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  • 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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