OS X 10.8.4: Yet another big disappointment

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 4th, 2013 • 10:11 pm

What’s the point of submitting bug reports? That’s the question I used to ask myself when it came to Microsoft and its crappy software, but I must say I am increasingly asking myself the exact same thing with Apple and its own software offerings.

The two pieces of Apple software that I use the most are OS X itself (including all the free applications that are bundled with it, like Mail, Contacts, Safari, etc.) and the iWork suite of applications. I don’t need to remind anyone of the fact that there has not been a proper iWork upgrade in four years, and that even incremental updates have been very limited (mostly for things like iCloud compatibility), with no sign of Apple’s interest in fixing bugs or making improvements. It’s beyond embarrassing — but it’s a separate issue.

OS X itself is different of course. It’s the operating system, so Apple has no choice but to provide regular updates and upgrades. But increasingly, first when testing (via my AppleSeed membership) and then when using OS X updates, I find myself wondering, again and again: “Will they ever fix this? and this? and that?”

There are numerous annoyances in the operating system and the bundled applications that are simply not going away. And I am afraid I have to report that the latest OS X 10.8.4 update does nothing to address this situation, to the point that I really do wonder what it actually fixes. The update probably fixes some things for some people, but it puzzles me to no end that none of these things have anything to do with the bugs and flaws affect me in my use of OS X. I obviously don’t expect Apple to magically fix each and everyone of all the bugs that affect me in a single update, but at least some indication of incremental progress would be welcome. As it is, since the crucial improvements provided by OS X 10.8.2 (especially with the restoration of a “Save As…” behaviour that made sense), there has been… pretty much nothing.

On the contrary, Apple has actually introduced new bugs, some of which are very serious ones, and OS X 10.8.4 still does not fix them as far as I can tell.

The big one for me and many other Mac Pro users is that the kernel panics for Mac towers with dual GeForce video cards driving multiple monitors are still not gone.

As far as I can tell, Apple has been working on the problem. Throughout the testing phase for 10.8.4, “graphics drivers” was listed as what they call a “focus area”, i.e. something that was being worked on in the update. And indeed two of the three kernel extensions involved in the kernel panics, namely IOGraphicsFamily.kext and IONDRVSupport.kext, have been updated. (I also was contacted directly via AppleSeed about the kernel panic issue after they read my post on OS X 10.8.3. They gave me further instructions, and I followed these instructions and sent them the additional feedback they requested, but then I never heard from them again.)

My experience on my Mac Pro with two NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 cards driving two 30-inch Apple Cinema displays has been that, while the kernel panics are certainly far less frequent and less random than they were under OS X 10.8.3, they are still not entirely gone. I still had one a week ago while viewing a Flash video clip in Firefox on my secondary monitor. Several other users report that this situation is a particular trigger.

I view most of my on-line video in HTML5 and avoid Flash as much as I can (with the help of ClickToPlugin), but there are still situations where Flash is needed, and it’s massively disappointing that Apple still has not been able to fix this problem properly. (I also seem to be somewhat fortunate in that I do not need to use several other pieces of software that also seem to be triggers of the kernel panics.)

Lest you think that we are talking about a non-standard Mac Pro configuration here, I should reiterate here that the dual GT 120 cards were a standard customization option offered by Apple itself for the Mac Pro back in 2009. This is not a Mac Pro where I installed a third-party video card myself. This is a Mac Pro model configured and sold by Apple itself, which you would therefore expect them to continue to test on a regular basis with common configurations. While dual-monitor users like myself might be a minority, we still are a sizable group, and we also happen to have spent quite a chunk of money on Apple hardware.

Other Mac Pro users have given up on Apple ever fixing this problem and replaced one of their GT 120 cards with an ATI Radeon HD 5770 Graphics Upgrade Kit (sold by Apple via the Apple Store as well). This seems to be a permanent fix for the problem (if you’re willing to spend $249 + tax on it), which clearly demonstrates that the problem is with the NVIDIA drivers that Apple ships with OS X when running multiple monitors. (The cynical customer in me half-suspects that Apple’s apparent unwillingness to address this problem is in direct correlation with the number of ATI Radeon HD 5770 Graphics Upgrade Kits that they have been selling in the past few months…)

The bottom line here remains that Apple clearly knows that this has been a problem for nearly nine months now, but that they obviously don’t care enough about a small minority of professional users who happen to have purchased Mac Pros with multiple NVIDIA video cards in the past few years. I have said it before: I find this profoundly shocking. Even if Apple’s priorities are in the mobile market these days, this is inexcusable.

Just as inexcusable is the fact that one of Mountain Lion’s key features, namely the ability to restore applications to their last state after they are quit and relaunched or after the system is rebooted, still does not work properly. On my system at least, Safari itself still fails to restore the most recent session, instead restoring some unidentified previous session missing many of the tabs and windows I might have opened most recently. (And OS X also still fails to draw the expected drop shadows around Safari windows on the secondary screen, but here again, it’s only a problem for people with dual monitors, and possibly only a problem with NVIDIA cards, so I don’t expect Apple to fix that one any time soon, especially since it’s only cosmetic.)

OS X 10.8.4 also still often fails to restore windows in TextEdit, Preview and Numbers ’09 after a restart, at least on my system. Instead, it reopens the applications with no document windows whatsoever, and I’m left with having to navigate my “Open Recent” menus to try and find the documents that I need to reopen.

