It’s been years (or is it weeks?) since something odd, implausible, and inexplicable happened to one or more of my Apple computers that doesn’t happen to anyone else’s. You know you want to hear this.
So yesterday morning I’m in my hotel, finishing some work on my laptop before leaving for the airport, when MobileMe alerts me that in order to sync the bookmarks on my laptop, it will need to delete some and add some. I click OK. A few seconds later, I have no bookmarks in Safari.
That’s strange, but it’s a bit liberating, too. I feel lighter. That kink in my neck is gone.
Heck, I can re-create the few bookmarks I really need and do without the rest, right? (Besides, I imported my Safari bookmarks into Chrome a few weeks ago, and I sync Chrome bookmarks via Google, so the bookmarks aren’t really gone, they’re just gone from Safari.)
I re-create five or six bookmarks in my laptop’s Safari bookmarks bar, close my laptop, and fly home.
Here’s where it gets weird.
At home, after midnight, sleepless, jetlagged, I turn on my iMac. MobileMe wants to sync my bookmarks. It says it will delete quite a few of them and create a handful of new ones. There is no option to send my iMac’s bookmarks to MobileMe instead. There is no option not to sync. I can skip sync for now, but eventually I’ll have to sync, and that means I’ll have to let MobileMe wipe my many old Safari bookmarks off all my computers. No sense delaying the inevitable.
I click OK.
My old bookmarks are gone, but the new ones I created on my laptop have not been sync’d. I have no bookmarks.
I start re-creating them from scratch, and as I create them, they disappear.
I create a Flickr bookmark. It works. I create a zeldman.com admin bookmark. When I look up, the Flickr bookmark has disappeared. I create a Twitter bookmark. When I look up, the zeldman.com admin bookmark has disappeared. A moment later, the Twitter bookmark has disappeared.
I begin quitting Safari immediately after creating a bookmark (in order to force Safari to save it). This seems to work. When I re-start Safari, the bookmark I just created has been saved. I do this six times in order to create and save the few bookmarks I really need in order to work.
In the morning, my bookmarks bar is blank again. Overnight, all my bookmarks have disappeared.
It can’t be from syncing via MobileMe, because the computer should have gone to sleep as soon as the backup finished (and it was asleep when I woke up this morning).
At this point all I can figure is that Apple wants me to switch to Chrome.
Must-read analysis at Daring Fireball anatomizes the “war” between Flash and web standards as a matter of business strategy for companies, like Apple and Google, that build best-of-breed experiences atop lowest-common-denominator platforms such as the web:
It boils down to control. I’ve written several times that I believe Apple controls the entire source code to iPhone OS. (No one has disputed that.) There’s no bug Apple can’t try to fix on their own. No performance problem they can’t try to tackle. No one they need to wait for. That’s just not true for Mac OS X, where a component like Flash Player is controlled by Adobe.
I say what Apple cares about controlling is the implementation. That’s why they started the WebKit project. That’s why Apple employees from the WebKit team are leaders and major contributors of the HTML5 standards drive. The bottom line for Apple, at the executive level, is selling devices. … If Apple controls its own implementation, then no matter how popular the web gets as a platform, Apple will prosper so long as its implementation is superior.
Likewise with Google’s interest in the open web and HTML5. … So long as the web is open, Google’s success rests within its own control. And in the same way Apple is confident in its ability to deliver devices with best-of-breed browsing experiences, Google is confident in its ability to provide best-of-breed search results and relevant ads. In short, Google and Apple have found different ways to bet with the web, rather than against the web.
The first part of my post of 1 February was not an attack on Flash. It described a way of working with Flash that also supports users who don’t have access to Flash. I’ve followed and advocated that approach for 10 years. It has nothing to do with Apple’s recent decisions and everything to do with making content available to people and search engines.
My point was simply that if you’re an all-Flash shop that never creates a semantic HTML underpinning, it’s time to start creating HTML first—because an ever-larger number of your users are going to be accessing your site via devices that do not support Flash.
That’s not Apple “zealotry.” It’s not Flash hate. It’s a recommendation to my fellow professionals who aren’t already on the accessible, standards-based design train.
THE SECOND PART OF MY POST wasn’t Flash hate. It was a prediction based on the way computing is changing as more people at varying skill levels use computers and the internet, and as the nature of the computer changes.
There will probably always be “expert” computer systems for people like you and me who like to tinker and customize, just as there are still hundreds of thousands of people who hand-code their websites even though there are dozens of dead-simple web content publishing platforms out there these days.
But an increasing number of people will use simpler computers (just as we’ve seen millions of people blog who never wrote a line of HTML).
THE THIRD PART OF MY POST wasn’t Flash hate. It was an observation that Google and Apple, as companies, have more to gain from betting on HTML5 than from pinning their hopes to Adobe. That’s not a deep insight, it’s a statement of the obvious, and making the statement doesn’t equate to hating Adobe or swearing allegiance to Google and Apple—any more than stating that we’re having a cold winter makes me Al Gore’s best friend.
(Although I like Gore, don’t get me wrong. I also like Apple, Google, and Adobe. My admiration for these companies, however, does not impede my ability to make observations about them.)
THE THIRD PART OF MY POST ALSO WASN’T a blind assertion that HTML5, with VIDEO and CANVAS, is ready to replace Flash today, or more adept than Flash, or more accessible than Flash. Flash is currently more capable and it is far more accessible than CANVAS.
We have previously commented on HTML5’s strengths and weaknesses (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C) and are about to publish a book about HTML5 for web designers. HTML5 is rich with potential; Flash is rich with capability and can be made highly accessible.
That it is unstable on Mac and Linux is one reason Apple chose not to include it in its devices; that this omission will change the way some developers create web content is certain. If the first thing it does is encourage them to develop semantic HTML first, that’s a win for everyone who uses the web.
As the percentage of web users on non-Flash-capable platforms grows, developers who currently create Flash experiences with no fallbacks will have to rethink their strategy and start with the basics before adding a Flash layer. They will need to ensure that content and experience are delivered with or without Flash.
Developers always should have done this, but some don’t. For those who don’t, the growing percentage of users on non-Flash-capable platforms is a wake-up call to get the basics right first.
Flash won’t die tomorrow, but plug-in technology is on its way out.
Plug-in technology made sense when web browsing was the province of geeks. It was a brilliant solution to the question of how to extend the user experience beyond what HTML allowed. People who were used to extending their PC via third-party hardware, and jacking the capabilities of their operating system via third-party spell checkers, font managers, and more, intuitively grasped how to boost their browser’s prowess by downloading and updating plug-ins.
But tomorrow’s computing systems, heralded by the iPhone, are not for DIYers. You don’t add Default Folder or FontExplorer X Pro to your iPhone, you don’t choose your iPhone’s browser, and you don’t install plug-ins in your iPhone’s browser. This lack of extensibility may not please the Slashdot crowd but it’s the future of computing and browsing. The bulk of humanity doesn’t want a computing experience it can tinker with; it wants a computing experience that works.
HTML5, with its built-in support for video and audio, plays perfectly into this new model of computing and browsing; small wonder that Google and Apple’s browsers support these HTML5 features.
The power shifts
Google not only makes a browser, a phone, an OS, and Google Docs, it also owns a tremendous amount of video content that can be converted to play in HTML5, sans plug-in. Apple not only makes Macs, iPhones, and iPads, it is also among the largest retail distributors of video and audio content.
Over the weekend, a lot of people were doing the math, and there was panic at Adobe and schadenfreude elsewhere. Apple and Adobe invented modern publishing together in the 1980s, and they’ve been fighting like an old unmarried couple ever since, but Apple’s decision to omit Flash from the iPad isn’t about revenge, it’s about delivering a stable platform. And with HTML5 here, the tea leaves are easy to read. Developers who supplement Flash with HTML5 may soon tire of Flash—but Adobe has a brief but golden opportunity to create the tools with which rich HTML5 content is created. Let’s see if they figure that out.
When Apple chose KHTML rather than Mozilla Gecko as the basis for its Safari browser, some of us in the web standards community scratched our heads. Sure, KHTML, the rendering engine in Konqueror, was open-source and standards-compliant. But, at the time, Gecko’s standards support was more advanced, and Gecko-based Mozilla, Camino, and even Netscape 6 felt more like browsers than Konqueror. Gecko browsers had the features, the comparative maturity, and the support of the standards community. Apple’s adoption of KHTML, and creation of a forked version called Webkit, seemed puzzling and wrong.
