Leopard is killing my iMac – next stop Ubuntu…?

March 26, 2008

Leopard is a real beast

I’ve been using Macs since System 7 and my Powerbook (145B) that I bought in the mid 90’s still works and is my back-up solution for working (with text) if nothing else is available. I’ve recommended Macs to everyone over the years who had computer problems and probably convinced quite a few people to make the switch to a Mac.

Three years ago I got an iMac G5 and it’s a beautiful machine to look at and I enjoy working with it – but it has one major design flaw: its fans. They can be very – very loud. The newer iMacs don’t have that problem, but this does not help me. Last November I upgraded from Panther (OS X 10.3.9) to Leopard (OS X 10.5) and was hoping the fan problems would go away. I was wrong – it got worse:

It seems that Leopard (and possibly to a certain degree also Tiger) was not made or optimised to run on PPC hardware, from looking at forums I see that quite a few people have exactly the same problem as I have: the iMac going to sleep all of a sudden while you are working – just like that! Recently it kept dozing off while I was repairing permissions (another Leopard bug: this can take very long). I had to force quit the permission repair process and ignore a warning that this could destroy data…

Right now I am rendering a last test version of my latest Blender made 3D animation and have to work with “automatic” processor power (significantly slower than “highest”) to prevent the iMac from constantly going into sleep mode (“reduced” seems broken altogether under Leopard, this was the option I had to use under Panther for listening to music because of the iMac’s ever modulating, Tinnitus-like high-pitched fan noise). (BTW: I’ve already zapped the PRAM, reset the SMU and checked that the power cable is plugged in correctly. Also a couple of weeks ago the mainboard had to be changed (did Leopard break it?) – so I don’t think my iMac’s new narcoleptic condition is a hardware problem.) What this now all means for me is that rendering times have doubled – because of Leopard! Wow.

What to do? I am now looking at all the options. Maybe Apple releases a 10.5.3 update in the next couple of days and all my problems will go away. This would be very cool but I am not very hopeful. Once I’m done with my current 3D project I’ll probably have to downgrade (or is it upgrade?) back to Panther.

Leopard with Vista qualities…?

Are you sure you want to remove the items in the Trash permanently?

is now a default warning. I just could not believe that Apple would do such a nonsense. I should have read it as a warning sign that there is something wrong with the OS… While you can turn off this message there is another one that you can’t turn off (at least not easily and not globally):

(App’s name) is an application which was downloaded from the Internet. Are you sure you want to open it?

There is no option to turn off that most annoying warning message!

Why this is really bad: recently I saved a few cool scans from the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive and wanted to open them: but Apple’s Preview does not recognise the .jfif extension (!). While the much better NicePlayer can open them Leopard gets in the way with its vistaesque question:

pbanimation01.jfif is an application which was downloaded from the Internet. Are you sure you want to open it?

Yes, OS X thinks that JPEG File Interchange Format (JFIF) files are an application! But it gets worse: when you try to open multiple .jfif images at the same time (that you previously drag-droped/saved from Firefox to the desktop) you have to open them one by one and for each of them confirm with a mouse click (hitting return is not an option) that you really want to open “an application which was downloaded from the Internet! Or you could manually rename all of the files to .jpeg so that Preview can handle them… In any case it now can take a minute or two to open a bunch of new .jfif image files on my iMac. What a mess…!

This is only one of many examples where Leopard gets in the way of my productivity. Here two more highlights:

I use the Stickies app a lot. But in Leopard there is no way to turn off spell checking permanently for the Stickies and I absolutely dislike that ugly red underline for what the spell checker thinks is a misspelled word. The problem is that you can only can turn off spell checking for each single Stickies note individually – and next time you open the app you have to do it all over again – for each note you happen to use! You’d better not have 20 or more notes like me and are used to type in German without making use of capital letters (as would be the correct way of spelling certain words): not only can you not turn off the automatic spell checking (there is not even a shortcut for doing it with the note by note method) but also the Apple spellchecker does not have an option for ignoring capital letter misspellings…

But even worse than that is Spotlight: there are certain things (like my Firefox bookmarks.html or the StickiesDatabase file) that Spotlight just does not find (I’ve tried reindexing, cleaning all sorts of cache files…). The old Apple search might have taken a moment to come up with results, but it always worked and was easy to use. Spotlight just does not find certain files, offers a set of very confusing and for me useless options and in the end is slower than the old search because it tries to update search results in realtime while I’m typing and my iMac is just not fast enough for that.

