- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

OS X Mavericks: Five Weeks On

On October 22, Apple released OS X Mavericks as a free download. In the previous months, I’ve suggested that such a thing might happen, although Apple went even further by making iWork and iLife more or less free too. I mean “more or less” because you have to buy a new Mac, or be using a previous version of either, to get the new gratis upgrades.

While my OS X upgrade experience was flawless, and Mavericks is near-perfect when it comes to stability, there are some rocky edges, and I’ll only cover a few.

When starting Messages, for example, it sometimes fails to connect to my AIM (or AOL) account. It will either be flagged as Offline or Connecting, but never quite complete the login. In all fairness, I’ve seen this oddity with previous OS X versions, so it may be something on AOL’s end, which wouldn’t surprise me.

Yet another very slight problem I reported in a previous column involved an audio processing app, Levelator, which does sophisticated trickery to normalize the volume levels of an audio recording. In older OS X systems, it would auto-quit after processing a file, assuming I used drag and drop. Now it doesn’t, but the developers of Levelator say that there was never an auto-quit feature to begin with, so maybe it worked incorrectly before. Go figure!

My tiny problems, however, are trumped by more serious issues reported online. If you have a Western Digital external drive, and use their own software, you were in danger of losing your data when upgrading to Mavericks. But the folks at Western Digital have announced a software update to fix that problem, one that I recommend you download and install right away if you’re using one of their drives. It doesn’t apply to the internal drives Western Digital makes for Apple, however.

The folks at Ars Technica are reporting all sorts of glitches with the new multiple displays features, such as docks set to auto-hide failing to appear when you mouse over. Or Finder placements going awry, so you put something on the desktop on one place, and it migrates to another. In all fairness, the reliability of Finder positioning has long been flaky, so it’s not as if any of this comes as a surprise. If Apple ever announced an OS X update that fixed Finder positioning, there would be an extended round of applause from millions of Mac users.

Yet another complaint has it that smooth scrolling isn’t so smooth on apps not recompiled for Mavericks. While I haven’t tested every possible app to see if this is true, at least on a 27-inch iMac, I tried a few that haven’t been updated recently and didn’t notice anything particularly ragged about scrolling. But my testing was casual, and the experiences with one Mac configuration cannot apply to others.

The third complaint, one long standing with OS X, is that the Finder goes into a spinning beachball fit if a shared volume suddenly disconnects. It has gotten better over the years, but there’s still a troubling delay. You’d think Apple would have gotten a handle on this, but I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the behind-the-scenes process in which OS X engages to determine that a file share is no longer mounted.

To be sure, other OS X Mavericks issues are likely related to individual app compatibilities. There are loads of under-the-hood changes that will probably give developers some conniptions. One example is Audio Hijack Pro, from Rogue Amoeba, which we use to capture Skype audio for my radio shows. Under Mavericks, there’s curious issue in working with my setup, involving an outboard analog mixer, a Griffin iMic analog/USB adapter, and a Bose USB speaker system, the Companion 5. The problem is complex: The audio from the Bose is disabled when I am hijacking audio from Skype. But Rogue Amoeba is aware of the issue, so I expect they will come up with a solution soon.

The long and short of it is that I am quite satisfied with Mavericks overall. There does appear to be a bit more snap in the way the system functions, and overall system load is lower when different apps are doing their thing. I have not fully tested the promise of better battery life on my note-book, a 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2010, but other reports indicate a measurable improvement.

There are also published reports that Apple is working on a 10.9.1 update, which would be the second Mavericks-related fixer-upper to arrive so far. Earlier this month, the Mail for Mavericks update arrived to fix problems with sorting Gmail messages and inaccurate unread message counts. iBooks was also updated. But I gather Mail isn’t quite fixed yet. Other email apps aren’t necessarily better, though. I tried the latest update to Microsoft Outlook 2o11, for example, and it remains barely usable. Performance is dog slow, for example, though Outlook seems more savvy about capturing information on mapping your local mailboxes to your email service’s IMAP mailboxes when you set up an account.

All and all, I remain quite pleased with the Mavericks upgrade.