Installing Mac OS X updates: still room for errors

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 7th, 2003 • 6:10 pm

On the whole, I don’t have too many problems with Mac OS X’s default installation procedure for system updates such as the recently released Mac OS X 10.2.6 or AirPort 3.0.4.

But today I encountered a problem that illustrates how much work Apple still has to do to make it really “fool-proof”.

I launched the installer for AirPort Software 3.0.4 and followed the regular procedure. The installer script warned me that I would have to restart my machine. No problem.

Then when it came time to restart my machine, I just clicked on the installer’s “Restart” button, and Mac OS X started closing all my open applications.

The problem occurred when it attempted to close Excel. I had a couple of Excel document windows opened and Excel asked me if I wanted to save them. I said yes. The problem is that one of them refused to save properly, telling me some silliness about the file not being found or HAVING been moved or whatever. Typical Microsoft problem, in other words. I ended up saving a copy of the file in a different location, but by that time, Mac OS X informed me that Excel had interrupted the logout process.

For some reason, at that stage, I automatically went back to the “Log Out” command in the Apple menu rather than the “Restart” command. It was probably because the message said, “Cancelled logout”, so in my mind I was in the process of doing a logout and I had to SELECT the “Log Out” command again.

The trouble is that the system accepted my command, and dutifully logged out. But it didn’t shut down. I was able to log back in, without restarting.

Normally, when a restart is required, the installer effectively forces you to restart your machine by not giving you any other options (short of force-quitting the installer application). You cannot quit it. You cannot close its window. All you can do is click on the “Restart” button.

However, as my experience demonstrates, if just one application causes the logout process to time out for some application-specific reason, and if at that stage the installer application itself has already been closed, there’s nothing that forces you to restart the machine anymore.

How safe is it to continue using the machine without restarting? I don’t know. The installer interface that forces you to restart seems to indicate that it’s not very safe. Yet if a timeout occurs, you can continue to work, and even log out and log back in, without restarting.

Now, I know that the Mac OS X architecture is such that, once an installer script has reached the “Restart” stage, you can continue to work and leave the installer application waiting for the restart in the background. But you cannot quit the installer, which mans, in particular, that you cannot run another installer script without first restarting your machine.

As my experience demonstrate, a little application-specific glitch is enough to circumvent this limitation. There was nothing, in effect, that prevented me from running the installer and installing something else without HAVING first restarted.

It doesn’t seem to be sufficiently safe to me. If a restart is required, Mac OS X shouldn’t allow the restarting process to be interrupted so easily.

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