Armed with stellar reviews, Apple has good reason to gloat. After some two million initial sales of its newest operating system over its introductory weekend, we got the message as to what to talk about on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. So we organized an “Ultimate Leopard Roundtable,” where our resident experts from around the world dissected the good, bad and ugly features of Mac OS X in a free-wheeling, no-holds-barred discussion.
Now it so happens that David hasn’t installed Leopard yet, and probably won’t until the first of the year, for reasons he explained during this episode. And unlike other shows that simply offered a laundry list of features, we talked about what Leopard could actually do in the real world.
Also, in a special report, Kirk returned to discuss the down and dirty details of a new Trojan Horse malware threat that targets Macs. Does this signal a new phase of security threats, where Mac OS X becomes vulnerable to multiple infections at long last? Maybe not, because this particular threat, known as OSX.RSPlug.A, actually depends on a Mac user actually visiting a porn site and accepting an invitation to install an alleged new codec for QuickTime. It’s one of those “social engineering” threats, because all you have to do is decline the installation, and you won’t be infected. It won’t spread widely either, because it won’t be delivered in your mailbox, at least in its present form.
However, that won’t stop some Windows fanboys from declaring that Mac users no longer reside in the safety zone, and that may be true some day. But not yet.
In another segment, Denis Motova joined Gene to deliver tips and tricks for creating a good-looking Web site.
On our “other” show, The Paracast, senior scientist Boyd Bushman talks about anti-gravity and other cutting-edge scientific developments. Find out why this may indeed be one of the most controversial shows ever aired on The Paracast.
Coming November 11: Prolific author and “past and future life” hypnotherapist Dr. Bruce Goldberg discusses ETs and time travelers in ancient Egypt.
If you believe some of the things written about Leopard in the past week or so, you may consider it the buggiest system upgrade ever! But, as with all things of this nature, that impression is a huge exaggeration.
During Leopard’s first weekend on sale, some two million copies were moved as retail upgrade kits and preloaded on some new Macs. Since then, it’s fair to say hundreds of thousands of additional copies have probably been shipped, and the vast majority of Mac users who have Leopard have installed it.
It’s also a certainty that any point-zero release will have at least some annoying bugs. Some of these issues were pushed aside in the rush to ship the product — though Apple would never admit that. Others were simply not granted a sufficient amount of seriousness, couldn’t be duplicated or weren’t anticipated.
So you can bet that, sometime in the next few weeks, there will indeed be a 10.5.1 update, and that, every couple of months, further maintenance updates will be delivered. This is something you have to expect, and you might feel angry at Apple for not shipping a more robust product, but the fact of the matter is that most of the Leopard early adopters have had excellent upgrade experiences, and I can be counted as part of that number.
Aside from some early-release and installation difficulties, the new interface, with translucent menus and a 3D Dock, are polarizing. Some tech pundits have already railed against Apple for choosing eye-candy above common sense and functionality.
What some of these vociferous critics of Leopard’s redesigned interface fail to recognize is the fact that Apple cannot please everyone, and can hardly be expected to try.
One of our regular readers, for example, says he’s actually quite pleased with Leopard’s translucent menus scheme:
I think that they are kind of cool. I don’t find the see-through menus hard to read at all”¦Frankly, I think that folks are being a bit picayune. We have to remember that when people plop down money for something, they are looking for their buck’s worth and I believe that Apple was trying to give folks something new or at least try something new.
No matter what you do, you can’t please all the people all the time. I guess most critics could be silenced if only Apple would allow one to turn off the translucency in a system preference panel. That, I think they should have done, if only to give people a choice.
Or, as Apple usually prefers, let the third parties do the heavy lifting and, if they demonstrate their popularity, incorporate similar features in a future operating system upgrade.
So, if you feel your eyes and sensibilities are suffering from translucent menus, there’s already a utility available that will provide the full opacity look you prefer. You can also restore much of the 2D appearance to the Dock by moving it sideways to either end of the screen or by using a little Terminal hack if you prefer that it stay put at the bottom. Third-party Mac OS X modification utilities, such as Mac Pilot, can also handle this tiny chore, and hundreds of others, if you have the patience to explore all of its fascinating possibilities.
Both utilities allow you to restore your Mac to its standard look and feel, which may be a smart thing to do before you install an official Apple system update. Modified systems are where havoc can sometimes occur, which may explain why you hear such varied reactions to new software releases.
A Few Glitches
On the other hand, what’s a Mac OS upgrade without a few glitches, and third-party incompatibilities? Understand that my experience has been pretty solid so far. I haven’t been forced to restart, and maybe one application has quit since I installed Leopard on October 26th. The event was so insignificant that I hardly bothered to write down the name of the offending application.
Of course, you expect that Microsoft’s software will have troubles with a Mac OS X release, and that’s partly true. I mean, it seems that most people don’t have any difficulties to report, but I’ve been unable to print documents with Word 2004, regardless of which printer I use. The symptom is a warning that, “The margins of Section 1 are set outside the printable area of the page.” If I accept the offer to continue, blank pages will emerge from the printer.
