• Newsletter Issue #509

    August 30th, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    It’s axiomatic in the software industry that products ship late and contain critical bugs. While Apple isn’t innocent of the latter, they certainly manage to follow schedules most of the time. In the case of Snow Leopard, they actually brought it in ahead of schedule, shipping the last Friday in August.

    Now I should point out that, prior to the time Apple touted a September shipping date, I had actually suggested here and there that the end of August would be a suitable choice. In retrospective, I was right, although I’m not tooting my own horn about it. That was probably just the luck of the draw.

    In any case, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, we observed the release of Snow Leopard by devoting much of the episode to the subject. Our first guest was Galen Gruman, Executive Editor of InfoWorld, who provided the enterprise viewpoint of Mac OS 10.6.

    Cutting-edge columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, reminds us that Windows 7 is, in the scheme of things, essentially a bug fix and enhancement release too, in the fashion of Snow Leopard, although Microsoft would prefer you to believe that it’s something new and different — probably because of their decision to give it a different name.

    Also joining us was Thomas Ford, from Opera, who discussed the new features, including a major interface redesign, for Opera 10.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, Karl Mamer, of The Conspiracy Skeptic, confronts Gene and David with his disbelief in the strange and unknown. You’ll also hear a reality check from long-time researcher Jim Delittoso with regard to his comments about a photo allegedly featuring former Vice President Dick Cheney observing a UFO at a secret military base.

    Coming September 6: Veteran paranormal researcher Curt Sutherly, author of “UFO Mysteries: A Reporter Seeks the Truth,” discusses the progression of UFO evidence and belief systems. He’ll also tell a few anecdotes about his longtime friendship with our co-host, Gene Steinberg.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” You can get them for $14.95, each, plus shipping, and you can select from most popular sizes.

    THE NIGHT OWL’S SNOW LEOPARD REVIEW

    You hardly think there’s much anyone can say about Apple’s Snow Leopard that hasn’t been said over and over again, almost to the point of excessiveness in recent days. Starting with the favored members of the media who contributed their words of wisdom, and extending to individual bloggers around the world, it seems almost every respectable publication, and some other than respectable, has had something to say on the subject.

    Now it’s a sure thing that a lot of people have been working with Snow Leopard for weeks and perhaps months. That includes Apple’s registered developers and, of course, the folks who wrote books on the subject that have just been released, or will be shortly. So now it can be told, but I won’t spend half this review writing about the features you already know about, or you can find described at Apple’s site in exquisite detail. I don’t believe in wasting your time.

    As a cleanup release, Snow Leopard acquits itself nicely, thank you. Unlike most operating system upgrades, which excrete evidence of excessive bloat, Apple decided that it wanted to take stock of the situation, fix what ailed the operating system and build a secure foundation for the future. That, indeed, may take us through to Mac OS 11 and beyond, assuming they all bear the reasonably standard Mac OS numbering scheme.

    It’s clear that Apple rethought the installation process carefully, because they’ve refined it to the nth degree. For most of you, all you need do is put the Snow Leopard DVD in your Mac’s drive (or a shared drive if you’re using, for example, a MacBook Air) and, when the disc mounts simply launch the Installer and begin the setup process. The Archive & Install routine that power users demanded is no longer present, although you can still wipe the drive, install Leopard and restore your files via Apple’s Migration Assistant or your preferred backup tool.

    Although it’s easy to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about the process, it does appear that Apple is right on with this one. So far, I’ve not seen any evidence that a simple upgrade fails, although it might in rare instances where there were so many serious problems present on the affected Mac, reformatting the drive would have been the better solution in any case.

    When your Mac restarts it’s highly likely that you won’t actually see might of a difference. You may, in fact, need to confirm that Snow Leopard is present and take a fast look at the About This Mac menu to confirm that the installation was successful. In some cases, there will be a brief Setup Assistant where you enter your basic registration information and have it sent to Apple.

    As you look over the landscape, though, you’ll discover that some of the telltale icons look different. In addition, click on any Dock icon and you’ll see the labels in white against a dark gray background. The end result is clearer, cleaner text. There are other changes to the Dock, including its superior integration with Expose, and the option to minimize an application to its own icon, rather than have it pollute the right end of the Dock.

    The new 64-bit clean Cocoa Finder also has few visual differences, but performance lapses have been largely overcome. Displaying larger folders and surviving a disconnected network no longer seem able to bring it down. You can look at the situation and suggest that perhaps Apple should have done all this eight years ago, but a lot of the compromises Apple made early on were clearly the result of getting a functional product to market as quickly as possible.

    Indeed, the hallmark of Snow Leopard is that Apple’s refinements were mainly designed to make lots of things work a little better, but the plumbing changes were the most significant factors. While Apple’s own apps are 64-bit and take advantage of Grand Central Dispatch for better multicore support, the rest of your apps won’t change for a while.

