The OS X Report: My Problem is Everyone’s Problem

June 28th, 2012

When I dared to characterize my experience with OS X Lion is pretty good, I heard from some readers suggesting I was on the wrong side of the facts. The basic point, to them, was that Lion had proven to be a source of instability, with kernel panics and sluggish performance. Clearly they preferred Snow Leopard.

Now I feel their pain, but at the same time, I do spend an awful lot of time navigating the online message boards, and I think I’ve got a sense of most of the complaints. There are, as usual with every version of OS X (or Mac OS X if you will) to date, people who just cannot get things to run properly. How could Apple betray them this way?

But it’s not is if every point-zero version of any OS is necessary perfect. There will always be bug-fix updates. To date, Apple is up to 10.7.4 with Lion, with unconfirmed reports of a 10.7.5 undergoing preliminary testing. The original Lion release produced Wi-Fi reception problems and other glitches for some users, which Apple has evidently been working to fix.

My current Mac hardware lineup is fairly straightforward. There’s a late 2009 iMac, customized with a 2.8GHz Intel quad-core i7 and 8GB RAM. My note-book is a 17-inch MacBook Pro, circa 2010, which is said to be only slightly slower than last year’s final version, and lacks Thunderbolt. But since there aren’t many Thunderbolt accessories yet, I’m not feeling the loss of flexibility.

Neither computer has been subjected to loads of system enhancements. While I will occasionally install something for testing purposes, or to write a column or review, I prefer a clean system with very minor enhancements otherwise. What I install, I remove if it doesn’t fit with my workflow.

Currently I use Growl, a third-party app notification tool that influenced the Notification Center in Mountain Lion, and the one already present in iOS 5. I also use CrashPlan for cloud-based backups, and TotalSpaces, a utility that cleans up the vagaries of Apple’s Spaces feature, which offers virtual desktops and was merged with Mission Control for Lion.

I’ve installed and uninstalled a number of printer drivers while reviewing new products, but the impact to the system hasn’t been noticeable. A few run background apps that had to be uninstalled, but no crashes. Indeed, one of the few apps to crash on occasion in recent years was Bias Peak Pro, a pro audio app that, until recently, was a key tool for the post production of my two radio shows. Even Microsoft Word 2011 has behaved decently, although the original release of Outlook 2011 was impossible to use for more than a few minutes without freezing.

Unfortunately, Bias, Inc., publisher of Peak Pro, is now out of business, so I have focused on Amadeus Pro and Sound Studio for most audio editing chores.

Although I don’t use the MacBook Pro so much these days, since I haven’t traveled a lot in recent months, the iMac is running every day, set to enter Sleep mode from the late night until the morning. It’s never shut down, and usually only restarts when installing software with that requirement.

What’s more, I didn’t perceive much difference with general performance when going from Snow Leopard, the OS that shipped with the iMac, and Lion. I do not recall having seen a kernel panic in years. The reviews I’ve read about Lion may complain about some of the iOS-inspired stuff, but they aren’t reporting serious stability or performance problems.

I do not presume to account for the reasons behind any problems you readers might have. I can see the potential for system add-ons causing grief. I realize that some of those security apps that perform background scanning for malware might cause apps to launch more slowly, as a result of the on-demand app probes for possible security problems. One free antivirus utility, Avast, did a number on the iMac’s print queue, where documents sent to my Xerox Phaser 8560DN solid ink printer would back up and take “forever” to output. That problem left with the removal of the security app.

You may also see frequent crashes with defective RAM. It’s well known that some versions of OS X have been more sensitive than others to such problems, but diagnosing bad memory can require a lengthy scan, or just removal as a test, if you have a Mac where some of the installed memory is removable. Based on the layout of the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina display, removable memory may be an endangered species. But if the problems spread to more than a single computer, maybe a little hands-on diagnostics or a visit to an Apple Store would help.

It may also be that some Macs will simply be more susceptible to system nasties from Lion than others. That’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to evaluate, especially from afar.

As to Mountain Lion, even those who feel they are comfortable violating their Apple NDAs haven’t reported any serious performance or stability problems. In a few weeks, we’ll all know just how well 10.8 fares compared to 10.7 and its predecessors.

As it stands, over 40% of the current Mac user base is running Lion, either because they upgraded, or bought a new Mac on which 10.7 as preloaded. There have not been an avalanche of complaints, beyond the expected gripes about the iOS-related stuff, and the loss of the Rosetta feature that let you run PowerPC apps on Intel Macs. If things were going wrong for a lot of people, you’d hear about it real fast. Take that as you wish.

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13 Responses to “The OS X Report: My Problem is Everyone’s Problem”

  1. dfs says:

    I haven’t noticed any significant performance differences between Snow Leopard and Lion. One the one hand, no degradation of stabilty. On the other, no significant improvement of performance. Which is exactly the source of my complaint about Lion: when it comes to the “under the hood stuff”, save for the removal of the ability to run 32-bit applications on Lion, I don’t think there IS much significant difference between the two versions. Lion has a bunch of additional features (like them or not) and interface tweaks, Mountain Lion, no doubt, will have a bunch more, but down deep its the same old same old. Not the kind of forward progress we’ve been taught to expect by previous OS system upgrades.

  2. dfs says:

    Personally, I haven’t noticed any significant performance difference between Snow Leopard and Lion. On the one hand, no degradation of stability. On the other, no improvement of performance. Which is precisely my objection complaint about Lion. All its changes have been new features (like them or not) and interface tweaks, when it comes to the “under the hood” stuff, other than the removal of Rosetta and pushing the 64-bit design further (with exactly what benefit?), it is mostly the same old same old. Not the kind of forward progress we’ve come to expect from OSX system upgrades. I have no reason (and beyond this, my lips must remain sealed) to think Mountain Lion is going to be at all different.