Now Microsoft’s PR does admit there they’re aware of an occasional symptom of this sort, and that they’re working with Apple to resolve the issue. In the meantime, I was able to fix the problem on my MacBook Pro simply by resetting the printing system (using Mac Pilot). So there may be hope for a workaround before any updates appear.
I also encountered an apparent conflict between Entourage 2004 and Leopard’s Spaces. If you put Entourage into its own space, it will be unable to display a proper window on the screen. Or at least, that’s my experience. It may very well be possible this problem is a rarity too. Well, at least I can print an email message, so that’s progress, and no doubt there will be a fix forthcoming for these and other irregularities from Apple, Microsoft or both in the very near future.
Meanwhile, QuarkXPress will get its Leopard update soon, and Adobe’s audio and video applications will be made compatible before the end of the year.
But even Apple has some issues to resolve with its own products. When I attempt to save a SoundTrack Pro 2 file in its native “project” format, for example, I get a peculiar error message with nonsensical text, although a developer might understand what it signifies. I have shied away from reinstalling, since it came as part of the sprawling Logic Studio software suite that contains many CDs and takes a couple of hours to run through its setup process, more or less.
But I suppose I’ll have to take that route before long, perhaps when I have the time.
Moreover, the chatter on the Internet talks of problems with inconsistent AirPort connectivity, inability to restart fully after the initial Leopard installation, slow application launches, high CPU usage and roaring cooling fans.
Is that a reason not to install Leopard right away?
I don’t think so. You see, with the huge numbers of people who have installed Leopard so far, you have to expect a few things to go wrong in a small number of installations. Now it is easy to blame Apple for possibly rushing to deliver Leopard in time for its October delivery date. I had the same feeling about Tiger, which left One Infinite Loop with a slew of early bugs, most of which affected corporate networking.
However, my experience with Leopard has been superb so far, and I’ve encountered only the small number of application incompatibilities I’ve already listed. There have been no kernel panics, no need, as I said before, to restart my Mac for anything other than a software installation that requires it.
Yes, it may be that Apple might have worked a little harder to get rid of some performance inconsistencies. There are also reports that some of its features seem a little half-baked, such as the revised firewall implementation, which may actually be less robust than the Tiger version.
However, it’s also true that there is no way to deliver 100% perfect software, particularly something so complicated as a computer operating system. Indeed, Apple does far better than Microsoft in this regard.
You can, however, expect to see a 10.5.1 update in the near future that’ll squash the most serious early-release bugs, and perhaps clean up a few features. By January’s Macworld, you could very likely be seeing a 10.5.2, if the past is a guide, which will only further refine Leopard. So if the bug that irritates you today isn’t fixed, in time all will be right in the world.
In the meantime, you will want to weigh the impact of any of those reported bugs to see whether or not they might be your personal show-stoppers.
The other day, I read an article that complained about the conduct of one of the major Mac troubleshooting sites, MacFixIt, particularly since it was acquired by CNET several months ago. I won’t link to the article, because I think its information and conclusions might be a tad over the top.
However, I can sympathize with some of the concerns, since CNET has hardly been a paragon of accurate reporting, particularly about Macs. In the past, I’ve complained about the quality of some of their reviews, partly because of their need to highlight alleged shortcomings of a product however minor they might be; in fact, even if those shortcomings are essentially non-existent.
I am, however, extremely reluctant to criticize MacFixIt for allegedly taking an extremist or irresponsible posture about Mac troubleshooting issues. Its founder, Ted Landau, for example, is a calm, reassuring voice in the Mac community, and there is no chance whatever that he would deliberately exaggerate anything in order to sell a book, or attract more hits to a site. The same can be said for the current editor of MacFixIt, Ben Wilson, who strikes me as a gentle man who’d never stoop to pandering to an audience.
Indeed, it does appear that MacFixIt, aside from carrying the expected CNET logos and copyright notices, has not altered its approach to covering troubleshooting issues. What’s more, I would certainly hope that CNET bought the property to expand its presence in the Mac universe, and to earn a profit. It would be highly unfortunate if they attempted to influence the the site’s ongoing coverage in an irresponsible fashion.
The problem with such sites, though, as that they attract people who have problems to report, and are thus heavily weighted towards publishing stories emphasizing the most serious problems. You see, when people don’t have problems to contend with, they are less apt to visit such sites, except, perhaps, for preliminary exploration, and they seldom take the time to report that their experiences are A-OK.
If you take the limitations of the process into account, visiting a Mac troubleshooting site should be an important part of your investigative process before you buy a new product from Apple or a third-party company. Even if you aren’t apt to confront the listed difficulties, it’s important to know that they exist, and to check out possible solutions in case the problems bite you too.
In the end, all products have defects. You just have to live with them, and that’s usually quite possible if the issue isn’t serious. Otherwise, you’ll just be preparing yourself for an endlessly frustrating experience working on your Mac. That, of course, may indeed be the case on the Windows platform, but many of us have made a living on Macs for years and have never regretted that decision.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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