The Mac OS 10.5.5 Update: Take Two Pills and Call Me in the Morning

September 16th, 2008

Around the world, millions of Mac users have seen Apple’s latest Leopard update appear in their Software Update preference panes. The vast majority of these folks will simply accept the installation, enter their passwords and click Restart at the appropriate time. They will then get back to work after their Mac has completed the restart process, go off for a meal, or go back to sleep, depending on when the update occurs.

A smaller number of people are eager visitors to certain Mac troubleshooting sites, best unnamed, and will follow a silly set of voodoo procedures to make sure that the update doesn’t somehow bite them or, at worse, consume their Macs in flames.

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems to me that Apple has tested all of their downloadable updates to install in the standard fashion, without calling upon ancient deities or throwing tea leaves in a prescribed direction, and everything usually works properly. So you wonder why some people feel it’s necessary to be excessively paranoid about installing such things.

Sure Apple has made its share of mistakes. Sometimes the process of fixing one bug only reveals another, one that has to be addressed in a subsequent update. At other times, people who have done a fair amount of system tweaks will encounter anomalies and need to probably do a clean reinstallation of their Mac OS to get things to behave properly. Or, at the very least, remove the tweaks.

At one time, I was inclined to ask you to observe excessive caution and take such things far too seriously than necessary. Now I’m inclined to be far more casual about such matters, and, yes, I do depend heavily on my Macs to get my work done. I’d be in serious trouble without them.

This rather lengthy introduction takes me to the latest Leopard update, predictably dubbed 10.5.5. According to Apple’s support document, this update contains 34 different fixes and enhancements, but each item may reflect a number of changes, perhaps in the hundreds. There are, for example, over two dozen security fixes addressing an unusually wide range of matters, including a further fix to the infamous DNS bug discovered a few months back. That’s the one, if exploited, would allow an Internet criminal to silently redirect your browser to a bogus site and then do all sorts of nasty things.

A prior fix, part of a recent security update, supposedly resolved the issue with Mac OS X Server but not with the “client” version of Leopard. Now that’s evidently addressed too, though, to be fair about the whole thing, I don’t know of anyone, anywhere, who was actually affected by this particular issue.

In fact, that takes us to the larger question. Throughout 2008, Apple has fixed dozens and dozens of security issues, any one of which may, in theory, be exploited at one time or another. As a practical matter, they are potentially serious, but I’ve yet to see a confirmed report that Mac users have succumbed. In large part, the issues involved affect the open source applications that Apple bundles with Mac OS X, so many of the fixes come from third parties, and it’s only a matter of building them into the OS.

After all was said and done, I did run the 10.5.5 update, sans the voodoo, on three different early 2008 Macs, including a MacBook, a 17-inch MacBook Pro and a Mac Pro. In each case, the upgrades went flawlessly. After the restart, things settled down quite nicely.

That doesn’t mean you should be cavalier about such things. There are a few minor cautionary notes I’d offer up for any update that impacts the operating system. First and foremost, keep current backups. Thousands of files are being updated or replaced, and if something goes wrong during this process, you would certainly want to be able to return to what you had previously.

The other considerations are of lesser importance. While you don’t have to, I generally quit all running applications. It’s also rumored that the Mac OS X installer may not be able to replace some of the bundled applications, such as Mail and Safari, if they are moved from the standard Applications folder. In practice, the installer ought to be smart enough, by now, to figure that out and find them anyway. But just think twice before you switch things around.

Some of you may prefer to go to Apple’s site and get the Combo updates, which are much larger, but cover everything that was changed since the original 10.5 release. If you’ve missed 10.5.4, that’s what you’ll get anyway. Otherwise, there’s no need unless you encounter troublesome issues after the update is applied.

If you are still concerned, let a few days pass for things to settle down before you run the updates. That way, you can see if any genuine show-stoppers emerge in the online chatter, but don’t take scattered complaints that don’t have verification seriously. Regardless, nothing forces you to let Software Update do its thing the first time it prompts you. The updates will still be there next time you check.

And one more thing: If you read about any especially unusual procedures about handling such updates at a Mac troubleshooting site, just ignore the advice. You’ll save yourself lots of aggravation.

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29 Responses to “The Mac OS 10.5.5 Update: Take Two Pills and Call Me in the Morning”

  1. Andrew says:

    Has anyone updated their MacBook to 10.5.5. and external display (attached via mini DVI) is still detected?

    My MacBook (and several others are repeating same issue) will not detect external displays (using mini DVI) after updating to 10.5.5.

    I’m doing the same on one of my MacBooks (connected to NEC 20″ WSXGA+) and no issues whatsoever. The MacBook was even driving the display in lid-closed mode when I installed the update, and it rebooted into 10.5.5 almost without issue.

    I say almost, because when the computer restarted it was dog-slow for about 20 minutes, and then magically sped itself up again. My guess is Spotlight re-indexing, though I cannot be sure as my other two MacBooks weren’t slow at all after the update. Those two have 80GB drives (60GB partitioned for OS X) while my main workhorse machine with the external monitor has a 320GB drive 100% of which is allocated to OS X.

    So far I’ve noticed no real differences in the new system, but I call that a good thing.