  3. Warren says:

    I have found Lion to be very stable. There is the occassional kernel panic but it is generally traceable to something like a blackout related shutdown. It is easily correctible by Disk Warrior as has been the case for several generations. I think 64 bit addressing has led to a very dramatic improvement in programs such as Final Cut Pro and Aperture. It seems that some of the interface tweeks are random as opposed to moving in a specific direction or resulting in a dramatic improvement in useability. Some such as the movement to Mission Control from Spaces and Expose seem like a step backwards in terms of user control. Others cause user issues and confusion such as the deletion of the Save As command in Pages in favor of auto save.

  4. Andrew says:

    I think the similarity in speed and reliability observed by most (myself included) between SL and Lion is precisely because Snow Leopard was a radical cleanup of the inner workings. Apple even said as much when SL was released, that it was a new architecture on which they could build in the future. Guess what, Lion and now Mountain Lion are precisely that future Apple hinted could be built on Snow Leopard’s cleaner code.

    Personally, I applaud Apple’s move to clean up the code base with SL and then stick to what works with Lion and Mountain Lion. Why fix what isn’t broken?

  5. DaveD says:

    Knowing when to move on.

    My old PowerBook G4 took the Mac OS to OS X switch. A journey from 10.1 and finished at Tiger. There were a lot of ups and downs along the way. At the end Tiger turned out to be pretty good. I thought that PowerPC apps were getting closer to the end of not being maintained and got my first Intel Mac, a white MacBook. This has allowed me to stay on the path with Leopard/Snow Leopard. These two big cats were even better.

    I bought the early 2011 MacBook Pro to continue the travel from Lion onward. There were no problems with Lion other than some old long-time features were changed. But during the past ten years, I have learned that it is better to readjust rather than to be upset. Like instead of fretting over the loss of “Save As” I look for “Export.” I don’t mind using LaunchPad and can understand that this is a way to see all applications on the Mac. The main reason for the Lion upgrade was the closing of MobileMe. Lion is quite stable and I can still tweak it with old and new third-party apps. While the MacBook is still on Snow Leopard, it will be the end of OS upgrades when it moves to Lion. But, I’m ready to move on to iCloud next month.

  6. Up until this last software update I was still experiencing window problems. I would drag an item to succeeding nested windows and the target window would become lost behind windows that would not jump to the back. Anyone? Otherwise Lion is as stable for me as any of its predecessors. I am not a fan of most iOSifications, though, but then I’ve ignored half of Apple’s innovations throughout the years and as long as the system’s versatility remains I’m happy.

  7. David says:

    I realize that problems in this office aren’t universal and the worst one has disappeared since the last update to Lion, but it was extremely serious and widespread in a place filled with experienced Mac based developers and experienced Mac IT people.

    On at least three occasions every Mac in the office running Lion and connected via WiFi kernel panicked at exactly the same time. Twenty simultaneous kernel panics. Lion users connected via Ethernet and the dozen Snow Leopard hold outs wondered what the fuss was all about.

    I find sluggishness is caused by running out of RAM. Nothing new about that. What is new is how few applications it takes to use up all 4GB in my 2010 MBP. Right now I have almost nothing running: just Menu Meters, MenuCalendarClock iCal, Text Edit, Adium, Mail, iTunes, Firefox (4 tabs, no Flash) and MacTracker. Lion shows 293MB of swap space in use.

    Running the same apps under Snow Leopard doesn’t use any swap and leaves close to 1GB of free RAM.

    I really should ask the company to upgrade me to 8GB because I’ll be adding Versions, Xcode and Word after lunch and the swapping will really switch into high gear.

  8. gjs says:

    My experience:

    Finder crashes under Snow Leopard – zero in almost two years
    Finder crashes under Lion – almost weekly

    Lion had very few improvements and a number of noted missteps (“Save As…”, iCal redesign, etc.)

    My hopes are relatively low for Mountain Lion as the focus is clearly on pushing people to iCloud, integrating useful iPad/iPhone features into a less useful computer environment, and incorporating every business’s favorite buzz word “social.”

  9. gjs says:

    Thanks Gene.

    I agree, Finder crashes aren’t routine. However, I’m not the only one:

    Some point to the crashes being related to Time Machine. Not sure.

    Maybe it’s just me or something with my system, but my hunch is the operating system is handling errors in a less elegant way.

    Glad it’s working well for you, but there seems to be a pile of anecdotal evidence out there, that Lion was/is a buggy release.

    • @gjs, That very small thread covers months but only fills three pages. It appears there were different causes, and perhaps you ought to consider following some of the suggestions. Hunches are not necessarily helpful. And that thread doesn’t constitute “a pile of anecdotal evidence.” Remember that over 25 million people are running Lion. I’d think the list of problem reports would be larger.


  10. Denis Lee says:

    When I move a machine from SL to Lion, I usually find it to be a bit sluggish at first. I run the cleaning routines in ONYX and everything seems to return to normal speed and operation. There appears to be a few leftovers from SL that Lion muddles through. Try it. You might be surprised.

  11. David K says:

    A very timely article given the news on several websites that Google Chrome has been causing kernel panics.

    I also have to second the notion of running a clean system. I had recently been having a bad run of hard drives starting to misbehave a few hours after plugging them in, and discovered that the problem was caused by a drive manufacturer’s diagnostic software that I had installed. One component of the software was a kernel extension that apparently was badly written. So, don’t install manufacturer’s crapware unless it is absolutely essential to the function of the product, and keep track of everything that you do install.

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