    The tests conducted so far by the reviewers demonstrate a mixed landscape. Some functions are clearly faster, some are slightly slower. It’s hard to know whether some of the slowdowns are caused by oversights on Apple’s part, or the need to bring more third-party apps in line. I suspect it’s probably a little bit of both and that the inevitable maintenance updates, beginning with 10.6.1, will ultimately begin to address some of these ills.

    I’ll keep my experiences subjective, however, since some observations just aren’t amenable to a stop watch.

    As claimed, the startup and shut down processes on my Mac Pro and 17-inch MacBook Pro seem faster. The same holds true for the sleep and awake processes. Apps seem to launch pretty much as before, although it does seem that Mail and Safari are faster out of the gate.

    Application incompatibilities are already being cataloged. One notable resource is a Snow Leopard Compatibility site that is being maintained in wiki format by a number of volunteers. The list may be extensive, but with thousands of Mac applications out there, it’s all quite expected.

    As far as my own personal situation is concerned, the sole issue I encountered involved the Logitech Control Center software, which is used for their input devices. Recent versions wouldn’t recognize any of my Logitech products. A 3.0 release, which came out early in August, seemed promising enough, but the installer has been hardwired to reject Snow Leopard out of hand. A suggestion on that wiki, though, allows you to install the software, but it won’t work if you reboot your Mac in 64-bit mode. Regardless, it does work, so I’m happy.

    The whole 32-bit versus 64-bit issue is also a mite confusing. Other than servers, compatible Macs boost in 32-bit kernel mode. However, applications will still launch as 64-bit if they are capable of doing so. I know some of the Windows fanboys are apt to make a deal over this, but it will not impair the performance of your Mac. Besides, 64-bit only makes a real difference for software that may need more than 4GB of RAM, or provides mathematical functionality that that hooks into the speedier routines. That includes Safari, which means that JavaScript-related functions ought to be faster, but the difference isn’t something you’ll readily detect.

    As far as the rest of my vast repertoire of apps is concerned, Adobe’s CS4 apps seem to work fine. Ditto for QuarkXPress 8, and the various audio apps used for my regular work. Microsoft says that Office 2008 is compatible with Snow Leopard, and they appear to be correct.

    In the scheme of things, Snow Leopard may strike you as little more than a glorified maintenance update. That may be true as far as visible features are concerned. But when application developers start to take advantage of 10.6’s performance-related featured, that situation is poised for a huge change.

    Indeed, the best thing you can say about Snow Leopard is that it is an operating system upgrade that will, in time, actually make your Mac run faster and faster. That, and the dirt cheap upgrade price, make switching to Snow Leopard a no-brainer on any Intel-based Mac.

    MEMO TO THE FAKE STEVE JOBS: YOU’RE IN OVER YOUR HEAD

    A few months ago, in honor of a new collection of his charming satiric articles in which he pretends to be Steve Jobs, I did a segment on the tech radio show with columnist Daniel Lyons. At the time, he was about to start a new gig, which included articles with Newsweek, so it seemed as if Daniel had truly arrived as a mainstream tech journalist.

    Alas, it has become clear from his recent review of Snow Leopard that he is in way over his head, or is, at least, that’s the impression he creates.

    While a reviewer is entitled to his or her opinion, it’s clear from Lyons piece that he is sadly misinformed about the ins and outs of Snow Leopard. Worse, he has evidently joined the vast repository of Windows fanboys who exude total cluelessness.

    Lyons complains that Snow Leopard isn’t a full-fledged system release, and blames inattention by Steve Jobs for at least part of this huge failure. Evidently playing a mythical Steve Jobs has unduly influenced him, because that conclusion simply makes no sense.

    As a matter of fact, Apple first announced Snow Leopard after the 2008 WWDC. It was presented from the get-go as precisely what it ended up being, a release that focused on the plumbing of Mac OS X rather than snazzy new features. Steve Jobs was, so far as anyone knows, fully in charge of Apple at the time. Even during his six-month hiatus, where he received a liver transplant, he was in regular touch with Apple evaluating and approving key projects.

    Lyons digs himself even deeper when he complains about alleged bugs in Snow Leopard, without really specifying what they are, other than labeling them as a “bunch of new glitches and bugs.” Indeed, other than the well-known issues with third-party products, problems with Snow Leopard haven’t been all that extensive.

    This is nothing new. All major system upgrades, from Apple and Microsoft, ship with incompatibilities. Third-party products may also need to be brought into line. That’s just a normal part of the process. But Lyons is blaming Apple for not giving Snow Leopard a thorough testing. He even goes so far as to make this outlandish claim: “That’s because Apple is nuts about secrecy and hasn’t let anyone see Snow Leopard in advance, except a very few reviewers who got it just before it was ready to ship.”

