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  • The Leopard Report: Still Working Great — But!

    March 11th, 2008

    After reading a story from a certain Mac commentator who has encountered an endless odyssey migrating to Mac OS X, I stopped and wondered. If Charles Moore reports a far more pleasant experience, I should think most everyone out there will or should have good things to say about Leopard.

    However, that’s not the case. A few complainers are apparently hanging out over at MacFixIt, reporting absolutely bizarre troubles with everything Apple builds. Alas, this venerable Mac troubleshooting site, originally founded by the estimable Ted Landau years ago, is rapidly ditching responsibility, and spending more time regurgitating content rather than investigating these reports.

    You see, with thousands and thousands of possible Mac configurations out there, someone, somewhere, is going to have a problem with just about anything. Some of that may indeed be blamed on Apple. There will always be Knowledge Base documents addressing known issues and workarounds — and often the promise of a future update that will fix a particular problem.

    Other issues can be blamed on the third party providers who can also deliver products that have serious bugs. Moreover, whenever a major new operating system upgrade appears, there will be those inevitable incompatibilities. You see, programmers don’t always go by the book. Sometimes they have to perform a few feats of legerdemain in order to make a feature work they way they want. What they do may not be part of the official Apple lexicon of proper development practices, so it becomes a moving target. When Apple changes or removes a certain “hidden” capability, problems will arise.

    Another issue is the fact that Apple is notorious for making last-minute changes to the system. In recent releases, developers didn’t get the final or Gold Master build of Mac OS X until after or at the same time it went on sale. Even though it usually takes week or two until discs are duplicated and retail boxes distributed, maybe Apple felt there was too much of a risk that the final version would be pirated. Of course, that happens anyway, so it shouldn’t be a factor.

    As a result, developers may not be able to finish their compatibility testing until well after you have a copy of the upgrade in your hands. I don’t think that’s the best approach, though I appreciate the possible reason’s for Apple’s apparent paranoia.

    You combine these two factors, and there’s plenty of room for things to go wrong with a new product release. Over time, you expect that most of the serious defects will be hammered out, and what’s left (and there’s always something left) will impact only a small number of people.

    At the same time, there is the “x” factor, which is how you and I configure our Macs. Every change you make to the system with one of those modification utilities can come back to haunt you, even if you removed it in the approved fashion. Something within the system, one of those hundreds of thousands of files spread across your computer’s hard drive, won’t be restored, and all hell breaks loose with the next Apple upgrade.

    The last factor may be why some people with what appears to be a certain configuration will encounter endless problems, while others will experience no troubles whatever.

    This raises the obligation on the part of a troubleshooting site to actually do a little research, and make sure that the singular issue is repeated often enough to show a trend, and not just some anomaly that may be traced to some other highly individual cause.

    Here’s where I get more and more concerned about how these matters are treated. For example, MacFixIt ran an article recently complaining of alleged serious performance shortcomings with the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT graphics card that is available as a $200 option for the latest version of the Mac Pro.

    The specs state that the NVIDIA card has 512MB of video memory, compared to 256MB on the standard ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT card, with far more capability of handling greater chunks of data faster. In the end, it should perform a whole lot better, and benchmarks show that it does — well, mostly. But MacFixIt exaggerated the few exceptions in such a fashion as to convey the impression that there was something really wrong with the NVDIA card. Shouldn’t the improvements be across-the-board?

    Well, it’s not that simple. In some cases, it may be that the card’s drivers simply need to be optimized further. This makes perfect sense, since the product has only been shipping for a very few weeks. But to claim there are serious shortcomings is not responsible journalism in my book.

    No, Leopard isn’t perfect, but for me, it’s working just great, thank you. I would only hope that sites that report problems with try to show a little more journalistic integrity and check their facts first.

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