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

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.