Yet, thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit (Apple’s open source version of KHTML) in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. Had Apple chosen Gecko, they might not have been able to so powerfully influence mainstream consumer opinion, because the fully formed, distinctly mature Gecko brand and experience could easily have overshadowed and constrained Apple’s contribution. (Not to mention, tolerating external constraint is not a game Apple plays.)
Just how has mobile Safari, a relative latecomer to the world of standards-based browsing, been able to make a difference, and what difference has it made?
The platform paradox
Firefox and Opera were wonderful before any Webkit-based browser reached maturity, but Firefox and Opera were and are non-mainstream tastes. Most people use Windows without thinking much about it, and most Windows users open the browser that comes with their operating system, again without too much thought. This doesn’t make them dumb and us smart. We are interaction designers; they are not.
Thus, the paradox: even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a comparatively poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. If you knew enough to want Firefox and Opera, those browsers delivered features and experience that confirmed the wisdom of your choice. If you didn’t know to want them, you didn’t realize you were missing anything, because folks reading this page sweated like Egyptian pyramid builders to make sure you had a good experience despite your browser’s flaws.
The power to convert
Firefox and Opera are great browsers that have greatly advanced the cause of web standards, but because they are choices in a space where most people don’t make choices, their power to convert is necessarily somewhat truncated. The millions mostly don’t care what happens on their desktop. It’s mostly not in their control. They either don’t have a choice or don’t realize they have one, and their expectations have been systematically lowered by two decades of unexciting user experience.
By contrast, the iPhone functions in a hot realm where consumers do make choices, and where choices are badges. Of course many people are forced economically to choose the cheap or free phone that comes with their mobile service. But many others are in a position to select a device. And the iPhone is to today’s urban professional gym rat what cigarettes and martinis were to their 1950s predecessors. You and I may claim to choose a mobile device based on its features, but the upwardly mobile (pardon the pun), totally hot person standing next to us in the elevator may choose their phone the same way they choose their handbag. And now that the iPhone sells for $99, more people can afford to make a fashion decision about their phone—and they’ll do it.
Although there were great phones before the iPhone, and although the iPhone has its detractors, it is fair to say that we are now in a Mobile 2.0 phase where people expect more than a Lynx-like experience when they use their phone to access the internet. Mobile Safari in iPhone, along with the device’s superior text handling thanks to Apple and Adobe technologies, is changing perceptions about and expectations of the web in the same way social networking did, and just at the historical moment when social networking has gone totally mainstream.
Oprah’s on Twitter, your mom’s on Twitter, and they’re either using an iPhone or a recently vastly upgraded Palm or Blackberry that takes nearly all of its cues from the iPhone. Devices that copy the iPhone of course mostly end up selling the iPhone, the same way Bravo’s The Fashion Show would mostly make you miss Project Runway if you even watched The Fashion Show, which you probably haven’t.
Safari isn’t perfect, and Mobile Safari has bugs not evident in desktop Safari, but Webkit + Apple = secret sauce selling web standards to a new generation of consumers and developers.
Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
HTML 5: Nav Ambiguity Resolved. An e-mail from Chairman Hickson resolves an ambiguity in the nav element of HTML 5. What does that mean in English? Glad you asked! — 13 July 2009
In Defense of Web Developers: Pushing back against the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd’s using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely. — 7 July 2009
XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009
Robert Black was right. OS X 10.5.7 adversely affects the internal heat management of some iMacs (and apparently also some MacBooks), causing the machines to overheat. Overheating, in turn, leads to such problems as freezes during iCal sync; freezes during iTunes sync; and the inability of attached hard drives to complete a backup.
I confirmed this by installing smcFanControl and watching my Mac get hotter and hotter as it tried to complete a SuperDuper backup. Disk Utility confirmed nothing was wrong with the attached drive. Swapping cables proved a faulty cable was not to blame for previous failed backups. Maddeningly, the backup got within 4GB of completion before locking up due to the overheating of my iMac.
Since even running smcFanControl at settings recommended by Robert Black and others doesn’t cool the iMac enough to finish a backup or verify the quality of the attached drives, it may not make sense to replace my external hard drives (as new drives will likely also fail as the iMac overheats during backup).
With smcFanControl in place, I can use my iMacs but not back them up.
Apple needs to release an update that fixes the hardware problems this one created.
