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Mac OS 10.5.6 Update Arrives with Weird Installation Glitches

So a client calls me to set up his spanking new MacBook, an operation that I took to be utterly routine, having done that sort of thing for years with different Macs.

Arriving at his home, I realized I had forgotten to take my FireWire cable — he had purchased the white MacBook entry-level model, which still retains that legacy port — but I soon realized that all the new Macs support Ethernet too for data migration.

After about an hour, the contents of his iMac G5 had been transferred to his MacBook, and so I proceeded to step two, which was to run Software Update and retrieve the slew of software that always seems to appear even if the new Mac was built two weeks earlier.

This time, among the seven available updates, was Mac OS 10.5.6, which was released Monday afternoon. That proved to be the bane of our existence, as the installer became temperamental and hung during the configuration phase when that particular package was next on the agenda.

I didn’t complete the process that day. The client had to go on an appointment, and wasn’t in any rush to set up the MacBook, so I returned to my office. As some of you know, this particular issue is not unique to that one portable computer. Others have reported it as well, according to some of the online troubleshooting sites.

Update: A solution touted by a certain troubleshooting site is to shut down your Mac and restart. Since nothing was actually installed, it should boot normally with the previous version of Mac OS X. Now go to Apple’s site and download the “Combo” updater, which weighs in at a massive 668MB. That version of the 10.5.6 updater contains everything from 10.5.1 through 10.5.6 and will apparently fix this problem in most instances. Apple’s prescribed solution to this evidently known issue, however, is simply to delete the contents of the /Library/Updates folder and run Software Update again, so you pick your poison.

You see, it appears, the 10.5.6 update fixes this bug, so it won’t happen again in the future — at least that’s what they tell us.

In any case, 10.5.6 contains lots of meat and potatoes designed to make your Leopard experience more reliable and safer. Among the 39 listed changes and enhancements is a major improvement to Apple’s MobileMe synchronization capability. Now when you make a change in your calendars, contacts or bookmarks, it will take less than a minute for that change to be reflected on your other Macs and your iPhone. That assumes, of course, that you are a MobileMe member and have configured the automatic sync feature. And yes, folks, it does seem to work, and it seems to vindicate Apple’s promise (later withdrawn) of push capability on a Mac. Windows users are still stuck with 15-minute updating, though.

The other fixes are rather more subtle, but I’m sure that they will have their supporters. For example, Apple has dealt further with ongoing AirPort connectivity issues, focusing on “improvements when roaming in large wireless networks with an Intel-based Mac.” A number of defects plaguing Address Book, iChat, Mail, Safari, and Time Machine are also addressed.

If your Mac has an ATI graphics chip and you’ve observed distortion at times, the update supposedly addresses that problem, and there’s also the promise of “general improvements to gaming performance.” I almost begin to think that Apple might, in light of the stellar success of games on the iPhone, be starting to take such products seriously on Macs too. But I’ll leave that as “almost” for the time being.

You can learn more about the specifics of the 10.5.6 update in Apple’s support document on the subject.

As far as security is concerned, once again there are lots of them to consider. As explained in this document, a number of categories of potential holes in the system have been patched. As usual, these are potential sources of infection of one sort or another. Security researchers continue to feed Apple with their discoveries and, eventually, Apple gets around to fixing them.

There is, by the way, a similar security update for Tiger users.

In the end, however, online attackers rarely, if ever, actually exploit these security lapses, except as proofs-of-concept or in a limited way. The key is to address them before things get out of hand, and as Macs become more popular, particularly in the business world, you can expect that Internet criminals will one day decide that Macs deserve at least some of their attention.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should seriously consider installing virus protection software on your Mac. Despite the mixed signals in a certain support document that was posted and shortly pulled, that time really hasn’t arrived, with one exception. Some businesses will require that their Mac users install security software, if only to catch potential infections before they might strike their Windows PCs.

In the future, maybe that’ll change. For now, I have avoided such utilities, not out of fear of a potential conflict, but simply because I didn’t think I need them, at least for now. Among the ones I’ve tried, however, Intego’s VirusBarrier X5 seems to have the least impact on the performance of my Macs, and it doesn’t seem to negatively impact on any of my software.

Meantime, I hope Apple will work on fixing that Mac OS 10.5.6 installation issue.