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El Capitan: Glitches Please?

As Apple reportedly continues to test the first maintenance update for OS X El Capitan, a small number of glitches have shown up. I know of two on recent iMacs, and I realize such a tiny sampling of similarly configured hardware isn’t sufficient to reveal a trend. But I’ll tell you what I’ve seen and what I’ve discovered as we wait for the expected arrival of 10.11.1, and I’m curious to see what readers have discovered.

It’s almost a given that there will be mail glitches. I have large IMAP folders spanning several accounts, and I wasn’t surprised that I’d see something this time. It might be the result of some sort of background message processing, for every so often, when I click on a message folder, such as an Inbox, nothing happens. It seems as if the app has frozen solid, but after a few seconds, it’s working again.

That’s just a minor annoyance. When I examined some of the online chatter on Mail in El Capitan, I found reports of people who aren’t receiving messages at all since the upgrade. I’ve seen nothing that drastic, and it’s possible problems of that sort are limited to specific email services, or a small number of installations. I suppose we’ll see.

The other problem is, to me, more significant, and I’ve seen it on a couple of recent iMacs, both using external USB speakers, such as Bose. In each case, the sound suddenly disappears. Gone, kaput! Changing output settings to Internal Speakers and back again, to Bose USB Audio, has no effect. The only solution, temporary though it is, involves a restart.

What is most troubling is when it happens during an interview for one of my radio shows. Guests may not appreciate being forced to hang out for a few minutes while a restart is in progress, and, of course, it shouldn’t happen — ever. I’m assuming, for the moment, that there’s no hardware issue, because the sound was flawless with OS X Yosemite. What’s more, I do find evidence that others have encountered sound issues of one sort or another after installing El Capitan.

Meantime, I’ve experimented with a pair of remedies. One is to restart in Safe Mode, with the Shift key held down.

Officially, here’s what Safe Mode does:

This is a fairly normal diagnostic step. Another is to reset NVRAM on a Mac. This is the modern-day equivalent of reseting the PRAM on older Macs, and it’s done the same way. Among the information stored in nonvolatile memory is speaker volume, so there might be a connection.

To reset NVRAM, follow these steps (direct from Apple’s support document on the subject):

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Locate the following keys on the keyboard: Command (?), Option, P, and R.
  3. Turn on your Mac.
  4. Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys immediately after you hear the startup sound.
  5. Hold these keys until the computer restarts and you hear the startup sound for a second time.
  6. Release the keys.

Evidently shutting down is an important part of the process. A restart isn’t sufficient to get the job done. It’s also possible that you’ll have to reset the time, startup disk, screen resolution and time zone. Or maybe not. For me, it’s usually just the startup disk.

All told, something in these two painless remedies might be just what’s needed, and I tried them both before writing this column. But the problem has been sufficiently erratic, happening every few hours or every few days, that I haven’t been able to test the efficacy of any remedy.

These steps are also sometimes useful in fixing network-related issues, such as erratic Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The former was reported by many in OS X Yosemite before Apple finally found a fix, reverting to an older networking file, in 10.10.4.

There’s another diagnostic tool that used to be available for OS X, and that was to repair disk permissions. The process, activated in Disk Utility or a third-party maintenance app, generally focused on system files, and the repair would sometimes fix odd behavior. But El Capitan’s “System Integrity Protection,” designed to prevent access to certain system files to provide greater security, has ended the need for this function. That’s why it’s no longer present in Disk Utility.

Besides, I rather suspect that repairing disk permissions really helped very few people, and was the sort of process that may have provided some emotional security but little more. I’ve used it over the years, mostly because it was there, and even suggested it to clients. But I do not recall any episode where it actually fixed anything. I do recall a few occasions where I had to manually change the permissions on a file to make it work, but that is the extent of it.

Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see that the list of early bugs in El Capitan doesn’t seem as large as Yosemite, so that’s progress.