OS X 10.10 (Yosemite): Responsiveness problems not solved by clean install

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
December 8th, 2014 • 10:29 am

I just don’t understand.

Last week I reported about noticeable responsiveness issues that I was experiencing with OS X 10.10.1 (Yosemite) on my 2014 Mac Pro:

  1. visibly slow drawing of the blue highlighting behind the “Help” menu heading in the menu bar;
  2. interruptions when scrolling down a Finder window with a long list of files (namely, the /System/Library/Extensions/ folder, which contains over 200 .kext files) with the Magic Mouse;
  3. recurring addition of new log files in /private/var/log/asl/ involving the sandboxd process;
  4. and, last but not least, recurring lack of responsiveness of various UI controls, including menu headings and buttons for pop-up menus.

I also mentioned that I had talked to someone (named Justin) at AppleCare, who had promised to escalate the issue if I couldn’t solve it with the usual troubleshooting steps.

On November 28, I called AppleCare again and talked to a man who seemed much less interested in my problem than Justin had been a few days before. However, to his credit, he promptly put me in touch with a senior advisor, whose name was Ben.

Ben was very nice to me on the phone and he too agreed that the problem sounded real and was not normal for a powerful machine such as my 2014 Mac Pro. However, before referring the issue to engineering, he wanted me to try one other thing, which was to reinstall Mavericks (the OS that the Mac Pro came with) on a separate partition and to check if I could reproduce my issues there.

This took me a while, because of course I had to redownload the Mavericks installer from the App Store and create a bootable USB volume with it. (Ben wanted me to use Internet Restore for this, which would have neutralized my Mac for the duration of the download, i.e. at least two hours.)

With my Mavericks partition, I was above to confirm the following:

  1. There was no problem with drawing the blue highlighting behind the “Help” menu heading in the menu bar in Mavericks.
  2. The interruptions when scrolling down a Finder window with the contents of the /System/Library/Extensions/ folder with the Magic Mouse did also occur in Mavericks, so it wasn’t a new problem in Yosemite, just one that I had not noticed before.
  3. The recurring addition of new log files in /private/var/log/asl/ involving the sandboxd process didn’t seem to occur in Mavericks.
  4. The lack of responsiveness of various UI controls, including menu headings and buttons for pop-up menus, didn’t exist in Mavericks.

In addition, through additional tests of my own, I was able to establish the following:

  1. The interruptions when scrolling down a Finder window with the contents of the /System/Library/Extensions/ folder only occurred with the Magic Mouse, and not with the old wired Apple Mouse, so it was a Magic Mouse-specific issue, probably unrelated to other responsiveness issues in Yosemite.
  2. The recurring addition of new log files in /private/var/log/asl/ involving the sandboxd process was much worse in the early build of OS X 10.10.2 that I had been testing as part of my involvement in the AppleSeed program than in the official 10.10.1 release. I still saw the problem on occasion in 10.10.1, but much less frequently. There was also no clear indication whether this had any link to responsiveness issues.
  3. The only situation where I did not see the problem with the drawing of the blue highlighting behind the “Help” menu heading in the menu bar in Yosemite was when I used the Yosemite-based Internet Restore service (while on the phone with Ben). But with all other versions of Yosemite that I tried, including on a clean partition with nothing else installed on it, I could see the problem.

Ben had given me his contact info, so I sent him an email explaining all this. At the same time, however, I stressed that the most important issue for me was that recurring, undesirable delay when clicking on various UI controls to bring down menus. Such a lack of responsiveness is unacceptable on a machine as powerful as a 2014 Mac Pro.

I am convinced that the problem is caused by Yosemite itself, and not by any incompatibility with third-party software. Since Ben didn’t get back to me right away, or even after I left a message on his voicemail a few days later, I took it upon myself to rebuild my entire startup volume from scratch.

You need to realize that this is a massive undertaking. Wiping the system volume and rebuilding everything involves hundreds of manual steps, not just to reinstall the software, but also either having to redo all the configuration of the software manually in the software itself (which involves trying to remember where you have to do to set this and that, given that settings are never always where you expect them to be) or manually copying all kinds of preference/configuration files from an backup of the old volume to the new.

But that’s exactly what I did. It took me hours, and I made sure I didn’t install anything that involved any kind of kernel extension or any other “questionable” (at least in the eyes of Apple’s engineers as I imagine them) software practices on the part of third-party developers. (This means that, even now, several days later, I am still without my beloved Default Folder X, for instance.)

