How to Avoid or Minimize Apple Update Woes


caution_updateQuite a few folks are reporting problems in getting the Mac (s appl) OS X 10.5.7 Update installed and working properly on their officially supported Macs, while “hackintosh” netbook users are finding they’re getting dramatically improved battery runtime with 10.5.7 — one of those ironies.

I’m still waiting to see how the dust settles, and also looking for a time window to drive to my “local” (24 miles round-trip) library’s Wi-Fi hotspot and cool my heels for a couple of hours while the 729 MB OS 10.5.7 standalone Combo Updater downloads over their none-too-speedy wireless LAN. In the meantime, OS 10.5.6 is giving me nothing in particular to complain about on either my Intel unibody MacBook or my 17″ G4 PowerBook, so there’s no compelling reason to be in a tear about updating.

“Belt & Suspenders”

I have never allowed Software Update to upgrade an OS install on any of my computers. It’s a moot point anyway on my glacial-drift-slow home dial-up connection, but I wouldn’t be inclined to let something as crucial and potentially problematical as an OS update run in the background even over the fastest broadband connection. I keep Software Update turned off.

I know millions do take the SU route without experiencing difficulties. But there are also those who will encounter contretemps like stalled installers, blue screens, and a variety of post-upgrade issues of the sort that get reported on MacFixIt, MacInTouch and other forums, including Apple’s, after every OS upgrade or security patch release. MacFixIt has flatly stated that “Apple’s Software Update, as presently implemented, is inherently dangerous.” On the other hand, over the course of dozens of OS X installs, upgrades and updates since OS 10.1 on my machines, I’ve never experienced a serious problem, and I attribute that, at least in part, to my “belt & suspenders” approach to updating.

That said, I’m less obsessive than I used to be about preparation. I used to do disk optimizations, or even defragment using AlSoft’s highly regarded Disk Warrior utility before running major system upgrades, but I haven’t been doing that for the past couple of years, and so far so good. With today’s larger hard drive capacities, the time investment involved in that sort of disk maintenance has become more prohibitive.

Maintenance and Backup

Before updating the OS, I do at least bring my Time Machine backup up to date (easy, and something we should all keep current anyway) and run a suite of system cleaning and maintenance routines — Repair Permissions, cron scripts, dump various caches, and so forth with my favorite system maintenance app, OnyX. I don’t believe the world would necessarily come crashing down around my ears if I skipped these preparations, but I like to proceed with things in an orderly and unhurried fashion if possible.

Maybe I would have done just as well using Software Update, but the thing about precautionary principles is that you take pre-emptive action before there is a problem so you don’t have to spend more time fixing one later. If all goes well, as it has for me till now taking this tack, at least one has done no harm.

You could argue that most of the time, running system and disk maintenance software is an act of faith, with no tangible evidence to indicate that it’s doing anything at all. But sometimes it does fix obvious problems, which suggests that stuff can also go wrong “under the hood” without any notable symptoms. Whenever I do find the time to run Disk Warrior, it almost invariably finds directory damage and files that need repair.

Common Sense Prudence

I also prefer to use the Combo updater if I’m not absolutely pressed for time on the download, which is the mode MacFixIt and other experts recommend. The standalone installer is especially useful if you have multiple computers to update and only want to download the software once. The full Combo standalone update is a more fail-safe and superior alternative to the incremental version offered by SU.

I think it’s simply common sense prudence to at least minimize use of the computer during OS updates. If one has the time (I concede that I usually don’t do this) it’s a good idea to boot the Mac into Safe Boot Mode (hold down the Shift key during a reboot) before running the installer. Be aware that starting up in Safe Mode takes a long time because it runs a media scan during the boot process, so be prepared to wait about five minutes or so before the login screen appears, which it will even if you have automatic login configured.

Happy Medium?

Is there a happy medium to be struck between “What, me worry?” and obsessive compulsive take? Neither approach is necessarily “wrong.” It really depends on your comfort level with risk, and to some degree, on the amount of time you can invest in running upgrades. However, a failed upgrade will usually burn a lot more time than an ounce of preparation.

