Leopard’s shortcomings

Update: 12 October 2009 Okay, this post is pulling a ridiculous amount of traffic, and obviously for the wrong reasons, so I am retitling it.

Update: 3 September 2009 [Snow Leopard’s arrival] Dear visitors, please note that this post is not about how to downgrade from Snow Leopard, or Leopard, to previous versions of OS X. I mention this, as Snow Leopard’s release, interestingly, has brought to this post many people searching on “Leopard downgrade”, and related terms. For the record, since writing the original post, I have upgraded to a Macbook, an environment in which Leopard seems to function rather better. Given what I’ve read about Snow Leopard, I expect to wait for 10.6.2 before upgrading.

Original post commences: Given all the buzz (to put it mildly) around Mac OS X Leopard, I was quite looking forward to the “upgrade”. I obviously had not taken into account the reality distortion zone that surrounds all things Apple.

Used to be the world\'s best operating system
Used to be the world’s best operating system

Now, as Leopard has soured for me, the extent of that distortion zone has become clearer: bloody hell, it’s vast. I’ve compiled a list of problems in Leopard over a few weeks, as things irritated me — and the list just kept growing. At the same, I’ve started working on another Mac still running Tiger at work — and haven’t missed Leopard for one moment.

Leopard’s ghastly melanoma-like spots:

  • It killed my G4 iBook’s battery — and I’m not the only one. Apple replaced it, though out of warranty: thank you, Apple. Polite and pleasant, you weren’t, mostly, but you did replace it.
    One gets the distinct impression that Apple has never assessed the service provided by its representatives in Africa, much less the apparent price fixing.
  • Apple simply removed the wonderful Bluetooth SMS functionality from Addressbook. Words fail me. One does not upgrade software in order to have features removed.
  • Having a reliable wifi connection has become nightmarish. I’ll shut down and reboot many times, without problems, and reconnect automatically. Then suddenly, one day, my login password won’t be recognised, no matter how many times I type in exactly the correct password. “Invalid password, invalid password, invalid password.” Only rebooting the router and Mac, or playing with the router settings manages to fix it. I now read that New York schools are refusing to install Leopard until Apple fixes this issue.
  • Killing troublesome apps is slower than before: for the first time since I started using Macs, I have apps refusing to respond to command-apple-esc, freezing up my machine for a couple of minutes before finaly letting go. How wonderful that Leopard can make me feel I’m using Windows, without having Bootcamp (still being on a PPC machine).
  • Many of the new icons are far less distinctive than before. I open finder windows, and what were clearly distinguishable icons in Tiger are replaced by indistinguishable grey blobs as I watch. It’s like seeing the grey goo scenario for nanotech in action.
  • Preview has some useful added functionality: but the new annotation features are almost unusable. The previously very useful ability to add “stickies” as annotations, and save as a conventional PDF has been banished in favour of functions that are completely put to shame by the likes of Skim.
  • Safari still can’t render its left margins properly, so the text on many sites is jammed almost unreadably right up against the edge of the window — no such problem in Firefox.
  • And why the hell is Safari STILL not compatible with some websites? How can it be “the fastest browser” when often one’s forced to take time out to launch Firefox? (When the Mac version of Firefox de-uglifies itself and integrates with Mail — I’m always using Apple-I, and shift-Apple-I in Safari — I’ll probably switch.)
  • The much-vaunted Stacks feature was next to useless;
  • The Finder is shoddy and inconsistent: eg., if I clear my desktop using Expose, and then click on a file on the desktop, focus remains with the app I’ve been using, rather than returning to the Finder. This means manipulating desktop files is incredibly frustrating, and Expose is rendered useless. It’s so simple, Apple. When Expose clears the desktop, give focus to the Finder; when the desktop is re-populated, return focus to the last app in use.
  • There’s now an annoying little tic where, having double clicked a file name to rename it, it suddenly reverts itself to being highlighted. And when you do rename a file on the desktop, it often bounces around like a crazed kid with ritalin withdrawal before settling down.
  • That Starfield desktop is hideous. Just see that, and you know some Windows ME mole has crawled up the Apple orifice and set about making things ugly and unusable. Yes, I know, the Starfield is easy to replace, and I’ve done so. But the shabbiness of the thought behind it was extended when it was chosen as a desktop icon. Given that most people change their desktop images, this decision makes no sense at all, unless the icon changes as well.
  • Arbitrary changes of established icons. Why is the Applications icon in the Dock now dressed with the Address book icon? More than once, I’ve clicked on it thinking it was the Address Book. This change makes even less sense when you see that elsewhere in Finder, the applications icon is the same as before.
  • Speaking of icons, how much sense does it make to take what were unmistakably different icons, and reduce them all to blue uniformity — yet change them when they become bookmarks in the leftmost column of the finder? Why does the Finder icon in the dock no longer open a window when one clicks on it?
  • Safari: again, this demonstrates how Apple is losing its mastery of the small things. Because, bizarrely, active windows are darker than non-active windows in Leopard, Safari goes dark grey when active. Personally, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I find it rather difficult to read black text on dark grey. Three years ago, this kind of foolishness would have been inconceivable. Web clips? Lovely idea, but they don’t work very well. Invariably, some weirdness creeps in after a few days, and they have to be trashed.
  • And good old-fashioned icon previews? Used to work, but no longer. Some icons become previews, and some just don’t, in my experience. No predicting when and how you’ll be blessed with a preview of image or video clip. And the same applies in coverflow. Sometimes you just sit there gazing at a empty frame, waiting in vain for it to fill itself. Perhaps yesterday those files revealed themselves, but today, like moody strippers, they give nothing.
  • That plus button on the top left corner of every window, usually green, continues to be utterly useless. Supposed to optimise the shape of a window for its current content, it manages this task perhaps one time in twenty. Most former Window users, one suspects, continue to click it in vain, hoping it will at least do something simple and potentially useful, like maximising the window for the screen.
  • Software update now downloads programs in the background by default, and without notice, taking a dodgy page from the Microsoft book. Now that may be fine for people for whom data is cheap, but those without access to cheap data (here in South Africa, for example) would like to know when things are to be downloaded, and plan our data consumption. Yes, there’s an option to preview downloads, but in my experience it unselects itself.
  • And on the subject of unwanted downloads, the Help function as always insists on checking the net as well, without asking. Help is abominably slow, and has been through every iteration of OS X.
  • Spotlight? I honestly can’t tell the difference between 10.4.11 and 10.5.2. But the more I use it, the slower it gets.
  • Time Machine? It’s an app; get the darn Finder right first. But since you ask, it’s constantly throwing up errors, in my experience, and not nearly as intuitive as all the reviews suggested.
  • Many of my MP4s no longer play video — sound only.
  • Shutdown now takes much longer than in Tiger.
  • To Dos in Mail? Bizarrely, mine have at times turned up as tooltips in Word. This is so weird I couldn’t even manage to be irritated by it.

