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  • The Leopard Era Report: The Tiger Disconnect Persists

    December 25th, 2007

    The conventional wisdom has it that Mac OS 10.4 was Apple’s most reliable system upgrade ever, with millions of users depending on Tiger for work and play. The combination of performance, useful features and stability placed Tiger at the pinnacle of Apple’s operating system achievements.

    As for Leopard, the jury is still out. There remain rampant reports of early teething pains, and it may take another maintenance update or two for things to settle down. Already, in fact, there are rumors that a 10.5.2 is cooking and will be fully baked some time early in 2008. But I won’t go there. You see, as I’ve said before, we don’t truck in rumors here; we prefer the real thing. But you have to expect Leopard will be undergoing development and improvement until its successor is at hand.

    At the same time, those of you who are regular visitors to The Night Owl know that we happily post comments from our readers expressing widely varying points of view. One post may express an strong positive opinion about something, while the next will present a diametrically opposite point of view.

    In the case of Tiger, there are some who say flat out that they’ve never been able to get it to function reliably, not ever, from 10.4 and all the way up to and including the recent 10.4.11 update. One of our readers spoke of ongoing drive directory corruption, with problems recurring every few months or so.

    The Mac troubleshooting sites have been documenting Tiger issues from the very first with months and months of reader reports to cite that appear to demonstrate something may be wrong in Cupertino.

    I suppose it’s also easy to blame such rampant ills as artifacts of failed installations, or peripheral conflicts. One of the installation voodoo schemes has it that you should disable all external components before doing any Mac OS X installation. I suppose that’s all right; that is, unless you intend to restore data from an external drive, but the device could be reconnected after the installation has concluded, so that’s no big deal.

    If you want to go the whole hog, you could, of course, backup your drive and wipe it clean whenever you do a major system upgrade, and then restore everything. We’re talking of spending the better part of an afternoon here to accomplish this task, but compare that to the time it may take to diagnose system anomalies later on, and it makes a whole lot of sense.

    To be fair, that’s precisely what I did when I installed Leopard on my desktop Mac. However, since it shipped with Tiger, all I had to do with the latter was simply to install the maintenance updates as they appeared. Even here, the cautious approach has it that you should always download and install the sprawling combo updaters (which contain all the updates from the initial release up to the present), to ensure that every necessary component is appropriately replaced with the newest versions. Some system corruption might be addressed too, although it would seem to me that if you aren’t tinkering with the system in Terminal or courtesy of a third-party interface fixer-upper, this shouldn’t be an issue.

    In an earlier column, I suggested that defective RAM might be the real culprit in some instances of erratic crashes and data corruption. That makes an awful lot of sense, and, unfortunately, there’s no overt warning to clue you in on whether or not such a problem exists. Unless the RAM issue is drastic, in which case your Mac would refuse to boot, subtle issues may go undetected.

    If anything, I continue to suspect that many of the lingering Tiger issues, and some of the early reports of troubles with Leopard, are hardware-related. If not the RAM, maybe an impending logic board failure, or a failing hard drive. And don’t assume that hard drive failures are always obvious. In the end, the drive may not mount, or it may operate slowly with frequent clicking and clacking to signify imminent failure. Other than those extremes, however, you may not notice that anything is wrong until it is too late to salvage your files, except by visiting the data recovery center.

    Or reverting to your backup, which I hope Leopard’s Time Machine may at least encourage you to create and maintain. Of course, even having a ready backup won’t help if you restore your data to a hard drive that’s in its death throes.

    So is there any reliable method to protect yourself against some impending failure? Well, servers use ECC RAM, which uses an error checking and correction algorithms to make sure all your data is intact. But Apple doesn’t require or support that sort of memory on most of its hardware, and it’s questionable whether you’d be willing to pay extra for that added increment of protection.

    You can, of course, run Apple’s own Hardware Test and/or Micromat’s TechTool Pro periodically to make sure that your hardware is performing at its best. For your Mac’s internal drive, you can consult its S.M.A.R.T. Status in Disk Utility on occasion as well, and even start up from another drive to check your startup device’s condition and repair minor directory damage.

    In such cases, of course, you’re dealing with an overt act to make sure your Mac is functioning at peak efficiency. What about Apple? Can they — or perhaps a third party — deliver a feature that’ll perform some background integrity checking to alert you of impending problems before they occur, beyond the simple directory issues that drive repair utilities usually support? I’m talking about automatically checking all of your hardware for evidence of trouble that’ll require a visit to the repair shop. Certainly such a tool wouldn’t force you to remember to run your maintenance utilities.