It was materially impossible for me to the following:

  1. Install only one new piece of software, configure it and start using it.
  2. Continue using the entire system for several hours (if not days) with only that one new piece of software, and see if the responsiveness issue with the UI controls resurfaces.

I have far too many pieces of software that I use and need for my work to be able to do this. It would take me weeks. So, yes, I reinstalled things in batches. But I did try and do the above for the most “suspicious” pieces of software, i.e. for system-wide utilities such as Keyboard Maestro, LaunchBar, and Typinator. These particular pieces of software might be deemed “suspicious” by Apple’s engineers not because they involve kernel extensions or anything like that, but because they effectively act as an additional layer between the user and the machine, which intercepts and processes some interactions in order to automate specific actions. They are extremely important for my productivity and I cannot really imagine doing any substantial work on my machine without them.

Still, for about 48 hours I was reasonably optimistic that, through the rebuilding on my entire system from scratch, I had been able to eliminate that one responsiveness issue when clicking on UI controls that bring up menus.

And then yesterday afternoon I noticed it again. And again.

It might be deemed subtle and minor by some, but to me it’s obvious and extremely annoying. It is very simple to describe: I do a simple click (without holding the mouse button down) on a menu heading or a button in a window, and then nothing happens for two or three seconds, and then all of a sudden the menu that the click was supposed to cause to appear right away finally appears, but then immediately disappears again, before I have even had a chance to select a menu item in it.

And then of course I click on the same UI control again, and everything works fine.

I just do not understand how I can be the only one noticing this and finding it intolerable. I realize that we live in the age of mobile devices, where people “tap” instead of clicking, and are much more tolerant of unresponsiveness, because, with a finger tap, there is always a reasonable possibility that the tap was not accurate enough and that the system didn’t detect it.

But this is not the same. Clearly the system detects my click, since it does display the menu (albeit very briefly) after a couple of seconds. So the problem cannot be blamed on imperfect clicking skills on my part.

To me, it looks as if the UI control in question has been somehow “put to sleep” by the OS and take a couple of seconds to “wake up”.

Is that what is really going on here? If it is, there is no excuse for such a behaviour. On a desktop machine with an unlimited supply of power (unlike a battery-powered laptop), power-saving “features” that come at the expense of basic responsiveness are simply not acceptable, or should at the very least be optional.

Then again, my interpretation of the situation might be wrong. This particular problem might have nothing to do with power-saving features in OS X, and might be simply an unintentional bug of some kind. But if so, how come I seem to be the only one noticing it, and making a fuss about it? All I am doing is using readily available software on my system to do real-world work. If the problem was caused by a specific piece of software, I should be able to eliminate it by quitting that piece of software. But that does not seem to be the case. It seems that it is the cumulative effect of having multiple pieces of software running, even if they are not using significant amounts of CPU power, that is causing the responsiveness problem to surface.

After doing a clean install and completely rebuilding my OS X environment from scratch, how can any kind of specific software incompatibility be blamed as the source of the problem?

I also do not see how this could be a hardware issue. My Mac Pro works fine otherwise, and there are no responsiveness issues when typing text or doing other stuff that does not involve clicking on UI controls to bring up menus.

I just do not understand. And I don’t know what to do. Ben won’t respond to my emails and phone calls. Maybe he feels that, if he ignores me long enough, I will stop complaining and learn to accept the inevitability of this issue.

But I won’t. I will never find such a lack of responsiveness on my expensive 2014 Mac Pro acceptable. What recourse do I have, though? I don’t see how giving up on Apple products or boycotting them will help. I know enough about the alternatives to know that they would drive me even crazier on a daily basis. I already have to suffer through the obligation of having to use Microsoft Word for my work, for goodness’s sake. This complete piece of shit has an enormous number of responsiveness problems, even on a superfast 2014 Mac Pro, and here again nobody seems to care but me. What can I do? I have to use Word for my work. I do as much as I can to avoid it, but there is a limit.

So now I am supposed to accept that Apple is going down that same route and stuffing unresponsive software down our throats and that there’s nothing that I can do about it?

I will never, ever accept this. It is simply not right. But I do not know what else to do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do, and my rebuiding of my system is still far from complete and will still take me several more hours. I don’t know if you can tell, but I am pissed.

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