hours of trying to install leopard I made an appointment with a genius and he installed it from an external firewire drive. No problems. He ran a ram diagnostic and it claimed some bad ram.

    I have been running Leopard since the day after it was released with the same ram and there has not been another issue. Leopard is great, now that it’s installed.

  6. Adam says:

    But on the other hand, it may well have been the case that Apple would have wanted to work on Leopard a few more weeks, except for the artificial deadline they’d set for themselves. What do you bet that 10.6 won’t ever have a “We’ll release it in 4 months” promise attached to it…

    Absolutely no bet at all. Every OS release since at least MacOS8 has had a prior announcement with a release date attached to it. Also, recall that Apple did push this back when resources were too limited to meet the original June deadline.

    The fact of the matter is that you can never release an OS that is perfect. There are simply too many variables to have something that will work in every case. As an example – when I installed Tiger on an iBook I was using FruitMenu from Unsanity. I had been using it for so long, and so ubiquitously, that I had totally forgotten about it. One of the Tiger updates (10.4.3 I think) was not compatible with it and I had a heck of a time figuring out why my right-clicks and my Apple menu were no longer working. It turns out they were working fine, but not the way I thought they should. Several people I know had their whole Finder break because of this and they (naturally) blamed the OS update. This is an obvious example, but nonetheless it is a real example of how an outside variable can and will sometimes cause trouble.

    Leopard has had a remarkably smooth deployment. Really. I read about all the “pristine” Macs that had various problems, and I don’t doubt them. I would bet, though, that the majority of them were not brand new out of the box condition. One of my last Genius Bar customers before I left Apple bought an iMac, upgraded to Leopard with the disc in the box, and couldn’t use his computer at all. Could not even log in. Talk about pristine! I re-installed Leopard, got him logged in and sent him home. Two hours later he was back with the same problem, saying he hadn’t had a chance to use anything on the iMac and he was ticked. Well, what he had done before trying to use his iMac -both times- was migrate data, applications, and system settings from another computer. Included were FruitMenu, ShapeShifter, Quicksilver, WindowShade, and probably more, along with all of his settings for them. It took me ten minutes of asking questions to find out that it had booted long enough to use the migration assistant. Once we took out the system hacks from the equation all was well.

    Can any software vendor predict all variables? No. Will any piece of software (let alone an OS) ever roll out without bugs? No. Will Apple continue announcing release dates well ahead of time and then make sure they hit them? Absolutely! I’d bet on it.

    P.S. Unsanity – if you see this – I can’t wait to get my FruitMenu back! I miss it horribly.

  7. Response to the author:

    Do you consider this a failure? I don’t.

    Sales during Mac OS X Leopard’s first full month on store shelves reached an unprecedented high for any Apple operating system release to date, according to new research from the NPD Group.

    When compared to OS sales in May 2005 — the first complete month Mac OS X Tiger was available to customers — Apple’s November 2007 sales of Leopard were 20.5 percent higher, says NPD directing analyst Chris Swenson. This amount does not include copies pre-installed with new Macs but does blend both online and retail figures.

    In comparison, Tiger represented a 30 percent increase over the 2003 Panther update, and 100 percent more than the 2002 release of Jaguar.

    “It’s really stunning to see Apple have one blow-out OS launch after another,” Swenson tells AppleInsider. “It’s clear that Apple has hit upon the right strategy for rolling out new versions of its OS.”

  8. P. Cross says:

    Speaking as one of those people with persistent WiFi problems on Leopard, it’s very frustrating seeing it dismissed as “supposedly so serious”.

    I feel for you, really. Tell me more.

    I’m not the OS/Networking expert in the family, so I can’t get all technical with you. I can tell you that if I’m connecting to our cable modem via airport, I have constant dropped connections. Web pages regularly time out, I can’t upload files via FTP or via web forms, and even Mail downloads conk out occasionally.

    If I turn off airport and connect via ethernet, all the problems go away completely.