    This doesn’t mean there isn’t some “X” factor at work in all those reports of lingering Tiger issues, and early Leopard defects. I do not doubt that Apple may deserve part of the blame here, but I think there are other factors involved, and I’ve covered just a few here. What do you readers think?



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    13 Responses to “The Leopard Era Report: The Tiger Disconnect Persists”

    1. shane blyth says:

      I have a very objective report that shows that Tiger is a much less “safe” bet

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7160113.stm

    2. Aaron says:

      I’ve held back from upgrading to leopard for a few reasons. First was that my backup software (SuperDuper) wasn’t compatiable with Leopard, although I hear that it is now. The second reason is that M-Audio doesn’t have any driver support for the OS yet and I use an M-Audio pre amp for my microphones. How M-Audio doesn’t have drivers yet for Leopard is a mystery to me, but that is another story. Third reason that I don’t upgrade is that I work from home for a company and I have heard that wifi support may be a bit shakey, and I rely on my wifi connection to have net connectivity in my office (I live in an apartment building so I don’t really feel like laying down cat-5 cables to have an ethernet connection.)

      I would love to upgrade becuase I think that some of the new features would be very compelling for my workflow (spaces, some of the iChat enhancements), but I won’t do it until some of these issues get sorted out.

    3. I’ve held back from upgrading to leopard for a few reasons. First was that my backup software (SuperDuper) wasn’t compatiable with Leopard, although I hear that it is now. The second reason is that M-Audio doesn’t have any driver support for the OS yet and I use an M-Audio pre amp for my microphones. How M-Audio doesn’t have drivers yet for Leopard is a mystery to me, but that is another story. Third reason that I don’t upgrade is that I work from home for a company and I have heard that wifi support may be a bit shakey, and I rely on my wifi connection to have net connectivity in my office (I live in an apartment building so I don’t really feel like laying down cat-5 cables to have an ethernet connection.)

      I would love to upgrade becuase I think that some of the new features would be very compelling for my workflow (spaces, some of the iChat enhancements), but I won’t do it until some of these issues get sorted out.

      Shirt Pocket is still working on a Leopard-compatible release. I think they’re real close, however, but I can’t speak officially for them, although I’m in touch with them regularly. The key is bootability, actually. Your files will copy fine.

      As to Wi-Fi, I heard of this as well. The 10.5.1 update reportedly fixed some issues, but, frankly, I never had any troubles to begin with, and I use Wi-Fi all the time in lots of locales.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Adam says:

      Quote: In such cases, of course, you’re dealing with an overt act to make sure your Mac is functioning at peak efficiency. What about Apple? Can they — or perhaps a third party — deliver a feature that’ll perform some background integrity checking to alert you of impending problems before they occur, beyond the simple directory issues that drive repair utilities usually support? I’m talking about automatically checking all of your hardware for evidence of trouble that’ll require a visit to the repair shop. Certainly such a tool wouldn’t force you to remember to run your maintenance utilities.

      The best of these utilities run in firmware, not the OS. They also tend to need dedicated access to your hardware (one of the reasons they run outside of the OS) which classifies them as resource hogs, thus not great to run (even in the OS) if you actually need to be productive, or are wanting to play your favorite online game. (Imagine a video card test turning your display plaid at an inconvenient time.)

      On the other hand, a repeating iCal reminder to run such utilities would is an easy thing to set up.

      Cheers

    5. gopher says:

      WiFi issues have been a problem since it first was introduced. They are random in nature, and my FAQ below helps isolate most of them:

      http://www.macmaps.com/WIFI1048.html

      Initially this page was constructed when 10.4.8 seemed to have a serious bug, but in all seriousness, it has grown to cover any WiFi issue. Troubleshooting them is usually resolved within the first few steps.

