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  • The Leopard Coming-of-Age Party

    February 12th, 2008

    While Mac OS X Leopard shipped in late October of 2007, it’s rare that the first release or two of a computer operating system will be free of serious bugs. Indeed, with nearly five million users as of the end of 2007, even a small percentage of troublesome installations or irritating bugs can represent one huge problem.

    Apple addressed some serious stuff early on with the 10.5.1 upgrade that repaired a Finder-related bug that could result in a lost or damage file if something, such as a crash or power outage, interrupted its transport to another drive or network share. Now, it doesn’t matter if that bug existed in earlier versions of Mac OS X. It was tagged as a Leopard show-stopper, and that’s how it goes.

    Among persistent issues were flaky Wi-Fi connections, erratic printing performance with some applications and printers and a bunch of other irritants that could result in serious hair-pulling episodes. That assumes, of course, that you have enough hair left to pull.

    In any case, rumors arose of a 10.5.2 update for many weeks before it appeared. However, assuming such a thing would arrive was a no-brainer. After all, Apple is constantly engaged in updating its products to fix bugs and add new features. They come fast and furious, which is rather unlike the Windows platform, where the desperately-needed Service Pack 1 update for Vista won’t arrive until next month, 14 months after the OS’s original release.

    This time, Apple also demonstrated that they do listen to customers. I know some of you think that Apple simply dictates and expects you to accept whatever product configuration they deliver. As much as they strongly believe in their products, you can change things if enough of you present an opposing point of view.

    With Leopard, while it didn’t bother me much, I know a fair number of you loyal readers just didn’t take to the translucent menu bar and sought third-party hacks for solace. Apple took care of that and the overly translucent menus with 10.5.2. You can switch off translucency in the Desktop & Screen Saver preference panel, and the menus are now appropriately opaque.

    When Steve Jobs proudly showed off the Stacks feature of the Leopard Dock, it wasn’t a rousing success either. Some of you prefer just being able to click on a folder in the Dock and produce a hierarchical menu of its contents. With 10.5.2, you have a choice.

    Now it’s fair to say there other other Leopard features that may not be ready for prime time. With Apple’s Time Capsule still not shipping, what about the ability to use Time Machine with a wireless connection? That was a feature originally promised for Leopard, but withdrawn before release.

    Unfortunately, 10.5.2’s release notes mention nothing about it. But I don’t believe that Apple will confine this feature to their own backup product. Instead, I think whatever software or firmware update allows you to use Time Capsule with Time Machine via Wi-Fi will be made available for those of you who have the most recent versions of AirPort Extreme. There may even be a software update that spreads the feature to other Wi-Fi products, but that may present a far more difficult obstacle.

    Of course, the most important part of this update is the huge list of bug fixes. If something is broken, you have to hope that 10.5.2 repaired most of the issues, and that, if any are left, they fall within the purview of a third-party company.

    In the few hours since 10.5.2 came out, I have given it a thorough workout on my desktop PowerPC Mac and my Intel-based note-book. In both cases, I have nothing to complain about. Everything runs butter smooth for me, but even the original release of Leopard was a great performer, except for some printing issues that have since been resolved.

    Alas, with updates of this nature, I am willing to bet that the Mac troubleshooting sites will be rife with problem reports. Why that should be is anyone’s guess. It may be that certain configurations, that Apple didn’t test, because they can’t test everything, exhibit unexpected defects. It may be the result of the interaction with someone else’s software or peripheral, or the result of a bad installation or hardware defect. Or, to be fair to everyone, there may be things left unfixed in 10.5.2.

    What you can bet on, too, is that there will eventually be a 10.5.3 with even more fixes. But, as of today, I think most of Leopard’s worst ills are pretty well resolved.

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