To make a long story short: Leopard is not an elegant, not a user friendly operating system but at this point (10.5.2) a very buggy commercial beta release with many features that I just do not want but can not turn off (e.g. Stacks, which looks like a cheap rip-off of this cool technology). At the same time it is incompatible with Apple’s own Final Cut Express 2.x (that I bought only three years ago with the iMac) while other, non Apple software – older than three years – still just works…

So what happened? Why did Apple release Leopard so early? What does it mean for me as a consumer in regards to future Apple products? And most important: can I still trust Apple…?

I will soon be needing a more powerful computer for my next 3D projects. But should I buy another Apple product after the iMac G5 fan noise saga…? My main problem is that I also need a good NLE and Apple’s Final Cut Pro (while not ideal or really modern any more) is still the best choice in terms of money for value (there are open-source alternatives but none of them offers the full spectrum of features and ease of use that FCP has). But: if I buy the Final Cut Studio package now is it going to work on Apple’s latest OS offering in three years time…? Or will it be incompatible just like Final Cut Express 2.x is today with Leopard…? I do not think I should be forced to buy new hard- and software every three years – and who knows if I will always be able to afford it…? What I want is a more permanent solution. I need quality equipment. Something I can rely on. Something that “just works”. I’ve had enough of beta products like my fan noise challenged iMac G5 or beta products from other vendors like my super buggy Sony Ericsson mobile phone that I still have but avoid to use whenever I can (I got that one before the Sony rootkit fiasco – I have not bought any Sony product since).

True world domination: be humble and D.I.Y.

To me it now looks like we’ve reached a point where the quality of commercial (consumer) hard- and software from big companies is just not acceptable any more. (Faster and faster product development cycles to keep the cash machine working while only beta products are thrown to the market.)

Maybe small, local businesses selling open-source hardware is the answer…? Or just 3D printing your own, online community developed hardware…! But it’s just not quite there yet…

This is also something the open-source movement should always remember when looking at the mistakes that companies like Apple make:

Do not release software (without the beta label) before it has been thoroughly bug tested. Buggy products can anger your most faithful, decade-long fans and customers up to the point where they are so enervated that they will switch to alternatives sooner or later.

E.g. I don’t use the VLC that often any more: under Panther it kept crashing whenever I tried to close it and under Leopard the better solution often is to use the NicePlayer and having Perian installed – I just can’t see that stupid warning message any more that pops up every time the VLC can’t keep up with playing back a particular file (the NicePlayer also allows you to go back and forth frame by frame and the VLC at this point unfortunately does not support the TARGA (.tga) image file format that is a very useful standard in the 3D world).

True world domination will only work if you remain humble, deliver high-quality products and are honest about possible shortcomings of your offerings.

Stuck in the middle

After Installing Leopard back in November I also wanted to install Ubuntu on my iMac but in the end had to give up: there is no more official support from Canonical for the PPC platform and while the Ubuntu live CD worked well enough I could not “shrink” my OS X partition with GParted (this is necessary before going ahead with the actual Ubuntu installation for a dual boot set-up) – GParted just kept crashing and neither the Ubuntu community forum nor the GParted forum had a solution for this problem.

I could of course now get rid of OS X altogether and just install Ubuntu, but then I would also be stuck with an old Ubuntu version while not knowing if it really works well in the long run on my noisy iMac. So it looks like I will soon be stuck with an older (but at least very reliable) Mac OS (10.3.9) for the time being. Leopard most probably is not an option for me and dual-booting OS X/Ubuntu seems not doable without being a Linux ueber-geek.

Conclusion: this is a transition period – commercial solutions like Apple hardware and OS X might not live up to the promise and and open-source alternatives might not always work (yet).

Next stop Ubuntu…?

While the shiny new Macs from my local Apple store sure look very nice I feel less tempted than ever to invest in an Apple product again – the € 129.- I paid for Leopard back in November look like a bargain compared to the time I lost trying to be productive with it. I now might end up buying non Apple hardware and installing the latest Ubuntu release once it becomes available later this spring.

It’s been a while since I recommended buying a Mac to a friend and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do this again. But:

I certainly can not recommend Apple’s Leopard (tested up to 10.5.2). Think twice about “upgrading” (specially if you are on a PPC) and better don’t do it at all if you are using a PPC iMac!

This apple looked really nice, but unfortunately it was picked way too soon and now leaves me with a very – very sour aftertaste. The good thing: there are alternatives and they seem more attractive than ever to me.

%d bloggers like this: