Snow Leopard: This Cat Has Fleas

130 Comments

After nearly a year in release, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard still seems be a work in progress.

I keep trying to upgrade to Snow Leopard, but always end up back with Leopard. I have both operating systems installed, using separate partitions of my MacBook’s hard drive, and keep thanking myself that I didn’t cut the umbilical cord to Leopard when I installed Snow Leopard late at OS 10.6.3.

My procrastination about installing Snow Leopard had much to do with there being no really “gotta have it” new features in 10.6, but I’ve discovered that there are lots of small tweaks that I like and appreciate using. Unfortunately, it’s just been too buggy to make it worth my time.

The Bugs

Even at OS 10.6.4, Snow Leopard is still as buggy as a flophouse mattress. Here are some of the issues I (and others) have encountered.

Spaces support keeps crapping out, taking keyboard response with it, requiring endless Dock quits and reboots in order to get things working again. See here, here, here, here and here for examples, discussions, and workarounds pertaining to this bug. Less monotonously aggravating, but occurring frequently enough to be tedious, I’ve found that keyboard input also sometimes dies randomly independent of the Spaces issue, and in those instances doesn’t respond to quitting and restarting the Dock. I’m left with just the trackpad or mouse to shut things down in a reasonably civilized manner and reboot the system.

My MacBook will randomly wake up from sleep unbidden in Snow Leopard. More discussion of this bug here and here.

The Heat

Adding insult to injury, my MacBook (2.0 GHz, 4 GB RAM) runs some 15° to 20°C hotter in Snow Leopard than it does in Leopard, with the same suite of applications in play. I absolutely hate fan noise, but it’s nearly constant background accompaniment in Snow Leopard. And I thought OS X .6 was supposed to be leaner and more efficient, imposing lower overhead demands on hardware? Discussion links here and here.

I can only tolerate three or four days of this before losing my patience and booting back into the serenity and stability of Leopard space. I guess I should be thankful that Leopard continues to do such a fine job, and I am, but the problem is that more and more applications are requiring 10.6 and later for their latest updates. MacSpeech Scribe, for instance, requires OS 10.6. The proverbial writing is on the wall.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that an OS 10.6.5 update  will squash some of this bugginess, but I have to say that it’s not a very lively hope, given that the problems cited here were evident in OS 10.6.0, and four revisions later they’re still with us.

And yes, I don’t doubt that there are lots of users out there getting excellent service from Snow Leopard. I’m happy for them, but that hasn’t been my experience with this cat species, nor the experience of others who echo my complaints. Leopard, and Tiger before it, are proof that Apple can do better.

What about you? Nearly a year later, what has your experience with Snow Leopard been?

130 Comments

Joe Bloggs

My biggest complaint with Snow Leopard is that I suffer from micro-beachballing. Ie. often when performing an action eg. opening a new tab in Safari I am left with the beachball of doom for 1 or 2 seconds. These types of actions shouldn’t evoke a beachball on this config (4gb ram early 2009 imac)!!!! And to add insult to injury I recently installed Windows 7 in Bootcamp and it runs WAY smoother than Snow Leopard and feels FAR more responsive…. I almost cried when I realised this, but IT IS A BETTER OS THAN SNOW LEOPARD! The shame, the shame……….

Oh and every iteration of Adobe Creative Suite on the mac is less stable and more frustrating than it’s predecessor, whereas they seem to be winning on Windows. :-(

Hamranhansenhansen

The beach ball has nothing to do with your hardware configuration, it just means the app is busy doing something and can’t respond to you at that moment. It’s not the system that puts up the beach ball, it’s the app.

A fresh Windows does feel snappy, but not for long. Windows 7 has viruses and can’t be used reliably on the Internet or for online banking, so you will have to give over 20% of your CPU to a scanner and even then you will have 2-3 days of downtime 2-3 times per year.

The Adobe apps are getting worse on Windows, too. The grass over there is not as green as you think it is.

