Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger): First major failure

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 30th, 2005 • 7:43 am

If there is a computer god, he/she really does have a great sense of irony.

Having been part of the Apple Seed program for Mac OS X 10.4, I have had to deal with my share of shaky builds and ugly bugs. But I’ve been through it all.

Then I joined the Apple Seed program and participated in the testing of the Mac OS X 10.4.1 update. This involved a process called “reversioning” where you have to fool your system upgraded to an early build of Mac OS X 10.4.1 into thinking that it’s back at 10.4.0, so that you can install the new build of 10.4.1 that you have.

This whole process means that I ended up with a system that, while officially based on the final Mac OS X 10.4.1 update build, wasn’t exactly kosher in that it wasn’t a direct update of 10.4.0 to the final version of 10.4.1. Still, it was working just fine.

But then last Friday I decided that, in anticipation of the process of having to test 10.4.2, I’d better go back to a “clean” installation of 10.4.1. So I did a complete “Erase and Install” of Mac OS X 10.4.0, and then applied the official 10.4.1 update to it.

It worked fine and I went back to my normal work. Then the first sign that something was wrong occurred on Sunday (yesterday). All of a sudden, while I was copying a file off a CD, the Finder froze with the spinning pizza of death. No amount of force-quitting would force-quit it.

So I quit all my other applications and had to do a hard reset of the machine. I thought everything would be fine after that, but evidently it wasn’t. In the afternoon, while I was working on a project that involved switching between Photoshop, InDesign, Microsoft Word 2004, etc. I couldn’t help but notice that things were more sluggish than they normally are. Another problem I had was that Word 2004 kept having to go through the “Optimizing Font Menu” stage each and every time I launched it — even though I had made no changes to my fonts folders.

So this morning I decided to try to get to the bottom of it and first restarted my computer. And that’s when it really started going wrong. The startup process took a very long time, first to get from the grey screen to the blue screen, and then from the blue screen to my desktop, etc. Everything took at least twice as long as usual.

I’ve seen abnormal startup times from time to time with Tiger, but this was not reassuring at all. I tried clearing various caches, and restarting again — but it only made things even worse. I figured that, since I had cleared caches, it was normal for the system to take longer to relaunch. But even after booting, when I finally regained possession of my work environment, things were extremely sluggish. It seemed to be getting worse!

I try trashing even more caches and various preference files and rebooting yet again. Still no improvement — quite the contrary. The computer was becoming barely usable now. I was keeping an eye on the CPU activity, and it definitely was not the source of the problem. CPU levels were just fine.

What could cause such sluggishness without manifesting itself in the form of CPU activity? The only thing that I could think of was a hard disk problem. I launched Disk Utility and checked the “SMART” status of my startup drive, but there was no indication that anything was wrong. I tried repairing permissions, and it took ages to complete — but it eventually did complete. Still no improvement!

I decided that it was time to do yet another complete system install. I just wanted to back up things in my home folder. (I had a very recent backup, but I wanted to have the very latest.) So I tried what I usually do, which is to create an image disk from my home folder on another partition. But this is a process that usually takes a few minutes. This time it took a quarter of an hour just to get to about 25%!

I interrupted it and decided to just copy the most important stuff manually in the Finder. I dragged my Library folder, which was about 200 MB in size. The Finder started copying it to that other volume… and even that took ages! It did eventually complete, but at a snail’s pace!

On the other hand, I tried copying stuff from a partition (on the same hard drive) another than my startup volume, and it worked just fine. So it looks like there was definitely something wrong with the startup partition itself.

In any case, I couldn’t be bothered to try and find out what was wrong. With all my experience installing builds of Tiger again and again, I am now quite used to doing an Erase and Install. Most of my third-party applications are on another partition anyway, so I only have to reinstall the Apple stuff (iLife and iWork). It’s a pain, but a minor one. It certainly is faster than trying to figure out what could have caused such sluggishness!

The Erase and Install went just fine, and I am now back in business. Whatever happened with that startup volume has been fixed. But what irony that it should happen precisely when I decided to do things by the book and reinstall Tiger and the 10.4.1 update properly from scratch!

This process of installing stuff again and again also makes me acutely aware of a number of outstanding issues with Apple’s installers and setup assistants:

  1. This new movie introduction that plays after you’ve installed Tiger is cool to watch (and listen to) the first time, but after a while it gets really boring. I really wish there was a way to skip it. As far as I can tell, there isn’t one. The Escape key doesn’t work. (I suppose the Setup Assistant does stuff in the background while this movie is playing, but I still would like to be able to skip the visuals and the music.)
  2. The Setup Assistant has Full Keyboard Access enabled by default, which is good, of course. But still, I don’t see why Apple don’t use the Return key as a shortcut for the “Continue” button in most screens in the Setup Assistant. You either have to use the mouse or to use Tab and Space from the Full Keyboard Access. There are several screens (.Mac, user configuration, etc.) where you have to enter a password. It’s only natural to hit the Return key after typing a password. Only it doesn’t work here, because the “Continue” button in those screens is never in glowing blue and the Return key cannot be used as a shortcut.
  3. I really find it quite irritating that so many Apple software installers have to drop that dialog sheet telling me that they are about to “install an application” and wanting me to confirm that this is indeed what I want. The problem is not with the dialog sheet itself, but with the fact that it never drops twice at the same stage in the installation process! Sometimes it drops before I agree to the software agreement. Sometimes it drops while the Installer is scanning my volumes to find the ones that can be used for the installation. Sometimes it drops at some other stage — but typically it drops right when I am about to click on a button in one of the screens. Very irritating. I wish Apple would just turn it into another screen in the installation process, instead of this dialog sheet dropping seemingly at random. (It all depends on how fast you go through the screens. If you just launch the installer and then wait, the dialog sheet drops eventually at the very first screen. But if you start moving through the screens right away, then it drops some time later.)
  4. Is there a reason why the first GarageBand Jam Pack doesn’t ask for an administrator’s password, while the other Jam Packs do? I don’t see why. They all install their stuff in the main Library folder, so they should all ask for my password. The first one doesn’t.
  5. Why does the Printer Setup thing always have to use the last printer you’ve just added as the default printer? I have three printers. If I add my main printer first, and then select it as a the default printer, and then add the other two printers, Mac OS X still changes the default printer to these other printers! If I selected a specific printer as my default printer (as opposed to the “Last Printer Used” option), then it means I want it as the default printer! Grrr.

One Response to “Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger): First major failure”

  1. vaag says:

    ad 1: Next time I will time the introduction movie. I doubt if it’s more than 15-20 seconds. Where are we talking about?
    ad 2: I think Apple wants to force users to think about their installation steps. Which makes sense. Experienced users can use tab and space. So what’s the problem?

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