Is Apple's Leopard still in beta?

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard may look pretty - but is it too buggy to use?

Even a casual glance across the Mac web in the last few days will reveal a litany of problems faced by users upgrading to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

Problems range from application crashes to login problems, lost data and even a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) - something normally only found in the Windows world.

Of course, any update to a new operating system is fraught with problems - just ask old Mac System 7 users, or Windows Vista users come to that. It's becoming increasingly apparent though that Leopard is causing more than its fair share of problems.

The main issues so far are:

FileVault faults

With Leopard, Apple has introduced a new version of FileVault - the 128-bit file encryption system for Mac OS X. Users of the previous version on Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger have experienced problems when they install Leopard over the top of the old OS.

Apple recommends that you turn off FileVault before you upgrade, but it can take a long time and isn't always practical. Turning off FileVault actually creates an unencrypted duplicate account that you may not have physical space on your hard drive for.

FileVault also doesn't play nicely with Time Machine, Apple's automated back-up program. To back-up a FileVault account you'll have to create an unencrypted account and then log into that to create a Time Machine archive.

Blue Screen Of Death

Thousands of Mac users have experienced an uncharacteristic Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) when installing Leopard on top of Tiger. Essentially Leopard asks you to reboot once installation is complete, and then your Mac just sits there with the blue logout screen until you force it to reboot. We experienced this for ourselves on our Power Mac G5 install last Friday.

Apple says the problem is caused by 'haxies' - third-party system hacks such as Application Enhancer. Haxie developer Unsanity has in turn hit back at Apple. None of Unsanity's hacks currently work under Leopard. This may be a problem for owners of Logitech mice - Logitech uses Unsanity hacks for Mac OS X installation.

The BSOD problem is so serious, Apple has actually issued a support document on it.

Crashes, performance issues

While many Leopard users are apparently sailing along with no problems at all, others are experiencing problems of nightmare proportions. We have some sympathy with that.

To give you one example, Derrick on the MacObserver forums complains: "I am having no fun so far... my PowerMac G5 Dual 2.0 now crashes repeatedly, drives do not mount... cannot shut down without powering off."

Many of these issues can be resolved by doing a clean install with a fresh batch of system preferences and, of course, by repairing file permissions in Disk Utility. But even that doesn't work for some.

User account problems

Peter D Cox on Apple's Discussion Forums believes some of the problems may be user account related:

"I have flagged a number of issues here: Firefox killed, Notes desktop hanging, Finder crashes, filesyncagent doesn't load, Word doesn't work. Have tried all suggestions including permissions fix, re-installing with archive etc etc. In despair more than inspiration I thought I'd try another user (in this case an admin one) and guess what? No problems."

We've certainly experienced a number of issues with both upgrades and clean installs on both our Power Mac G5 Dual 2.0GHZ desktop and Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro desktop. Some of these are undoubtedly due to non-Leopard compatible applications, but Peter D Cox is right too - we've experienced exactly the kinds of behaviour he writes about. But there's worse. Leopard has now totally hosed two of our user accounts. Find out how in FileVault on Leopard: A Cautionary Tale.

We love you Tiger!

Some Mac users are even beginning to think the unthinkable - to revert back to a previous version of Mac OS X. Some Mac watchers suspect that Apple rushed Leopard out early to hit an arbitrary deadline (the end of October) and haven't fully squashed the many bugs that stopped it from being released in its original time frame of April.

Others argue that the rush to launch actually meant that developers didn't see the final Gold Master version before it shipped, and so weren't able to test compatibility with their apps.

Leopard could now be biting on Apple. It's certainly doing that to many Mac users. As MacObserver forum poster Omacvi writes:

"I truly believe that Apple released this OS too early. I now know and understand what they meant when they delayed it back in April. They have done so much work in the background that it will need extra time to fully fix the bugs. I don't recall reading so many forums with so many issues. I think Apple dropped the ball a little on this OS."

We certainly have never experienced so many problems with a Mac OS X update before - from Cheetah in 2001 to Tiger in 2005, all our upgrades were undogged by the kind of basic problems we're experiencing now. Is Leopard still in beta? It's starting to look like it.