Rotten Apple: Leopard

Opinion: Apple's latest operating system release may be the most troublesome since Apple switched from its System operating system to the BSD Unix and Mach-based Mac OS X.

I have never heard so many complaints about a Mac OS upgrade. Back in 2000/2001 when Apple users were switching from its older System operating system to the BSD Unix-based Mac OS X, I also heard many a die-hard Mac user cursing at the changes. Then, however, everyone knew that there was going to be real trouble. After all, this wasn't just an upgrade—both the software and hardware were moving from one operating system to another.

Leopard's (Mac OS X 10.5's) problems have shocked the Mac user community. Most Mac users would have agreed with me that Leopard wasn't supposed to be a major step forward. Instead, it was going to be many small steps forward for the Mac. Well, that was the idea. It's turned out to be a major step backward.

For example, the firewall is more of a picket fence with an unlocked gate than a true security barrier. The firewall turns itself off by default on installation. Whose bright idea was that? More vexing still, if you had the firewall turned on before upgrading, this "upgrade" still turns it off.

Security researchers are also chagrined that Leopard only allows a choice between "allow all," "deny all" or "pick by application." I can deal with that, except the security experts say that "block all" actually doesn't block all. If you want fine control of your firewall, you'll need to manually configure the ipfw firewall program. That's no problem for me, but then I'm Mr. Linux/Unix. Is this really how a Mac user wants to control security? I think not.

Leopard also introduces at least one fundamental problem to basic file work. If you attempt to move, instead of copy, a file from one network volume to another, or just from one volume to another on your hard drive, and the transfer is interrupted for any reason, both the original and new file will be destroyed.

Now, this problem isn't likely to happen often, but then it only takes one file or directory being blown to bits to ruin your entire day. More importantly, it's the kind of fundamentally stupid problem that you'd never expect to see in any mature operating system, much less the usually great Mac operating systems.

eWEEK Labs takes a close look at Apple's Leopard. Click here to see the slide show.

Or, actually, maybe you will see more file transfers interrupted than you might think. It turns out that if you max out your Wi-Fi connection, your bandwidth will start dropping… and dropping … and eventually your network connection will start failing. Taking with it, of course, any file moves you might have going on.

What's this all about? Without even looking at the Mac OS X code—whoops, it's not open source so I can't, can I?—I already know the kind of mistakes that cause files to get blown away in an interrupted move. My money is on it being a "race condition." But how do you wreck your network bandwidth this way? That's a darn good question. It's almost like someone had to try to make that Wi-Fi go wrong that way.

Finally, let's talk applications. You expect some application trouble with a major operating system upgrade. Microsoft ISVs (independent software vendors) and Microsoft still are having trouble getting common Windows applications running on Vista.

But, again, this wasn't supposed to be a major jump; it wasn't even supposed to be as big a jump as the one between, say, Windows XP SP1 to SP2, which also proved troublesome in its day.

Well, maybe it wasn't supposed to be that big a deal, but it is. OK, so maybe if World of Warcraft doesn't run it's not the end of the world. Annoying when you want to trash some monsters, but no one's going to get fired for it.

When Skype, the VOIP program, and the many members of the Adobe Creative Suite family, such as InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, all have significant problems running under Leopard, that's another matter. If you're not able to produce using those programs, losing your job becomes a real possibility in high-pressure production environments.

And Apple may finally be in danger of losing some customers. Leopard really is one rotten apple. Usually, Apple gets a pass from its fans and the media. That's in no small part because Apple usually does produce great stuff. Not this time though. Until Apple gets Leopard fixed, this is one Apple product you shouldn't even bother taking a bite out of. If you do, you're going to want to spit it out.

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