I finally purchased MacOSX Leopard. For a long time, I had purchased every single update of MacOSX as soon as I could, because they were generally worth it. This was the first time I had some second thoughts. There were a number of mixed reviews over the net, like the excellent Ars Technica review.

The main problems that these reviews were reporting were drops in looks and usability. Looks: folder icons that look bad, inconsistent shadows, translucent menu bar, overly bright window widgets, and so on. Usability: initially, folders placed in the dock would show as “stacks”, in other words a big pile of stuff, and fan out in a way that made it quite hard to pick up anything in the folder. Overall, the new OS was also reported to be much more resource hungry than the older ones, not a big surprise here…

To me, it was annoying to have a trade-off between features I’d get, like Time Machine or Parental Controls, and features I’d lose (something Apple does not advertise much), like Classic (the environment to run MacOS9 applications). In previous releases, there was a net gain in functionality, but the loss of Classic was a pretty big deal to me. In particular, I wanted to have Parental Controls on the kids Mac, an old Dual G4 which contains tons of MacOS9 games.

But a few weeks ago, having learned that 10.5.2 was finally giving users options about the dock icons and menu bar, I thought that it was safe to jump, at least for my Intel-based Powerbook, which can’t run Classic anyways, and which was acting weird lately. In particular, it jut can’t run straight any time I have run any virtual machine with Parallels Desktop. That was most likely a problem with Parallels, not with Apple, but I thought that the latest Apple OS might help. Another problem I kept hitting was that the machine would lock-up when I tried to unlock the screen saver. Hoping to get rid of these annoyances, I went ahead, purchased it and installed it.

The first thing I noticed is that my machine had become quite slower than before. Starting applications, in particular, seems to take quite a bit longer. This is particularly noticeable at login time. I now need something like one minute to log-in, which is too long for my taste. Unfortunately, the problems I had before were both still there: crashes or hangs after running Parallels, and even without running it, I still have the “black screen of death” way too often when I try to get out of the screen saver.

So I decided to try it on another machine, see if the experience would be any better: on the kids computer. Here, the experience is nothing but miserable. First, the installer forced my screen resolution to 640×480 on a flat-panel LCD that normally runs at 1280×1024. No big deal, it’s just the installer, right? Wrong! The screens do not fit at that resolution, so to get anything you have to hit “tab” at random and hope to hit the “Continue” button with the space bar (you can’t reach it with the mouse, since it’s out of the screen…)

Once you went through the whole installation routine, you are greeted with a screen that looks like this:

That’s right: the menu bar is a bright pink, and the background image is pink colored more or less at random. Performance is abysmal, my kids had to downgrade the various tunable parameters of World of Warcraft by a couple of notches. And I got at least one lock-up.

The upgrade process is not smooth either. To install 6 updates on the G4 took me 3 or 4 attempts. It seems to install, but after the install-and-reboot, it still wants to install the same thing. On the Intel PowerBook, I have been unable to update so far, it tells me that it “cannot write to /”. Repairing disk permissions failed. One of my disks, that reads fine with 10.4, appears as “unrepairable” with 10.5. Granted, it was probably damaged in some way, but I’d like to avoid losing 350GB of data, please?

So, overall, MacOSX 10.5 is a disappointment. Apple is probably focusing a lot of energy on the iPhone right now… Or something else happened. Regardless, the quality of that product is not what I am ready to pay for.

Update: I had the same kind of color problem on my MacBook with an external HP monitor. The colors just looked way off, and trying to adjust the ColorSync profile only made things worse. This monitor used to work really well with this machine. What’s going on here?


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