Zoran

No problems here. Installed it the week it was released on all machines at home (MP, mini server and MBP), extremely stable. MP and mini server are always on, I don’t reboot them except for updates…

vondur

I’m thinking you have some hardware issues. I have seen none of these issues and I support close to 100 mac users. If a clean install does not fix your issues, maybe switch RAM or check your hard disk. I have seen some Macbook Pro’s wake from sleep when being moved without having the case open, but usually the cases were dinged up.

Charles W. Moore

Hello;

Thanks to everyone who commented, including the sarcastic and contemptuous.

A few additional notes.

As I mentioned in the article, this was a clean install on a previously unwritten hard drive partition. I do run system maintenance software (OnyX mostly but also Prosoft Drive Genius) — not obsessively, but fairly frequently. Turns up minimal or no problems.

One of my main points here is that I can switch between OS 10.5 and OS 10.6 on the same machine, under the same environment and network connection, using the same application software, but getting substantially poorer performance with Snow Leopard. If it was a hardware problem, presumably it would show up when booted from either OS.

I don’t have a lot of system add-ons, and although one I do use in Leopard is the sometimes problematical Unsanity Application Enhancer to support WindowShade X. I don’t use either in Snow Leopard (am working on using collapse to Dock icon instead.

I do use a fair bit of third-party software for production, and few Apple iApps (Pages once in a while if I need a full Word Processor instead of a text editor, or want to view a Word doc. with formatting intact).

I generally have three Web Browsers (currently Opera, Chrome, and Firefox – latest versions or betas all) and two email programs running, but do the same with Leopard. MacSpeech Dictate when I need it (it’s pretty useless in Snow Leopard due to the letter-transposition bug, which is a known issue on the MacSpeech forums), Everything else is small footprint. The Snow Leopard Spaces bug has been reported by many others as well — the best workaround I’ve found so far being a wonderful little AppleScript program called QuitDock.

Incidentally, it’s not just me (did you check the links in the column?), but I did affirm that I don’t doubt lots of users are getting excellent service from Snow Leopard, which many respondents have confirmed.

My fan cuts in, but is somewhat erratic in both system versions — sometimes screaming at high RPM when the processor temp. is in the high 60°s-low 70°s, but running slow in the ’80°s.However, there’s substantially less fan activity in Leopard under identical environmental and software conditions.

Hoping for better in OS 10.6.5.

CM

David

I agree. I’ve never had as many issues and crashes as with SL. Not the bugs you describe, but others, and all seem to be related to sudden high CPU usage and unusual memory usage.

I know at least one of my issues must be related to maybe a bad font, or something else (quicklookD acting up and hijacking my CPU), but I’ve never had my computer crash as often since OS9, even when I only have a word processor open and Firefox. I edited a complete film in full HD on this machine under Leopard, and it never crashed!

I do like the new features of SL, so I’ll wait this one out.

Btw, if people here claim that you must have hardware issues, or improperly installed SL, they overlook the fact that, according to you, none of the issues occur under Leopard. The problem is Snow Leopard, nothing else.

Allister

Or could it be dodgy software that doesn’t take the changes in Snow Leopard into account? When you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole, which is wrong?

Allister

I had issues with losing keyboard input. I stopped loading LogMeIn on boot and haven’t had the problem since. I figured that it was the type of app likely to steal the keyboard and it looks like I was right. I’d look a lot harder at your system before blaming Snow Leopard entirely.

Tom

I have no idea what you’re talking about. Honestly, have you tried to re-install a clean copy, or check your hardware, or look into incompatible drivers or other software? YOUR Mac might have fleas, I doubt it’s the OS.
I run Snow Leopard on my MacBook Pro (non uni-body) with 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM. I’m also using Spaces (2 of ’em). I have no stability issues, no keyboard response issues, no sleep issues, no hotter running issues. I run for around 100 days consecutively without rebooting with no issues. I run Tiger on my older Macs (a G5 tower and a Powerbook), and they’re similarly stable, though a bit less refined/capable/responsive.

MEES

Having both systems installed on your Mac even on partitions is already a sign of bad things to come.

I have Snow installed on 3 different computers and don’t have ANYTHING remotely similar to what you described. On occasion, some apps may slow or freeze but quitting them resolves this issue.

