Miscellaneous Ramblings

2 Weeks with Snow Leopard: Still a Bumpy Ride

Charles Moore - 2010.05.04 - Tip Jar

I've managed to get two weeks under my belt running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on my Late 2008 Unibody MacBook without reverting to good old dependable OS X 10.5 Leopard, but it's been very tempting to switch back at times - which would be simple, because I still have Leopard installed on another hard drive partition (see the links at the end of this article for more on partitioning).

After a few days running version 10.6.2, I installed the 10.6.3 v1.1 update, but I noticed no resolution of OS 10.6's troublesome issues and angularities.

A Nasty Input Bug

One really nasty bug that has manifested sporadically through the two week stretch - twice in clusters of two within an hour or so of each other - is that keyboard response just dies for no obvious reason,- strangely at times afflicting both the built-in and external keyboards and sometimes the peripheral keyboard only.

Likewise, pointing device response is erratic when this happens, or one device craps out while others keep working, although thankfully at least one of the three external mice and the built-in trackpad have always remained functional, so one can save/close documents and shut things down in an orderly fashion before rebooting, which is the only remedy for the keyboard outage I've discovered so far. It's extremely annoying and appears to possibly have something to do with switching Spaces and cutting and pasting data.

Tex-Edit Plus Gets Stuck

Other odd glitches crop up randomly. The other evening, the cursor icon in Tex-Edit Plus got "stuck" in the little "wristwatch" mode, even though no processes were underway. Quitting the program (which required using Force Quit, since neither the Apple Menu nor the Dock quit commands would work) restored normal behavior. Tex-Edit Plus is a Carbon app that runs using OS X's Rosetta translator, whose performance has deteriorated substantially in Snow Leopard compared with Leopard and earlier versions.

Note that I'm using a clean install of Snow Leopard on a previously vacant-of-operating-systems hard drive partition, although I did import my user profile and settings from OS X 10.5 on the other partition.

WindowShade X on 10.6

One significant development since my last report is that Unsanity Software finally released a Snow Leopard compatible version of WindowShade X last week. WSX version 5 (a 5.0.2 bug fix update was released on Friday) is a paid upgrade with a 33% discount offered for registered users who purchased WSX after August 28, 2009. Full price is $15.

WSX 5 requires Snow Leopard, although Version 4.3 remains available if you are running OS X 10.5 (download link). That version is now unsupported, but your currently valid registration code will continue to work with older releases of WSX.

I had already got hold of the latest Application Enhancer and WSX v5 betas, which were downloaded from links available by becoming a follower of Unsanity Software's Twitter account. They installed smoothly and seemed to work fine, so I initially thought happy days were here again.

A Problem with WSX

However, after a few hours I discovered that the Bold, Underline, and Italic commands had quit working in text entry supporting applications - at least in Tex-Edit Plus, TextEdit, and Thunderbird - which was too crippling to live with. Uninstalling APE and WSX and then rebooting restored normal text formatting behavior.

I was optimistic that this bug would be squashed in the final release, but disappointingly it hasn't been so far (up to version 5.0.2). I would be very interested in learning whether this glitch is idiosyncratic to my rig and setup, or if others have encountered it as well. It certainly makes WSX unusable, although the windowshading and other functions appear to work fine, and WSX/APE are once again uninstalled.

Minimize to Dock Icon

In the meantime, reader John from Scotland suggested I try Snow Leopard's "Minimize to Dock Icon" feature, of which I had previously been unaware (it's new with Snow Leopard). That sent me scurrying to David Pogue's Mac OS X Snow Leopard: The Missing Manual for full details. I've got to admit that it's a pretty cool enhancement, and it removes one of my biggest objections to collapsing open windows to the Dock - the crowding factor with an array of tiny, indistinguishable document icons - and which with the associated Dock Exposé feature may finally win even me over to using Exposé, which up to now I've never warmed to.

In fact, I'm beginning to think that when used in conjunction with Spaces, I may even like "Minimize to Dock Icon" better than windowshading in some ways. Maybe the old dog can learn some new muscle memory tricks.

I agree with John's philosophical view that it's best to get along with as few system add-ons as possible, so given the continued text editing issue with WindowShade X, I'm going to be obliged to give "Minimize to Dock Icon" a good shot, and maybe it will finally wean me off WindowShade X, as a must-have at least - although I still think the windowshading concept is excellent and more convenient/useful for some things, especially for quickly clearing the deck to see what's behind your window.

Launching Tex-Edit Plus Documents

On another front, for my problem with getting Tex-Edit Plus documents to open in TE+ on Finder double-click, the cure proved absurdly simple. I just opened Get Info on a text document that had been created in TE+, went to the Open With section, selected Tex-Edit Plus from the pulldown menu, and then clicked the "Use this application to open all documents like this one" box and "Change All" button. Problem solved. All my TE+ documents now open in TE+ on double-click.

However, reader Sam observes that while this is a functional workaround, "the problem that underlies it is much broader," noting that

"in 10.6, Apple dropped support for 'creator codes' which allow an application to 'own' a document that it had created. This document would always open in that application. Newer applications have been updated to work with the new way of doing things, but older apps (not just Carbon apps or ones compiled for PowerPC) aren't designed to work without them."

Snow Leopard Is Not a 'Must Have' Upgrade

The biggest advantage I've realized in continuing to use Snow Leopard is that I'm no longer locked out of Snow Leopard-only applications, such as MacSpeech Scribe, but if you're not being inhibited from running your desired software in Leopard, I wouldn't recommend bothering with Snow Leopard until you have some compelling reason to, although - especially if you're not a WindowShade X user - Minimize to Dock Icon is 10.6's closest thing to a must-have feature in my estimation.

However, Snow Leopard's instability issues are a major pain, and my continued perseverance is more in the interest of research than preference.

More on Partitioning from Low End Mac

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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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