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OS X 10.5.7 update: unsafe at any speed

Apple’s OS X 10.5.7 update is dangerously unpredictable. Although many Mac users have updated without incident, many others, including me, have had nothing but trouble.

Update: see OS X 10.5.7 overheats some Macs.

Apple’s OS X 10.5.7 update is dangerously unpredictable. Although many Mac users have updated without incident, many others have had nothing but trouble. Friends’ problems range from dead hard drives to frazzled MacBooks to freezes and beyond. In my case, the update destabilized both my home and office iMacs and the backup drives attached to them. Symptoms include:

  • Multiple applications freeze inexplicably. Force-quitting does not work. The only way to move forward is to hold the power button for several seconds until the machine is forced to shut down.
  • The Finder quits mysteriously and cannot restart.
  • In normal mode, restarts time out (forcing you to hold the power button and pray no data was damaged or lost).
  • In safe mode, restarts freeze (forcing you to hold the power button and pray no data was damaged or lost).
  • The machines cannot communicate reliably with attached hard drives. (Backups fail in mid-activity. Attached hard drives disconnect themselves. Attached hard drives cannot be unmounted for repairs. And so on.)
  • Lower-case letters replace capital letters when pasting copied text from one application to another. Yes, really.

These problems affected two iMacs and three connected hard drives by various manufacturers in two locations on separate networks. The only connecting thread is the OS X update.

Friends and readers have recommended various familiar techniques to “fix” the problem, but none of them have worked for me. The proposed fixes include:

Shut down everything. Disconnect printers, remove drives, iPod docks, and so on, from the iMac. Restart the iMac.
If a remote device or connection were at fault, this would reveal it. No such luck.
Restart in single Mode (hold down Control-S), type “fsck – fy” at the command line, and type “reboot” after repairs.
This is readily doable, but fixes nothing. There is nothing to repair. The computer in Single Mode indicates that the hard drive is fine.
Reboot from the install disks, run Disk Utility, and repair the internal hard drive.
Same deal: there is nothing to repair. The internal hard drive is fine, according to Disk Utility.
Run Disk Utility on attached back-up drives, and hit “Repair” until the attached drives are fixed.
There is nothing to repair on attached back-up drives, either (even though they fail). When it isn’t failing to operate because “it is impossible to unmount the drive,” Disk Utility reports that attached back-up drives are fully operational. Although Disk Utility finds nothing wrong with attached drives, they fail mid-way through back-up; thus it is impossible to back up work or home Macs, making it likely that I will lose work or data. Symptoms affect all attached drives, regardless of manufacturer and model.
Restart in Safe Mode and run the Combination Installer.
I’ve done that, too; it does not fix the problem. The update is either unstable in itself, or incompatible with the Mac’s own hardware (or with some very common third-party system addition).

And lots more stuff.

Twitter and the Apple forums contain the complaints of users whose computers have gone blooey after installing the update. Apple, of course, does not respond to these complaints.

At the moment, my options are:

  1. Put up with the freezes and quitting and the inability to back up my work, and trust that Apple will issue a system update soon that returns stability to my machines, and that I won’t lose work or data in the meantime. Or…
  2. Reinstall the original operating system from any installation disk. Run the combo updater. Test for two days to see if the system operates. Connect printers and backup drives. Test for two more days to see if all is well. Then painstakingly reinstall Photoshop, Illustrator, Office, and so on.

With one option, I’m continually frustrated and risk losing my work. With the other option, I lose four or five days reinstalling and testing operating systems, updates, and software.

I choose Apple’s products because they are elegant in every aspect of their design—especially the design of the user experience. Screw-ups like this update are the antithesis of the normal Apple user experience. While no one deliberately decided to make an unusable update, and while probably no one will die as a result, it’s still a very frustrating situation.

By L. Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek. Author, Designer, Founder. Employer Brand at Automattic. Publisher, & Ava’s dad. Pete’s brother (RIP). He/him.

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