(And someone else needs to install it before I do.)
Fellow Mac users, let’s see if we can isolate the triggers of the OS X 10.5.7 blues. If we learn the cause, others may know whether it’s safe for them to update, and we may provide Apple’s engineers with a clue on how to fix the problem in a subsequent update.
Theory 1: Migration Assistant
My affected iMacs have systems that were migrated. That is, when I bought the machines in December 2007, after running them for a while as-is to ensure that they worked properly, I ran Migration Assistant to bring over applications, preferences, network settings, and so on from my previous work machine (a non-Intel white powerbook).
Theory: Possibly OS X 10.5.7 update becomes unstable in the presence of a leftover something migrated from an older system.
Test: If you’re suffering from the 10.5.7 blues, did you run Migration Assistant on the afflicted machine? Did you migrate from a non-Intel machine?
Theory 2: Third-Party Stuff
When something goes wrong with a Macintosh update, a third-party add-on is often the trigger. Here are the add-ons on my sufferin’ iMacs:
Items marked “removed!” were my initial suspects. After the update, iTunes froze on sync. I reckoned the iLike plug-in was to blame, and after removing it, was able to sync again for a while.
Then the Mac froze during an iCal sync, so I removed MenuCalendarClock.
But removing these little guys didn’t fix anything. Soon enough, even without these add-ons, the Macs were freezing during iTunes sync and during MobileMe iCal sync. Eventually they froze on any app, doing anything. (Only to inexplicably resume normal operation again for hours at a time. But enough of this.)
And you? If your Mac is misbehaving after running OS X 10.5.7 update, are any of these add-ons on the machine?
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:
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…
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.
Even if your computer craps out, there’s no reason to lose your work. Rated five stars on VersionTracker, SuperDuper! is the dead-simplest and most reliable backup program for Macintosh I know. With a click, it makes a fully bootable backup of your hard drive. If disaster strikes your data, or if someone steals your laptop, you can boot and restore from the cloned drive.
SuperDuper runs on Intel and Power PC Macs, and is compatible with Time Machine under Leopard. Download and use it forever for free, or buy for US $27.95 to unlock scheduling and Smart Update. (Smart Update copies only the data that has changed since your last backup, enabling you to backup your hard drive in minutes instead of hours. Which means you’ll actually get into the habit of running the backup program every day. Which means you’ll never lose your work. Best $27.95 you’ll ever spend.)
Update Jun 3, 2009
Ironically enough, this morning, a routine backup failed. SuperDuper immediately presented me with a simple “report the problem” form that included a log of everything that had happened on my system. I filled out the form and hit SEND. Within 30 minutes, I had an email from Shirt Pocket Support diagnosing the problem:
It looks like your destination volume failed during the backup. Here’s some stuff from your system log that shows the error in progress: [etc.]
There were also simple instructions on how to test (and possibly fix) my backup drive.
There was even a note about some scripting additions carried over via migration that were likely no longer working on my Intel Mac.
This is unbelievable service.
To anyone who thinks this is a paid ad, don’t be silly (or insulting). I really love this product and this company. You will, too.
[tags]superduper, backup, program, mac, macintosh, osx, os x, apple[/tags]
What can I say? I’m a sucker for the gentle touch of a make-up pad. Or of anything, really. I love this photo (shot by Byrne with my iPhone) because it captures the fact that I’m still really a four-year-old. It also shows what a genuine photographer can do with even the humblest of tools.
Early tomorrow, I leave for San Francisco. Headed into my laptop bag, along with my MacBook, are…
An iPod Classic containing 8624 “songs” (I like music) and 46 “movies.” Sample titles: A Mighty Wind, A Night at the Opera, Helvetica, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Lost in Translation, North by Northwest, Rushmore, Spirited Away, Stardust Memories, Stranger Than Paradise, Swing Time. The iPod also provides two days of interstitial music for the conference.
Power and stage adapters for all gear.
The latest issue of Macworld.
One or more novels (haven’t decided which; I always travel with at least one great book I’ve read before, and it’s always a new experience).
In my carry-on bag, in place of the usual dress shoes and gym shoes, I’m packing Crocs. It’s not my normal travel or presentation attire, but my foot (although much better) is still a bit out of whack, and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
See some of you in San Francisco and the rest of you here and there.