(Editor’s note: This article was written just before the announcement of Snow Leopard.)
When Apple released Mac OS X 10.1 in 2001, I ditched OS 9 and never looked back. With rare exceptions, if a program didn’t run on OS X, I didn’t use it. When Apple released 10.2 (Jaguar), 10.3 (Panther), and then 10.4 (Tiger), the first versions went on my Mac immediately. And I was in line right away when Leopard first went on sale last fall.
I know there will always be issues with the first version of a major OS upgrade, but I also know those issues will be resolved in time. The initial versions of Jaguar and Panther, for example, drove me crazy. But by the time Tiger rolled around, Apple seemed to have its quality-control act together. Sure, Tiger ultimately went to 10.4.11, but it rarely caused me headaches.
That has all changed with Leopard: five months of living with 10.5 has turned me into Mr. Crankypants.
The little things
It’s not that Leopard is all bad; there’s a lot about it to like. I couldn’t live without Quick Look, for example, one of the best little enhancements Apple has added to OS X in years. And Apple has fixed many of the issues that drove me crazy in the original release (such as the infamous translucent menu bar).
No, what bugs me is the lack of polish throughout Leopard. It has far too many small things that are broken, or that just get in my way daily. Three examples pop to mind:
Constant Requests for My Keychain Password Some people I talk with say they have never run into this problem; others say it happens all the time.
Safari Cookies Some sites remember me, while others—including some (Flickr, Twitter) that should know me well—require that I log in every time.
Print-Job List When my printer has a problem, I have to go to the Print & Fax preference pane and double-click on the printer there to open the job list. Why won’t the job list come up automatically when I select the printer background application? Why doesn’t this happen on my wife’s MacBook? (And why doesn’t the Auto Quit option in the printer’s menu on the Dock actually work?)
Those are just three relatively minor irritations. There are also entire features that don’t work right. Spaces, for example, works just enough to show me how powerful it could be. But it gets confused too often, and I had to turn it off altogether when I installed Microsoft Office 2008. (Office seems to believe that Spaces is evil and needs to be abolished; don’t get me started on Office 2008.)
The last straw
What really put me over the edge, though, was Back to My Mac. This feature theoretically lets you connect to your home Mac remotely. For months, it simply didn’t work. Period. I couldn’t find any average (that is, nontechnical) Mac user who had been able to use it successfully.
I went through the documentation on Apple’s site, as well as the to Apple support forums. I was even using exactly the same setup Apple describes in its Back to My Mac User Guide. But I still couldn’t get it to work. Then out of the blue, after months of frustration, it began to work for me. Nothing changed on my end. It simply started to work.
I could go on. The very morning I was writing this column, Mail decided it was going to quit every time I launched it. I spent almost an hour trying to fix the problem, going back and forth between two Macs, before I cleared it up. At least I was able to fix it. What will happen when my friend down the street, with her brand-new Mac mini, runs into that problem? She’s going to spend a lot more than an hour trying to figure it out, if she ever does figure it out.
If you talk with longtime Mac fans, or you wade into the discussion forums on Apple.com, you’ll know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. And it’s not like I’m running strange programs or hacks, either. Most of my work is in Microsoft Office, iLife, iWork, Adobe CS3, and Photoshop Elements.
OS X has been in steady development for nearly a decade. It should be getting better and more stable with age, not the other way around. By the time 10.5.7 or 10.5.8 rolls around, much of the pain that I’ve been feeling will likely go away. But considering all the time that elapsed between Tiger and Leopard, Apple should have done better. Generally, I think the company does a good job of developing and testing its hardware and software. With Leopard, though, Apple fell down on the job.
[Rick LePage is a former Macworld editor, and is the editor in chief of the Photoshop Elements Techniques newsletter. He also runs the photo printer site Printerville.net.]