What’s your preferred OS upgrade/update approach? Do you rush right in, hang back and take it slow, or use multiple strategies for different machines?


mike sanders

I dive straight in even if the update reminder comes in the middle of me doing something else, I just have to have it right now. Touch wood I have to date (since my first mac in 1988) never had a problem, sometimes quirky behaviour but this is usually resolved by a very firm talking to and a disc permissions repair which is something I would strongly recommend after any update or upgrade of any kind (the repair permissions that is).

Charles Moore

Thanks for the comments all whether you agreed or not.

“why do you need the Combo package to go from 10.5.6 to 10.5.7?”

Strictly speaking, you don’t, and as I noted I sometimes use the Delta updater if pressed for time, and have never experienced any problem.

However, as someone else noted, “if someone applies a delta update like 10.5.7 without having previously installed security updates, it can lead to problems,”and as I keep Software Update turned off (self defense when you’re stuck with dialup) and rarely bother downloading the security updates between numbered releases, the Combo has all the bases covered.

Bill Burkholder has a good formula if you are using Software Update.


Brian M

the “blue screen” he’s talking about is after the core OS loads, and before the user loads, the screen will go blue for a second or so normally, but if something goes wrong with the system, or the user folder, it can either stick at a single blue background, or cycle between two slightly different blue backgrounds, with nothing else showing up.

I always download the combo updater… but thats mostly because I update several macs at once, and being a mac service tech, will need it at work as well. When I update other peoples macs, I backup, (usually scan for filesystem & drive surface scan), apply the combo updater, and things usually go just fine, but I’m also getting systems of unknown history, so I’m extra cautious. On my own machines the main update is still combo updater, but all other software updates are done through the Software Update system.

Bill Burkholder

Well, I’m also in the “always use Software Update and never have a problem” camp. I’ve been doing that since way back in the earliest days of the feature, pre-OS X. BUT:

YES, I back up my system drive before updating. YES, I then shut down and unplug everything but my network connection. YES, I run Disk Utility from the OS X installation DVD and then reboot before doing the update. NO, I don’t run any other software while doing the update. NO, I never use “warez” or illegally-obtained software. And absolutely YES, I run Disk Utility after the upgrade, to fix all the disc permissions that seem to need fixing after a software installation of any kind.

I have ten-year-old G4 AGP 450 towers and a G5 at home on Tiger, a G4-17-inch PowerBook 1.67 on Tiger here in the office, and my main machine is a MacBookPro (Early 2008) 2.6 GHz running Leopard. Again, I’ve been able to update all of them successfully with Software Update when needed.

To the guy in #3 who claims “blue screens” are exclusive to Windows PCs: Occasionally, during a software update, you WILL get a blue screen. But it is not (usually) a blue screen of death (BSOD). It is a “Please be extremely patient and go away while I think” sort of blue screen. I’ve left these overnight, on occasion, and come back to a fully functional Mac.

I do remember one time when I got a blue screen on a G4 that wouldn’t go away after 9-10 hours of waiting. I held the power button down, restarted, and all was well after a lengthy restart.

James Bailey

I hate this kind of advice. Making what is normally a pretty simple process into something difficult and intimidating causes more trouble than in solves.

Make a backup, do the software update install. Done.

In the vast majority of cases this will work perfectly. In a few cases, something will go wrong. All the voodoo in the world won’t prevent a few cases where things don’t go smoothly.

The last thing you want to do is scare people into not doing system updates. Far more problems are going to be encountered with outdated system software than with the updates themselves.


I’m in the ‘always use Software Update and have never had a problem’ camp. I’m also in the ‘make a SuperDuper copy of my hard disk before any System Update’ camp. My version of belt-and-suspenders, I guess.


“while “hackintosh” netbook users are finding they’re getting dramatically improved battery runtime with 10.5.7 — one of those ironies.”

