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The Leopard Report: Almost Six Months Later

I recall writing several articles detailing my original expectations of Leopard, and my sincere hope that Apple, having extra time to finish it up, would grace us all with a more stable release.

Depending on your point of view, they may or may not have succeeded. But it’s my feeling Apple delivered a product that wasn’t much better than Tiger in its early days, when it comes to being feature-complete and reliable. There have even been a surprising number of complaints, some of which are understandable, and some of which may just be due to having older third-party software that is sadly in need of an upgrade.

Since I upgraded a client’s Mac Pro over the weekend, I had still another experience with getting Leopard up and running, and the encounter was no less successful than my previous efforts. But with a number of updates released since late October, I had to run the computer through two stages of software updates before it was ready to roll. That’s to be expected, since the Leopard DVD I had on hand was the original 10.5.0 version.

From the ads I’ve seen, current upgrade kits are now at 10.5.1, and I have to appreciate the fact that my ISP isn’t charging me for downloads in the upper gigabytes, or I’d owe them a ton of money for excessive bandwidth consumption at this point. I think Apple is really missing the boat here not offering an operating system subscription service for consumers, where you can get the updates you need in your snail mailbox every month, or sooner in case of critical updates of one sort or another.

While I realize most of you have broadband and don’t mind periodic 350MB downloads, perhaps more than 40% of the population in the U.S. doesn’t have broadband. In some cases, it’s available but not affordable or just deemed unnecessary. But far too many people in this country live in rural areas where wired broadband just isn’t available, and they may not be situated in a location that’s visible to one of the satellite alternatives.

I’m not about to get into the politics of the lack of sufficient broadband penetration. In many countries around the world, the situation is far, far better. In light of this troubling fact, Apple cannot expect everyone who needs their upgrades to get them easily. Indeed, many of the people who need access the most do not live close to an Apple store or even a third-party Mac showroom where they could download the upgrades they require.

But Apple doesn’t listen to me, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

On the other hand, surveys show that most of you are fully satisfied with Leopard and aren’t having the wacky problems reported over at MacFixIt and other troubleshooting sites. Wacky? Well, when you read lurid accounts of all sorts of crazy symptoms as a result of some sort of Apple update, you wonder what’s really going on.

Of course, I’m not saying these stories are false. I’m sure, with thousands of possible system installations, just about anything can happen and usually does. Unfortunately, it seems that MacFixIt, since being purchased by CNET, takes one or two exceptional complaints and pretends it’s a trend. That sort of irresponsible behavior doesn’t honor the stellar reputation of the site’s founder, Ted Landau, nor does it serve the best interests of Mac users who just want to learn about potential problems and solve the ones they confront.

If you’ve followed my previous commentaries on the subject, and reader comments, it’s clear that some of you have had troubles with Leopard that require further troubleshooting. It may even be true that the rumored 10.5.3 update may be required to fix the remaining problems, assuming it’s not just the usual problem with someone else’s software.

My own experiences with Leopard have been fairly seamless, though. Except for a rare Mail or Safari crash (even with the 3.1.1 update), I have precious little to complain about. I have also kept my ear to the ground and talked extensively with friends and clients about their Leopard experiences, and the reactions are all equally positive. Then again, I routinely urge the people I know to be wary of adding too many third party toys to their systems, particularly if they use them for work rather than play.

At this point, I know you might regard Tiger is perhaps the most stable version of Mac OS X, but don’t forget that 10.4 also had shaky beginnings too, requiring a fair number of updates before things settled down. The last update, 10.4.11, didn’t get a clean bill of health either for some of you. While it’s easy to want to recall past events as being more positive than they really are, I think the jury is really out when it comes to Leopard.

Indeed, between now and the arrival of 10.6, which may not be for at least a year or two, I expect Apple will deliver a number of updates to set things straight with Leopard. At the end of the process, it’ll be fair to do comparisons.

Meantime, maybe someone at Apple will listen to me about developing an upgrade subscription service for consumers who are bandwidth challenged.