Yea, keeping the OS running the way it was designed to avoids many of your troubles.

brandon

i think that snow leopard is the best release if you do all the updates and dont do dumb crap on it such as hacks or things i have ran into it auto restting a couple of times but after updates im good to go
so in all fairness snow leopard is going to be great its just in its infant stage right now but when it grows up watch out windows

WaltFrench

@EIDEARD wrote, “Have you ever considered some of the other crap you have loaded…?”

I wouldn’t put it so coarsely, but I do think you exploit the good will and intentions of your readers by offering up so little evidence of what any sensible trouble-shooter would have looked at.

It only takes a few seconds with Mr. Google to see all sorts of system tweaks recommended thru theappleblog.com; many others under writers named, “Charles Moore.” (You, I presume.) Servers, clipboard enhancers, all sorts of constantly-upgraded freeware that can have memory leaks or trigger system glitches. Actually, a veritable nightmare; the very first thing the Genius Bar guy would disable, and why not?

Why not share with us your rogue’s gallery of apps? Some of us might actually be aware of known bugs in them.

And in direct answer to your question: Snow Leopard is a great OS, smoother, faster, much more power than its predecessor. But it can go off in different ways than its predecessor — just like that iPhone4 antenna that is unquestionably better for me but not others. You could well be doing things that trip different behavior than you expect from Leopard, maybe re-indexing your entire PhotoShop folder or Lord knows what.

My glitches come from Safari5’s new features over iffy wifi, or with too many of those clever extensions loaded. Screws up how OSX interprets mouse clicks in other programs. Take off the overload and I’m back to smooth sailing.

hollyjester

I have never encountered any of the bugs you mentioned. I love Snow Leopard.

Zaphod

I have to completely disagree with this person. 10.6 is the best Mac OS ever. I haven’t had a single problem with it. It’s a pleasure to use.

Azhar

One of the most serious flaws I’ve ‘uncovered’ yet is the fact that, from Bootcamp 3.1:

A Windows admin/non-admin user can access(read) a password-protected Mac account(from the USERS folder), since he can view all the contents of the Macintosh partition.
And there’s no way(yet) to fix that.

Hamranhansenhansen

You can encrypt the Mac user folders with FileVault, in the Security preference pane, to fix this issue.

Tom

Snow Leopard is the first MacOSX version since Tiger I had to reinstall on both my iMac and Macbook Pro. I think that says it all. (I always do clean installs)

Safari 5 is slow as hell and can bring the whole system down, Time machine is still too buggy to be reliable, spaces is indeed a big nightmare, iTunes and Finder can be very slow, open/save dialogs can take forever to open in all my apps, Mail crashes a lot, MobileMe syncing has been a joke, …

After reinstalling, things have improved a lot, but still it’s far from snappy.

BrianM

tom: check what is listed for “All Messages” in Console in your utilities folder, there may be some clues about why you are having all of those issues. Especially Time Machine issues do tend to show up in the system.log making it possible to solve. I have seen a few cases where a generally slow machine and a time machine issue were narrowed down to a corrupted file (or in one case several files) that was causing “mds” the indexing part of Spotlight to use 100% CPU causing the system to be slow, hot, and when spotlight isn’t working right, Time Machine will have issues as well.

On my systems, my customers systems Safari 5 has generally been usable, although at home and work I do primarily use Google Chrome due to memory management issues in all other web browsers except chrome. Even with Chrome being primary, I always do have Safari running for a few select websites. (Chrome returns all ram when a tab or window is closed, Safari, Firefox, Opera and others do not, currently at least, with a minimum of 10 tabs open at any given time, and while doing heavy research Safari & Firefox can quickly grow to 500+ MB of ram, Chrome peaks at the same level with all of the same windows open, but as you close windows/tabs, it will go back to what it started with)

Azhar

I haven’t experienced any problem with Time Machine, until very recently… Usually when the backup disk is full, Time Machine deletes some old backup. But in some instances, it did not, and I had to reformat the disk, and re-instate a full backup.