    On this same exact hardware, running Tiger, I had no problems at all with airport. The Leopard is a clean wipe-the-disk-and-install version, with my user account copied over via firewire.

    Oh yeah, and LOGINserver crashes every single time I log in, despite having removed every login item from startup.

    Leopard isn’t unusable, it’s just frustrating.

  9. pabugeater says:

    Look, first off, an infantile article title … Leopard is, of course, NOT a failure … but you sucked me in 🙂 Leopard is the basis of iPhone and iTouch, and they are huge successes, so the answer must be Leopard is a huge success. That’s from an internals point of view. From a user’s perspective, I find Leopard evolutionarily better than Tiger.

    And as a counter to complaints on the install / upgrade process, please read this:

    Every one of my 9 installs, from a 24″ aluminum iMac to a lowly Cube has been faultless.

  10. Mark says:

    I’ve installed Leopard on all my family machines. The one I had the biggest problem with was mine which is the newest. I have a MacBook Pro 17. My problems may have been related to software issues from Tiger. My daughters was doing the same thing and it looked like I might have to do an erase and install to get it to work. After running TechTools 4.6.1 all the problems disappeared and the install was one of the smoothest.

    I love Leopard.

  11. roz says:

    DGD – Sounds like an issue with your optical drive.


    On one hand I feel like the problems with Leopard are overblown because I really have not had that much trouble and on the whole I think its an awesome upgrade. But I also hate indifference to people who really seem to be struggling.

    Look it seems like Leopard is not a conservative release at all. The OS is evolving in a lot of ways it seems, some of which we may not totally understand. Its not just eye candy. There are a ton of great features here. Take that Wifi menu, its so much more handy now. Little options here and there that make the OS better. And less visual junk. I love the new finder window. Screen sharing and Back to My Mac is a revolution for my family – night and day.

    I hope they can nail down the wifi issue for people – that sounds like it sucks. It might just be a very narrow issue between 10.5, some wifi chipsets and even a particular set of routers. Who knows.

  12. Chris Mead says:

    Wow! Same problem – my wifi drops out also. I have an IMAC G5, 2.1 GHZ PowerPC.

    Not automatic processes are failing like Quicken updates (buggy software itself) and BOINC.

    Web pages are slow to load or just fail.

    Now what?

  13. Mr. Rich says:

    Wow…. I’m a IT techie, soon will be picking up my first mac ( 20″ iMAC), and honestly, I’m surprised by the # of ” the entire OS bites because one piece of hardware isn’t working right” comments… seems to me ( no OSX background here) to be a simple case of a bad driver… can’t you just reinstall the airport driver? I’d never look at reinstalling the entire OS on a windows machine for something this simple.. And BTW, every new OS I’ve ever dealt with, has had issues with hardware drivers of some sort.. it’s a part of life!! Doesn’t mean that the OS is a failure…

    Same thing goes for Vista, wait till SP1 comes down the pike, and I bet things will be different.. XP was cr@p until SP2 came out.. now everyone is touting how stable and great XP is.. just give things time…

  14. marcantonio says:

    Leopard breaks too much backwards compatibility for us (we’re talking real engineering apps here, not emailer or Word v5.1). For the first time in my 20 year love affair with the Mac I’ll be skipping an OS release. Ouch!

    What engineering app are you talking about, if I may ask? I’m interested.

    I switched to Leopard on my mbp and I definitely love it. However as I am considering the introduction of the osx platform in a currently windows-only company, I’d like to be aware of all important non-mainstream applications that Leopard does not support.

  15. big al says:

    I installed 10.5 on ma’s new iMac, as Apple still shipped 10.4.10 on systems built before 11-2x-07.

    Not to imply Leopard is a failure, just more evidence it wasn’t thoroughly tested – I was greeted with an install hang. Ma connects to internet through USB modem, and typed in wrong login password. When Leopard tried to dial in for registration, it hung after unsuccessfully dialing into her ISP (that is my theory anyways, unless Apple tried to dial into they’re own modem, which I doubt).

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