      As always backing up, using the correct installation disks, and not using utilities you don’t understand indiscriminately helps a lot. I do not use any cache cleaning utilities, nor do I update prebinding. The only thing I do is repair permissions before and after any update, and I’ve never had trouble with Apple’s Disk Utility making those repairs. These third party “maintenance” utilities are really not, and should only be used on a well backed up system:

      http://www.macmaps.com/backup.html

    6. Dave says:

      I haven’t upgraded to any X.0.0 release of a Mac OS dating back to 7.0. IMHO it’s near insanity to do that, especially when Tiger is and continues to be rock solid on my three macs, only one of which, a Core Duo Mini, is even capable of accepting Leopard (ibook G3 and suped-up Blue and White G3 are my other two machines). Very unscientific but the majority of a dozen friends of mine who have upgraded to Leopard have had serious, sometimes fatal issues with the upgrade. More than a few have downgraded back to Tiger. I will likely upgrade the mini when 10.5.5 rolls around, in early 09 or so. By then my Blue and White G3 will be a decade old, and despite its antiquity still handles 10.4.11 with ease, and is honestly more than adequate for routine computing tasks. One of the truly great things about macs is their longevity, provided of course an upgrade or two can be performed on them. Yes, I have drunk the Lowendmac kool-aid. By the gallon.

    7. Roger says:

      Hi Gene,

      I do some bit of Mac support for printing companies, small ad agencies and individuals. This leaves me as something like the “Maytag Repair man”; But not always. As you know Macs can have some pretty big issues. I get to do plenty of system installs and I seldom go with a simple update for a major system upgrade. I am about 50/50 between “Wipe and install” to Archive and install”.

      Anytime I have erratic behavior that I cannot track down I do a Wipe and install. If that does provide a cure I go to hardware; Memory is the first thing I look at I will swap out with memory I know to be good. On a couple of Macs I found hard drives that presented problems that seemed like memory trouble. I still have one of those drives around and try it out once in awhile. I still have trouble accepting that it is the drive causing the memory like problems, but it is.

      Mostly, the only other time I fine strange unsolvable problems on a Mac is when I have dramatically upgraded the hardware. I am aware that there can be motherboard issues but the MB issues I have encountered are where is just plain fails in some major way. There have been some port failures.

    8. gopher says:

      Erase and install is the true name for “wipe and install”. There is no clean install, no clean installation, as Apple corrupted the meaning for clean install back in Mac OS 9 days, and people still think that clean install means the same as archive and install. See my FAQ http://www.macmaps.com/cleaninstall.html

      I’ve even seen David Pogue mistakenly call Erase and install a Clean install, which it is not.

    9. John says:

      Computers should run like clocks with meshed gears with no chance of failure. Since all computers of one model are the same they should all work the same. Clearly this is not the case and I’ve puzzled over this a lot. My guess is that, apart from bad cache files or garbled preferences, some computers have marginal components. They work fine most of the time but sometmes fall out of spec due to vibration, temperature or even recent activity. Some iMacs were thought to have problems because more intensive graphics operations heated the GPU.

      My upgrade voodoo is to repair permissions and restart the computer before upgrading. I feel a restart ensures a fresh copy of the OS is installed and any memory leaks or other orphaned code blocks have all been cleared out.

    10. John says:

      I forgot to add, I have installed Leopard on my MBP and it runs fine. WiFi works fine at many homes, hotels and airports.

    11. I used to think Tiger was the best OS. Now I’ll give the nod to Leopard. It’s awesome and everyone who has seen it in action on my machine has been impressed.

    12. shane blyth says:

      i have no issues and Leopard the more i use it the more i find the little things that make it alot better, Some are just fun.. I dont think it did this in Tiger but if you pop the clock widget up and change the zone you are in watch what the clock does.. it is funny.
      I find the wifi is more solid, i like the better layout of some of the items like network options and since 10.5.1 it hasn’t given me any grief at all.. It is just as solid as Tiger on my MacbookPro and even snappier, I’d never go back to the old finder the new one is way more advanced and thank goodness the spinning beach ball of death from the tiger finder is gone !!…

    13. Brian says:

      Leopard is awesome. Sure, some have had legitimate problems, but it’s easy to get confused. Also, I think some are looking for problems, looking to cause a ruckus, especially since Vista has been a total disaster. Again, I am sure there are people with legitimate issues, but keep in mind there are many who are looking to cause trouble for us.

      Apple has had so much success lately. Still, users are commonly referred to as ‘the faithful’ etc… And so many PC users still do not realize they have a real choice other than windows.

      As for my own experiences, I am now moving one of our mobile labs (carts) to Leopard. We’ll see how that will go, but from what I have seen so far, I think people are going to love it.

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