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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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