Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer Update

Happy Summer (Summer? Where?)

It's been way too long since I sent out one of my update reports. Partly that's good news: it's been many months since Apple screwed up one of their updates badly enough to require warning.

My rule to hold off for a week or two before updating still holds true, but right now there aren't any updates you need to avoid. Even the dreaded 10.5.8 update seems to have stabilized due to incompatibilities with others having been fixed.

When it comes to full system updates it is still best to visit Apple's download site and get the Combo Update. For Tiger, that's 10.4.11; for Leopard that's 10.5.8 and for Snow Leopard, it's 10.6.3 v1.1. The last was an update replacement to fix trouble with the original 10.6.3 and it's what you will get if you simply download that update. Combo Updates are still superior to Delta Updates because they contain every piece of updated software and are capable of taking any version of their system to the current release. Deltas contain only the minimum needed to take you from the previous step: 10.4.10 to 10.4.11; 10.5.7 to 10.5.8, etc. and sometimes fail where the Combo will succeed. Software Update always uses the Delta if it can.

New purchasers of Snow Leopard ($29) will find the disk in the stores is now 10.6.3. Before it was 10.6.0 and you needed to update it immediately. It is still the same disk that's included in the $169 package bundled with the latest iWork and iLife. It WILL take you from Tiger 10.4.x to Snow Leopard (Intel Macs only) but you run the risk of making Apple's lawyers unhappy.

Leopard users: One of the reasons I kept you on 10.5.6 was to prevent an update to Safari 3.2 from happening. That Safari version was buggy and crashworthy. 3.1.2 was the last good version of Safari 3. Apple did fix it a little bit by the time 3.2.3 came out, provided you turned off the Security feature "Warn when visiting a spurious web site." Any failure to connect to that database while browsing would crash the program. It's still problematic in Safari 4, and for the same reason. Safari 4 itself, however, is clean, fast and works very well. Current version is 4.0.5 and is available to users of Tiger, Leopard and SNL. Leopard users must be at 10.5.8 and have the latest Security Update to install it. Safari 3.1.2 is now sufficiently obsolete that some web sites, mostly commerce and banking sites, will refuse to deal with it.

Users who are still on 10.3.9 cannot get any version of Safari newer than 1.3.2 and no commerce site will talk to it. Ebay and Craigslist reject it as well. Your only option is Firefox, which is still on the Mozilla site and will hold you for a little while longer until you can upgrade your Mac.

Security Updates have been among the bigger causes of installation problems. Some were so bad I put them in the Never category. These updates always supercede previous ones, and I'm happy to report no problems with the current lot. There are a handful of weakness and vulnerabilities in the MacOS - though nothing like in Windows - but they are there and you should get current on them just in case.

Application updates are purely voluntary. If you don't use iWeb or iMovie/iDVD then don't bother. They will always be available. You also don't need to update iTunes if your current version works for you, unless you get a new iPad, iPod or iPhone. Or rent movies from the iTunes Store. The current version is 9.1.1. Just close or disable the annoying "Genius" feature unless you have found it useful.

New Apple TV

Rumors today speak of a new version of the AppleTV for only $99! This will be a major redesign of the mostly-failed and barely-useful current one with its stripped-down version of the MacOS. The new one will be more like a screenless iPhone. It's still a rumor, but the hope is that it will connect to Netflix, just like the iPad does, as well as the iTunes Store. This will be the first time Apple has changed one of its products from OSX to the iPhone OS. Now I'd like to see a tablet that runs a fully capable version of MacOS, and supports wireless mice and keyboards as well as on-screen touch control.

To follow the developments keep an eye on The Unofficial Apple Weblog and Engadget. The latter is a great site for all things tech, not just Apple.

MacBook Pro 13"

I have been living with mine for almost two months now, both as a portable and as a desktop plugged into a 24" ASUS external display. I still marvel at what a nice Mac this is. It's much less of a burden to schlep around than my previous 15" model was so I carry it more places. Even though the 2.4 GHz processor is the same as I had before, the new graphics chip makes it appear MUCH faster, especially when driving the external display.The key advantage, though, is the new longer-life battery. I used to worry about running out and always carried the charger, adding weight. Now, with 5 or 6 hours routine, I have not come close to running out, except for when I spend a lot of time on YouTube, where I can expect less than 4 hours because it runs up the processor a lot more. For $1199 or less it simply can't be beat.


All those updates, and any new software installations, require certain maintenance operations be performed. Most important is the Repair Permissions operation in Disk Utility. For details, open the program (in the Utilities folder) and read the Help file for the simple step-by-step procedure. For system updates, do this both before and after you run them. For all else, run them after. Then click on the Verify Disk button in the same window to make sure there are no disk directory errors that could cause the updates to make your system break down.

There are more robust disk-repair programs that I use when trouble exists. I also like to clear out all caches as well. On most of your Macs I have installed AppleJack, a program that runs in the command line interface before startup. To use this, restart and hold down the Command and S keys. Release when black & white text appears on the screen. When you get a prompt (and text stops flowing), type the phrase "applejack auto reboot" without the quotes. Then hit returns. Five maintenance procedures run themselves without further input from you, and then restart your Mac.

Clear that Desktop

Slow startup? I have seen Macs with upwards of 40 items on the desktop. Files and folders must be loaded before the Finder can proceed, so if you are wondering why it takes so long to finish the startup, that may be why. Put all documents and folders into your Documents folder and leave all applications in the Applications folder. Aliases do not count at startup so you can make aliases of those files and folders you like having out on the Desktop for convenience's sake. I do training as well as repairs, so if you want to learn more about how to use aliases and other strategies to improve your Mac experience, contact me for a session.

If it's been a year or more since I've seen you, it's time for a general checkup. There are things that develop over time that require attention and, if not caught in time, can lead to you losing data. Two or three times a year I'm called out to fix a non-running Mac only to discover that it's so bad that it isn't recoverable any more. Everyone should be running an external hard drive that backs up at least once a day so you are protected in case this happens. LaCie is holding a sale right now on refurbished hard drives with fantastic prices. Never buy a drive that is USB-2.0 only unless you have a MacBook with no FireWire port. They simply don't work as well.