Restoring an application’s state is such a key feature in Lion and Mountain Lion that I simply can’t understand what is taking Apple so long to fix this problem — unless of course it just happens to be one of these bugs that only affects a minority of users and that Apple has not bothered to put much effort into trying to reproduce. Indeed, in my experience as a beta tester of Apple products, if you identify a bug that is not reproducible in an extremely straightforward manner, i.e. a bug that does not affect all users of OS X equally, the onus is apparently on you — the unpaid volunteer who is willing to experiment with beta software at his or her own expense — to provide Apple with all the required information to reproduce it on their machines. Except that even when you do provide as much information as you can, including all the steps you can think of, along with your detailed system profile, your installation logs, and so on, it’s still apparently not good enough for them, and I don’t really see any sign that they really do try to reproduce those problems that just happen to be a bit harder to reproduce.

Instead, you get… no feedback whatsoever, no sign that anyone is working on the bug, and then it does not get fixed in the next update and you cannot help but wonder: Should I submit a new bug report? Did it somehow fall through the cracks? These are all, to me, signs that the system for testing software and fixing bugs is indeed rather broken at Apple these days.

Other on-going issues in Safari include the dreaded “webpages are not responding” error message, which still occurs on a regular basis. It effectively forces you to reload all your currently open web pages, and is really just an application crash without the crashing part. One day, maybe, we’ll have a Safari web browser that has more than one “web content” processing thread and does not force you to reload all your pages when a single web site is causing the application to act up.

I’ve also noticed that, quite often, when Safari starts acting up, the responsiveness issues can get mixed with unpredictable cursor behaviours. For instance, I get the Spinning Beach Ball of Death, but Safari somehow still remains responsive and allows me to continue to switch windows and scroll through web pages — all that, while the SBBoD continues to spin. It’s quite puzzling and distracting, and the only remedy is usually a complete application relaunch… with its own associated problems, of course (see above!).

Mail is another OS X application that has numerous on-going problems that the 10.8.4 update fails to fix. It still does not allow me to remove attachments from my sent messages. Fortunately, someone has come up with a (weird) workaround that works for me and only requires one extra step, but still… Just how long is it going to take for Apple to acknowledge the problem and fix it? (Of course, it does not seem to affect people who only use an iCloud account in Mail. Just the rest of us with our own separate provider accounts.)

Mail still suffers from other problems introduced in Lion, nearly two years ago, such as the fact that the typing buffer ignores some keystrokes when you open a new message, that messages lose their rule-based colour when replied to, and that the blinking | cursor in a message that you are in the process of composing becomes invisible if you hide Mail while it is in the background and then return to it. (This bug also still affects other HTML-based applications, including the Robert dictionaries and the stand-alone web browsers created with Fluid.)

More recent problems that remain present in 10.8.4 include the fact that, on my system at least, there is often a delay between the time I click on the “Send” button and the time Mail actually closes the message window and proceeds to send the message. Sometimes this delay can be nearly 10 seconds, with no visual indication of what’s going on. Similarly, when I attach a document using the “Open File…” dialog box, once I have selected the file and closed the dialog, there is often a delay before the attachment is actually inserted in the message I am composing, and if I happen to move my cursor during that delay, the insertion position moves along with it and the attachment can get inserted right in the middle of a sentence, when it finally gets added to my message.

None of these issues are deal-breakers, but they are all constant annoyances, and they add up to a pretty frustrating experience. Most important, some of them have now been with us for a long time, sometimes years. Again, the question is: Exactly how long is it going to take for Apple to fix them?

Rather than gradual elimination of bugs over time, what I am observing these days is the persistence of old bugs and the regular addition of new bugs with new updates and upgrades. Again, I suspect that some things do get fixed for some people as part of these updates and upgrades, but for quite a while now, my personal experience has been that none of the issues that affect me ever get fixed and that, on the contrary, new issues are introduced on a regular basis.

Yes, in the big scheme of things, these are “details”. But there was a time when Apple’s legendary “attention to detail” actually manifested itself not just in new, amazing products, but also in incremental improvements of their existing products. In all honesty, I have seen very little of this in the past few years, to the point that I am starting to feel quite depressed about the whole situation. I simply don’t know what can be done about it, and exactly how many billions of dollars Apple needs to have in the bank before it finally starts spending some of that money on fixing problems.

While I fully respect Apple’s success on the mobile front, there is little denying that it has come at the expense of “serious” computer users whose life does not revolve around Facebook, Twitter, and Angry Birds. The very fact that we don’t have a release date for 10.9 and no details have even been announced yet, even though Apple promised a 1-year cycle last year, and the rumours that this has to do with OS X engineers being asked to focus on iOS instead, is just more confirmation that OS X simply is no longer a priority.

As a business, Apple has of course every right to focus on what drives its current success, but it makes one wonder where we’d be today if OS X had remained a bigger part of Apple’s overall activities. We’ll never know, but of course, since the alternatives (Windows? Linux?) are still more or less what they have always been, i.e. not really viable alternatives for demanding professionals, we’re effectively stuck and have to put up with what we have.

One Response to “OS X 10.8.4: Yet another big disappointment”

  1. Betalogue » Fix for kernel panics on Mac Pro with multiple GeForce cards: ATI Radeon HD 5770 says:

    […] Apple released the final version of OS X 10.8.4, and it still did not fix the kernel panics. As I indicated at the time, it looked like Apple was working on the problem, especially since “graphics drivers” was […]