'Book Value

Mac OS X 10.6.5 Update a Step Backward

Charles Moore - 2010.11.17 - Tip Jar

My usual practice with Mac OS X updates is to wait a week or so (or maybe a bit longer) to see how the proverbial dust settles and whether some serious bug crops up for early adopters.

However, in the case of last week's Mac OS X 10.6.5 update, I have not been Snow Leopard's biggest fan, and while version 10.6.4 was an improvement over previous builds, I've still found it as buggy as a flophouse mattress, so I was very eager to see if the version 10.6.5 update, released last Wednesday, would fix several Snow Leopard problems that have been driving me nuts.

Some of My Issues with 10.6.4

Spaces Craps Out

Spaces support that kept crapping out, taking keyboard response with it, requiring endless Dock quit and restart cycles - sometimes half a dozen or more in the span of an hour in order to keep things working. Without a little AppleScript hack called Quitdock, this one would have kept me in good old stable OS X 10.5 Leopard.

Keyboard Input Dies

Less relentless, but still tedious even once in a while, I've found that keyboard input would also sometimes die randomly independent of the Spaces switching issue, and in those instances it wouldn't respond to quitting and restarting the Dock, leaving me with just the trackpad or mouse to shut things down in a reasonably civilized manner and reboot the system.

Spontaneous Wake from Sleep

My MacBook would also randomly wake up from sleep unbidden when booted in Snow Leopard. I found that turning off AirPort before I put the computer to sleep helped to some degree, but spontaneous wake-ups also happen with AirPort disabled.

Weird Transcriptions with MacSpeech Dictate

MacSpeech Dictate 1.5 running in OS X 10.6.4 peppers your transcribed text with transposed letters and/or punctuation at the ends of words or phrases (concededly a MacSpeech compatibility problem, but still maddeningly frustrating). Running in Leopard, the same version of Dictate does not do this, nor, for that matter, do any of the other bugs cited here manifest in OS X 10.5 on the same computer using the same suite of applications.

This is less of an issue with the recent Dragon Dictate 2.0 successor to MacSpeech Dictate, which requires OS X 10.6, and which is pretty much the main reason I've been using Snow Leopard on the MacBook since Dragon Dictate arrived. Unfortunately, I'm still getting scrambled letters at the ends of words and phrases when using Dictate in some applications directly rather than in the Dictate notepad.

My MacBook Runs Hotter

Adding insult to injury, my 2.0 GHz MacBook with 4 GB RAM runs some 15° to 20°C hotter in Snow Leopard than it does in Leopard with the same suite of applications in play. I absolutely hate fan noise, but it's a nearly constant background accompaniment in Snow Leopard.

Problems Don't Exist in 10.5.8

None of these issues are evident when booted from Mac OS X 10.5.8 running on a different partition on the same machine and using essentially the same suite of applications and utilities.

Hoping for the Best

So I was hoping for better things in OS X 10.6.5, so last Wednesday evening I downloaded the humongous 977.21 MB Combo updater. After a couple of days scanning reports of others' experiences and finding nothing dire chronicled, on Friday evening I set about installing the update so I could try it over the weekend.

One of the reasons I prefer going with a freestanding update installer, as opposed to using Software Update, is that one can do some prudent preparation before running the update, such as a file backup. I'd just done a global backup on Tuesday, so I was able to skip that and move on to the next step in my customary update sequence, which is to quit all running applications and run a slate of system maintenance routines - repairing permissions, running the cron maintenance scripts, cleaning system caches, etc., from the Automation tab in the great little freeware system maintenance utility OnyX.

MacFixIt has long advised booting into Safe Boot mode (hold down the Shift key during a reboot) before running the installer, which I confess I usually don't bother with, since starting up in Safe Boot mode takes a long time, because it runs a media scan during the bootup process. If you go that route, be prepared to wait about five minutes or so before the login screen appears (which it will in Safe Boot even if you have automatic login configured).

I was only moving up from 10.6.4 to 10.6.5, so I could have gotten away with the incremental "Delta" version of the standalone installer, which is "only" a 607.21 MB download, or even just let Software Update do its thing, but I prefer to use the Combo version, even if I'm only moving up one version number. Historically, many users have anecdotally reported that they encounter fewer issues when using the Mac OS X Combo updaters than with the incremental Deltas or Software Update. With rare exceptions I've always gone with the Combos and have never experienced any problems.

Nor did I this time. Everything went very smoothly, with the entire update process (not counting the file download) taking about half an hour.

Bugs Are Worse in 10.6.5

Unfortunately, I'm obliged to report that that most or all of the Snow Leopard bug issues described above seem to be still with us in version 10.6.5, and in most instances are actually worse. The Spaces hang is even more frequent, and Dock quit is getting a real workout. The MacBook seems to run maybe a couple of degrees hotter in 10.6.5 than it did in even 10.6.4, with the fan running most of the time again.

The spontaneous wake-up problem is still a problem, indeed even worse than it was in 10.6.4, with the MacBook waking up seemingly at random at any time with no evident external stimulus. And Dragon Dictate still transposes the last two letters of words when dictating into Tex-Edit Plus, although, as I noted above, that's probably a Dictate problem.

And a New Problem

But there's also something new. OS X 10.6.5 broke my keystroke triggers for TypeIt4Me macros, which I am totally addicted to and lost without. This one was weird, as the keyboard triggers seemed to work fine for a day or so and then crapped out for no apparent reason although the macros were still accessible from the pulldown menulet.

I had to reboot the system in order to restore proper TypeIt4Me function. It's too early to know as yet, but I hope this was just a transient anomaly that won't be a persistent plague, and I'm a bit more optimistic after a reinstall of the utility and three days of TypeIt4Me working fine.

Looking Toward 10.6.6

However, one impression that's impossible to objectively quantify is that notwithstanding these frustrating issues, 10.6.5 seems to have more of the polished, mature software "feel" I liked so much in later builds of OS X 10.5. Now it needs the objective stability to go along with the "feel." It leaves me back in the mode of waiting for OS 10.6.6 in hope of some improvement, but it's not a very lively hope.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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