So … if someone actually reads this, and if that someone is a scornful power user, do not trouble to comment. No doubt, you will be able to offer workarounds and elaborate rationales — all of which are irrelevant to someone who just, without fuss, wants his Mac to work as well as it did running Tiger (which I’d reinstall, were it not for the time and bother involved).

One gets the feeling that either some key people left Apple during the Leopard development process, or that new people with rather less clarity of thought arrived and starting weighing in more heavily than they should. Or the marketing people took over. In back offices at Apple, the older generation of developers sit with head in hands, gazing in despair at their mutilated baby? When the development cycle is driven by the marketing cycle, and not vice versa, then we’re all f—ed. Well, some of us are.

Was Jobs so caught up with iEverythingelse that he lost track of the Leopard ball?

Maybe Apple will fix some of these things, eventually, but they’re unlikely to do so before 10.6, when their pride will allow them to present such improvements as evolved features rather than as fixes.

The faithful will not see it, but this is clearly a company that’s losing it again. In years to come, once the cult-of-Mac hysteria round Leopard subsides, Tiger will probably come to be seen as the best OS ever. Meantime, I’m bracing myself for a shift to Ubuntu in a couple of years time, when we might both be ready for each other.

But, granted, Leopard’s still better than a Windows PC. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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4 Responses to Leopard’s shortcomings

  1. Alex Betts says:

    Right on. I’ve too have been massively disappointed with Leopard, particularly the speed and stability issues – really very poor. I will be going through the tedious business of “downgrading” to Tiger when i can figure out how to do it safely. I’ve been particularly surprised by this poor OS as a long time mac user: in fairness, this is the first OS upgrade that’s taken things so clearly in the wrong direction. Admittedly the original OS X had some serious teething problems, but that was an altogether more ambitious step. These issues – and as you say, Leopard is riddled with them – are really inexcusable. The egregious stability issues, especially, after the dreamlike reliability of Tiger, are appalling. I guess we can only hope that the powers that be have noticed, and mistakes will be fixed and not made again. It sounds like this may be the case with the talk of a “no new features” Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard. Fingers crossed. Sadly i think they’ll now be quite a few of us who will be very skeptical about buying future “upgrades” from Apple.

  2. Greg says:

    I am in the process of downgrading right now (transferring all 200GB of my data to an external HD as we speak). I really like Leopard, but it is just unusable on my iMac! I can seriously get Windows XP to boot up quicker than Leopard does. The feature list of Leopard looks so much better than in reality. I don’t mind change but Apple has really screwed up a lot of things with this release. For instance, I love the new Finder, although I hate how the Finder windows are freakishly small by default. I loathe the new Spotlight, so much so that I only use it if I absolutely have to. Then there’s all the software. Some new versions of apps are great, like Mail and Preview, but others have some major annoyances. Take iPhoto, Apple finally added a touch up feature to it but what’s with all the “Events?” I don’t organize my photos by events, so it’s annoying having tons of dates listed in the left pane of iPhoto and they have no relevance. Then there’s the pointless option in Safari of being able to add webpages to Dashboard, and let’s not forget the “green screen” feature of Photo Booth! I though making half baked, clunky products was Microsoft’s job.

  3. Pingback: Recurring events in Leopard iCal that refuse to be deleted « Leaves caution behind

  4. Pingback: Is Snow Leopard a train smash? « Leaves caution behind

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