Newsletter Issue #514: So is Snow Leopard the Most Reliable Mac OS Ever?

October 4th, 2009

Let me put all this in perspective. When I first began to use a Mac in the 1980s, it was difficult to work a full day without having a system crash. Indeed, I remember setting up a new Mac IIcx at my home office back in 1989, and having it freeze within 15 minutes after the initial boot. That was before I launched a single application, so the computer was idle when it happened.

Now I can’t say all of my Mac experiences were that bad and, in fact, the version of System 6 I was soon replaced by a later one, which proved noticeably more stable.

In the 1990s, the Mac OS was really becoming long in the tooth fast. The move to System 7, in 1991, was supposed to herald a new era of color support and ease of use. But you’d easily hit the rough spots, although the Restart button in the crash warning prompt would sometimes work for once.

It’s fascinating, in retrospect, to see Microsoft using the “System 7? label at times to refer to Windows 7, as if the very mention of Windows was itself a negative. Strange, though, that they’d crib the name of a Mac OS version that was distinctive only in encouraging Apple that it was time to move on and develop a truly industrial-strength operating system.

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2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #514: So is Snow Leopard the Most Reliable Mac OS Ever?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Oh, the good old days of the “classic” Mac OS. I added a lot of third-party products to make use of my Mac more productive or enjoyable. In addition, throwing support to many developers helping to provide a rich ecosystem of Mac applications. I only had a few clunkers, but over 95% of my purchases of shareware are of good quality.

    I did experiment with a vanilla install of Mac OS 8.1 and found it to be quite stable. It was when I piled on the third-party software that instability became an issue. We forget the arduous, time-sucking task of hunting down extension conflicts. The out-of-memory issue when loading an application due to memory block fragmentation or the application itself. Browser qutting without warning or became frozen. Classic Mac OS would need to be restarted often. I had to use Disk Warrior many times to fix the disk directory.

    I moved to Mac OS X with a new Mac starting with 10.1 and performance improved with 10.2 and 10.3. I still have the habit of loading up on third-party apps. So, the major upgrades were on hold until the .3 or .4 minor update was released. The kernel panics have come up enough times, but a drop in the bucket when compared to Classic. With 10.4, I noticed that the performance had taken a step or two back. It probably more had to do with the 667-MHz PPC processor becoming overworked along with a puny 16-MB graphics processor. The kernel panics did not go away.

    Moving to Leopard (10.5.4) with an Intel Mac (purchased late last year with the help of the tax rebate check), I did pare back on third-party products. I haven’t had any kernel panics (knock on wood) and just a few system freeze upon waking issues. I normally have Safari and Firefox running with many, many tabs. The third-party memory upgrade to 4 GB helped a lot. The Mac OS X version is currently at 10.5.8. I used Disk Warrior just two times. Not for problems just preventative maintenance due to the number of system updates. I can definitely see a trend of improving stability.

    However, my Snow Leopard install is still on hold.

  2. dfs says:

    Is Snow Leopard the most reliable OSX ever? No, of course not, it’s unrealistic to espect a new version of an OS nearly at the beginning of its life cycle to match the reliability of its predecessors which has gone through a whole bunch of bugfix updates. Use a new version of the OS and you’re in effect being a beta tester, that’s a fact of life we have to live with. But at least in my experience Snow Leopard can be described as a darned good beta, it’s certainly stable enough for daily use and to be entrusted with my crucial work files (always making frequent backups, both onsite and offsite). When I installed it I of course archived Leopard on an external h. d., but I never had the need to boot from it and after a couple of weeks trashed it to reclaim the disk space. More generally, OSX is vastly more stable than the old Classic OS, but it is far from perfect. Now I have to reboot to get out of a freeze or similar problem maybe once every couple of months rather than almost daily, but reboots aren’t quite a thing of the past. These problems may of course be caused by third-party problems, but that means that OSX is not so idiot-proofed that it’s completely immune from being screwed up by the apps it runs. I often reboot for other reasons (mostly in connection with software upgrades) so the issue doesn’t arise for me, but my wife keeps her Mac running for months on end and eventually something gets so wonky for her that I have to remind her that rebooting is the easiest solution to her problem (it almost always does the trick). I don’t know why: does RAM memory eventually become unstable if it isn’t periodically flushed out? Anyway, as great as OSX is — and it truly is great — the holy grail of a 100% stable OS is still a ways off. On the other hand, I do have one gripe with Apple regarding the upgrade to Snow Leopard. First they announced a September release, and when they jumped the gun and released it in the last week of August they caught some software developers flat-footed, which meant I was stuck without various bits of software I use until their authors could play catch-up, it took several weeks before everything came down from the ceiling. I. m. h. o. it would have been eased the transition for both developers and users if Apple had announced a firm release date and then stuck with it.

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