  2. Peter Trondsen says:

    Hi Gene,
    For some reason, with 10.5.5, I followed MacFixit’s advice about booting in to Safe Mode and then applying the update. I assume, they tell you to do this, because Safe Mode forces a directory check on startup. Anyway, I have an early 2008 Alum iMac, and after running the update (in Safe Mode) and rebooting, my computer seemed a bit sluggish and this weird digital artifact filled the screen. Gray colored with other colors in it. Just changing the monitor resolution or moving a window around got rid it. However, it would reappear after every restart. Even after, running Cocktail and repairing the permissions and clearing the caches. One article mentioned copying the old ATI Extensions from 10.5.4, that didn’t work, just prevented my machine from booting. So….I decided to back out of 10.5.5, and performed an Archive and Install and update to 10.5.4.

    I’m not sure that Safe Mode was directly related to this, but maybe I’ll try 10.5.5 again at some point, or 10.5.6.


  3. habeeb says:

    I used Software Update to update my MacBook Pro from 10.5.4 to 10.5.5. At the time, I had a burned disc in the drive. During the update, the disc was automatically ejected, the software installed, and the system restarted. Everything seems to be fine.

    However, now my SuperDrive won’t accept the burned disc that was working fine just prior to the update. I insert the disc, it spins for a while and makes some noises, then it spits it out. It won’t mount at all. I haven’t tested other discs yet, but regardless, this is complete BS.

  4. johnf says:

    Well… I don’t know if it’s a 10.5.5 issue, but it happened not long after updating. I moved a folder out of the System library to fix a sluggish internet (crazy slow on my machine but not on my wife’s, so it was me)… rebooted… and when that didn’t fix anything, I moved it back and booted again.

    Now my MB Pro can’t even see the Airport card… or bluetooth… or my TimeMachine backups… or my network preference pane, one of the tabs in the energy saver pane, or my local host name (says Applejack). And, though I don’t quite understand what it means, I’ve got the “custom access” note on permissions on a lot of my folders.

    I’m not sure if I have to suffer through a total Erase and Install or what..

    Anybody here found fixes not mentioned elsewhere?

  5. adam says:

    @ johnf

    As someone who used to get paid to fix such things, I strongly suspect that you had a “silent” problem before the update. What exactly exacerbated it, I do not know. At this point I would boot from your OS DVD and on the Installer “Options” section I would do an Archive and Install. This will replace your OS but not your data files. If you still have problems, then it is almost certainly bad data and/or preferences. Back up your data, wipe out the drive, start again. I know you have Time Machine, but this is an unusual problem and to be safe, back up again if you can.

    Removing a folder from the System Library is big BAD mojo the likes of which we never did at the Genius Bar. You can sometimes get away with removing files, but a folder? Not good. Frankly, if things were this bad, we would just reinstall. When you do this you are like a pre-med student pulling out organs. You know something’s wrong, you think you know where but you are messing around with the deep stuff and unless you can re-build it from scratch you may not get the repair finished in time to save the patient.

    Although it’s not likely, the system could have gotten sufficiently hosed when it tried to operate without that folder to cause some of your current issues. Unless you really really, really know what you are doing, DON’T muck with the folder structure of /Library, /System, or /System/Library!

    Good Luck


  6. johnf says:


    Thanks… I’m actually happily typing this to you on my connected computer. I couldn’t wait for feedback (impatient!) So after noticing that a new account had all the same problems, I figured it had to be the core install of the system that I’d corrupted and I went ahead and did an Archive and Install of my own. So I was happy to see you offer the same advice in this, one of the first emails alerts/online posts I’ve been able to download in a week.

    I’m now about to commence with the Software Updates, since my Leopard disk is 10.5.1. But as a precaution, I’m only doing the combo update to 10.5.4. I’ve heard some bad things about 10.5.5. Or do you think that’s not necc. caution?

    Also, just for future reference, is there any value to an Erase and Install? And if so, is there any easy way to transfer installed programs back without dragging out a pile of DVDs and sitting there for hours? I’ve seen people suggest migrating from a disk image to the clean installation. But I would think that just means bringing back in all the preferences, etc. you were trying to get away from in the first place.

    Thanks again for the help.


  7. johnf says:

    P.S. What’s the comment plugin used here? I love it.

  8. P.S. What’s the comment plugin used here? I love it.

    More than one. 🙂

    WP Ajax Edit Comments: Let’s you edit your comments in place, with instant/Ajax refresh.

    iF AJAX Comments For WordPress: This provides the instant display of your submitted comments using Ajax refresh, rather than forcing a reload of the page, and the interactive preview.

    I highly recommend both. Yes, having a fast multicore dedicated server and a PHP caching accelerator doesn’t hurt.


  9. Adam says:

    I don’t know of any reason not to use the 10.5.5 update, but do as you please.

    There are 2 things I use Erase and Install for :
    1) when Archive fails
    2) for a major OS upgrade (10.4 to 10.5 for example) when I want to “clean house”.

    As for bringing things back from a clone, that is usually fine. Your preferences reside in the various Library directories. Copying the Apps back, and your documents, is usually just fine. When it comes to the Library, be selective. Copy over your Mail messages, but not the Prefs for example.

    Glad it worked out!

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