Miscellaneous Ramblings

Going Back to Leopard Due to Snow Leopard Bugs

Charles Moore - 2010.05.19 - Tip Jar

Apple Toolbox reports that users continue to experience intermittent mouse and keyboard freezes or system stalls after updating to Mac OS X 10.6.3 - typically the cursor freezing in place or text input becoming suddenly interrupted then catching up a few seconds later.

Personal Experience

Personally, I haven't encountered system stalls, but on my Unibody MacBook, keyboard input will completely crap out, but the mouse and trackpad keep working, so at least I can save my work and shut down applications in an orderly fashion before rebooting. This is the only way I've discovered to restore keyboard input.

And now that I think about it, I didn't notice this behavior prior to installing the 10.6.3 update, although I only had Snow Leopard installed for a few days before installing that update. (I finally got around to installing Snow Leopard just a month ago.)

According to Apple Toolbox, factors that can trigger this behavior with Mac OS X 10.6.3 include Adobe Flash, Spotlight, outdated drivers, and problematic startup/login items. On my rig, it seems to be mostly associated with switching between Desktop Spaces using keyboard commands (it's never happened that I can recall when using the Spaces menulet).

Apple Toolbox suggests that the most effective workaround is a downgrade to Mac OS X 10.6.2, and they say they've received word that forthcoming 10.6.4 update includes new IOUSB files that should resolve the freezes and stalls under most circumstances. Here's hoping.

Back to 10.5

In the meantime, not relishing (or having time for) the tedium of a Snow Leopard downgrade to 10.6.2, and finally losing my patience with having to reboot two or three times a day to get my keyboard working again, I threw in the towel last week and reverted to Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5.8), which I wisely kept installed on another hard drive partition when I installed Snow Leopard. I will use it at least until version 10.6.4 becomes available, which will presumably be soon.

Or so I had thought.

The thing is, on Sunday evening, some five days after I switched back to Leopard, the keyboard crapped out again while I was editing an article in Tex-Edit Plus, which is where I do almost all of my non-email text entry. I quit TE+, and on a hunch tried opening TextEdit, which comes with OS X. Lo and behold, the keyboard kicked in again and stayed working after I restarted TE+. It's therefore not exclusively a Snow Leopard issue, although five days without an occurrence is longer than I've been able to go with Snow Leopard for the past few weeks, and in 10.6.3 it's always happened when switching Spaces views and not when just typing in an application.

I didn't try typing in TextEdit before I closed Tex-Edit Plus, but I have tried typing in other applications when the keyboard quits working in Snow Leopard without success. It's disappointing to have the issue crop up in Leopard too, but I have to suspect either that this is a different issue or that in some way it's associated with Tex-Edit Plus, which hasn't been updated for quite some time. I'll report again when I know more.

Another Leopard Benefit

In any case, I'm in no hurry at all. Aside from that hiccup, Leopard is blessedly stable (I could often go a month or more without rebooting when I was using it perviously), and my MacBook runs significantly cooler in OS X 10.5.8 than in version 10.6.3. I thought that the temperature increase might have been due to the arrival of warmer weather, but I don't recall that happening last year. Downgrading to Leopard has made the MacBook run 10° to 15° cooler, ranging from the high 40s to the high 60s Celsius as compared with the mid-high 60s to the low-mid 80s in Snow Leopard, which kept the cooling fan running pretty constantly, at least at low revs. With Leopard, the golden silence has returned - a strong argument for sticking it out with 10.5 as long as it's practical to do so.

There is little I miss from Snow Leopard anyway. It isn't noticeably faster, and as a bonus, WindowShade X 4.x and Unsanity's Application Enhancer system add-on work with rock solid stability in Leopard, while I've found the Snow Leopard compatible WSX version 5 unacceptably buggy so far. Snow Leopard's Collapse to Dock Icon feature used in conjunction with Spaces and Exposé provides a partial workaround, but it's not nearly as slick as good old windowshading.

That issue aside, it appears that OS X development and bug squashing efforts are lagging as a result of Apple's increasing iPhone OS-centricity. Snow Leopard, in my experience at least, is the buggiest version of OS X since version 10.1 nearly nine years ago, and this dropped input issue in version 10.6.3 is insufferable.

I'll give 10.6.4 a whirl when it becomes available, but if it continues to run hot, I'll probably go back to Leopard again. It's so much more pleasant.

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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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