    Either Lyons is supremely ignorant or is knowingly telling an absolute lie. How could he not know that Apple has an active developer program, with thousands of members, many of whom received regular prerelease Snow Leopard seeds. This is the way Apple has worked with all versions of Mac OS X. Maybe Lyons would prefer that Apple put these seeds into the wild, as Microsoft does, but that’s not their way.

    Now maybe Lyons is making all this up just to attract more hits for Newsweek. But I’m not going to give him the links he clearly craves. As far as I’m concerned, I hope my loyal readers won’t read his review of Snow Leopard.

    But I’ll throw Lyons a bone: If he fixes the bugs in his article, and releases a corrected version, I’ll relent and run the link. Maybe he doesn’t care, although I see that readers are already tearing Lyons a new one in the comments sections over at Newsweek. Maybe they’ll assign their next review of an Apple product to someone who knows something about the subject, or is honestly willing to learn. And, no, I’m not looking for the job.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    7 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #509”

    1. dfs says:

      I only had one serious problem in installing Snow Leopard: there was one folder whose icon the Finder insisted on interpreting as an alias and so asked me to fix or delete it, and unfortunately this happened to be the folder in which I keep my most critical work files. I could access the contents of this folder perfectly well from its folder icon in the Dock, so I could rest assured that no data had actually been lost. Eventually, I simply created a new folder of the same name stored in, downloaded duplicate data from remote storage, trashed the original, replaced it with the new one, and all was quickly put right. Other than that, I’ve lost a few utility gadgets which are broke in 10.6, I’m sure that within a few days the developers will have upgrades available, no sweat. t. I haven’t read about this Finder bug elsewhere, but I think it’s worth mentioning because if this happens to you, don’t worry, your data may be inaccessible from the Finder until you figure out your own workaround, but meanwhile it is still safe and sound on your h. d.

    2. Bill Burkholder says:

      Well, Gene, thanks to some links on another site, I read Dan Lyon’s column before I read yours. Waste. Of. Time.

      You’re right. Lyons is in waaaay over his head.

      On the other hand, maybe he’s just pimping for Microsoft. No matter… His article in [I won’t tell] was, well, weak. Drive by and shoot it, slash and burn it, didn’t try it, doesn’t want to understand it, can’t comprehend it, won’t bother to open his mind to it, weak.

      There’s a lot of that crap out there… It seems like trolling for Internet hits is becoming an ever more popular form of desperation in the current economy, especially among traditional media web outlets.

    3. robinson says:

      Nice review and agree with you on Lyons’s commentary. The phrase “out to lunch” comes to mind– and I appreciate your NOT giving him a link here until he fixes his remarks.

      • admin says:

        @robinson, Or maybe his lunch is being paid for by a certain company in Redmond, WA. Then again, Newsweek ought to be a little concerned if that presents a genuine possibility, since I presume they do have a code of ethics.

        On the other hand, I felt Lyons was a genuinely nice guy when I talked to him for the radio show, so maybe he just didn’t bother to do his research, or doesn’t bother with research.

        Peace,
        Gene

    4. STL says:

      I thought Lyons article was satire.
      I hope he gets a call and chewing out from Fake Steve Jobs

    5. Lawrence Rhodes says:

      “Besides, 64-bit only makes a real difference for software that may need more than 4GB of RAM, or provides mathematical functionality that that hooks into the speedier routines.”

      As I understand it, the biggest difference that the x64 architecture makes compared to the x86 architecture is doubling the *number* of CPU registers, not just their length. This means that a compiler can more often avoid the Von Neumann bottleneck (the fact that CPUs run much faster than memory), resulting in a ~30% speed boost in non-I/O-bound code just by recompiling for x64. (The PowerPC already had a 64-bit register architecture, so it didn’t gain anything comparable.)

      I’m waiting on Snow Leopard for a while for two reasons. One is that I frequently use Finder contextual menu extensions, and these aren’t allowed for 64-bit apps like the new Finder; this would be something of an inconvenience. But the main one is that I have a hundred thousand or so files generated or acquired over 20 years which have type and creator codes but not (loathsome ugly) filename extensions, because I was working on, you know, a Macintosh. Snow Leopard ignores the creator code (not sure about the type code), according to sources such as Adobe, so now these files will open in the wrong application when double-clicked. What a convenience! I’m hoping there will be something automatic I can do about this (or Apple will relent), because it’s not remotely practical to change all of these by hand (and to what? All files with the same extension will still open in the same app, like, ugh, Windows!). The type and creator fields will always exist in HFS+ file system directory entries, why not keep reading them?

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