All the more ironic as it happened to two people and the comunity is now analyzing what’s the x-factor…

In other words, everyone is reporting something wrong and nobody updates. That’s no big deal, it’s not as if Google cached it…


“…while the 729 MB OS 10.5.7 standalone Combo Updater downloads over their none-too-speedy wireless LAN. In the meantime, OS 10.5.6 is giving me nothing in particular to complain about…”

I don’t understand – why do you need the Combo package to go from 10.5.6 to 10.5.7? I thought they were only needed when you were jumping up more than one version?

Kris Jones

“MacFixIt has flatly stated that “Apple’s Software Update, as presently implemented, is inherently dangerous.”

It’s somewhat daft to quote a MacFixit April 2007 article in relation to Leopard. System updates for Leopard don’t install while users are logged in. Once the download is complete the user is asked to restart. This logs all users out of the system and the update then begins installation and then the machine restarts. The same is true for other updates that contain critical system components such as security updates.

Unless one has more than one machine to maintain, there is no inherent reason to prefer stand-alone installers over Software Update. Indeed, relying on stand-alone installers in preference to Software Update can be a source of problems. For example, if someone applies a delta update like 10.5.7 without having previously installed security updates, it can lead to problems. In that event a user may have to resort to the Combo updater in order to overcome the issue. The best way to ensure one has all necessary updates is to run Software Update. It will read the package receipt files on a system and then determine what updates are necessary. For most users, that is safer.

MacFixit is a very useful resource. However, it relies on its users to report issues and possible solutions. Inevitably it cannot access problematic machines and diagnose problems itself. Users may encounter problems with updates for a variety of reasons – including the presence of third-party software, failure to have applied previous updates, corrupted disks, faulty peripherals, etc. Sometimes applying software updates can bring undiagnosed problems, like disk corruption, to the fore. Because of these complications, MacFixit has come up with a “one-size-fits-all” routine that it recommends users follow to minimise problems when installing updates. Most of what it recommends is unnecessary and the majority of Mac users will encounter no problems with updates. Unfortunately, MacFixit’s advice seems to have led to superstitious attitudes, such as it being better to apply a combo updater rather than relying on Software Update.

Personally, the only thing I’d recommend aside from having a backup (a Time Machine backup is more than adequate) is that people use Disk Utility to verify their disk before applying updates.


I have used software update (in the background and while working no-less) since 10.2 on many Macs, including a Mac Pro, mac mini, powerbooks, and iMacs and have NEVER had a single problem updating. The one thing I do which I believe is why I never have a problem is the OS X user I login with on all my Macs does not have admin privs. Even if you are the only user of your Mac you should have one account that is your normal every day user that does not have admin privs and another account that is not normally logged in to but has admin privs. I have probably done hundreds of OS updates between all the versions and Macs this way without a single update problem.


Diskwarrior does not defragment the hard drive. For MacFixIt to say 10.5.7 is dangerous is idiotic. I have never had an issue with an OS X update. I do run Onyx and Disk Warrior regularly though and unplug everything when I update.


Are you an idiot? “blue screens”? There is no blue screen of death on the Mac. Sure, it can freeze, but any capable computer user knows the the blue screen is a Windows crash.


Thomas Traub

Having switched (back) to Mac last summer I kept my XP habitudes on my two machines: Leave it on automatic and check what I install. I assume that it works, otherwise I’ll give my dealer a hard time. I keep a clean system with legal, up to date copies and would not have too much tolerance for problems. Got a Time Capsule and all important stuff is under version control.

Alex V

I’ve only been a mac user for a short time, and have only experienced two such upgrades. For 10.5.5 to 10.5.6 I was new and was unaware of the combo update, so used the normal software update, and had no problems.

Then second time round I had learned of the supposed benefits of the combo updater, so used that. My mac got stuck on the blue screen for ages, eventually meaning I had to force shut it down with the power button. fortunately after that it installed fine, but it just goes to show that no method is foolproof…

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