Mail has been pretty slow: I noticed it too; and like I said earlier, Finder in SL is sluggish.

BrianM

doing Mac support professionally, I have to agree with others that these issues are not normal. yes others may be having similar issues, but there is likely a reason for each of them, and it will be solvable.

for heat issues a frequent quick fix is to first make sure it isn’t some stuck process (Activity Monitor can show all system+user level processes) and if that isn’t it – reset the SMC (some people call it the SMU, and on PowerPC macs it was the PMU). Should it temporarily fix, but then go back to the bad behaviour, then likely there is an issue with the core system preferences covering system/power management and energysaver. This could also be affecting the waking from sleep, but you can look for “wake” causes in Console (in the Utilities folder) where it lists the reason for a wake from sleep, or for more advanced details on sleeping use the “pmset” command, I believe you would use ‘pmset -g pslog’ in terminal and watch what happens when you select the sleep command.
The spaces/dock issues could be caused by many things, I’d start with testing in another user account (make a temp one) and see if it still occurs, this could help narrow it down to an issue with a certain program, or with your regular user account.

The keyboard cutting out could be hardware or software, where I work I would test this one by booting from an external hard drive with a fresh OS, and test it to see if it still occurs. Sometimes this testing of issues from another drive is able to quickly show it is a hardware issue, or help isolate what software is causing it (by installing programs one at a time)

Azhar

I’m appalled at the bigotry of some people who commented, whereby they ridiculed anyone who affirmed he was experiencing some ‘bug’ in SL.

So what? You think we are making it up!

Bear in mind that you may not necessarily be able to reproduce them because it is a well established fact that every electronic device is unique, let alone different batches in production.

I never said that SL was unusable…

We’re posting our views to share our experience; not to school others…

pamela

I agree Azhar, we are supposed to shut up, even if it is true that we have some of these problems.

John Davis

I have experienced none of the problems you mention, but I have problems with the Finder. Even keeping more than 50% of the hard disk free, it can be impossible to do anything else than, for example, copy a large file across the network. Until it’s finished, I just get the spinning beachball.

Running ONYX and Applejack (now available for SL!) fixes this. But it’s annoying to have to keep doing housecleaning so regularly.

Asgard

Sorry, I cannot concur with your assumptions. I have SL on a new 27″ iMac and an older 2GHz Core Duo White Macbook and both run great with none of the problems you expressed. I utilize Spaces very heavily, particularly on the laptop where I almost always have some thing(s) running in each of the 4 virtual desktops (Terminal, iChat, FInder Windows, Safari 5, Mail, Multiple MS Windows Remote Desktop connections to my servers, Citrix Web Desktop, Photoshop, Pages/NeoOffice/MS Word/Excel, occasionally a VMWare Fusion XP vm, etc.).

How much RAM do you have? Perhaps you need more for what you are trying to accomplish? Or perhaps you have something else faulty or corrupted in your OS install, as was recommended before, try a fresh install.

I did have to do a clean install once because my HD had died, I believe I put 10.5 on it at the time, I know my 10.6 was an upgrade from that. My iMac came with SL pre-installed and I have done nothing to that. It replaced my Dual 2GHz PowerMac G5 which ran 10.5 like a champ (still does).

LAViking

Sounds like your due for a clean install of snow leopard. My version works flawlessly since install at launch. I use a variety of apps including office 2008, cs4 suite and various 3d apps. No hiccups.

Veit

No problems either, except with Spaces and Adobe CS4, in both Snow and Leopard. Not sure whether CS5 has better support for Spaces, but the problems are minimal enough that I’m still very happy.

tyres

At first i took your post at face value. But after having read all the posts herein I am no longer sure what your motives were/are with your post.

Surely one who writes on The Apple Blog would have done some research on various forums to see if what you are experiencing has been reported by others.

You could have also formed the post in a “wanting help in solving my problem” rather than leave the impression that there something wrong with SL.

I am contemplating dropping TAB from my weekly visits….

Dogman

I have not NO problems with ANY Mac OS! My brother bought me a G3 iMac in 2000. It STILL works! I now have 8 or 9 various Macs. My brother has 2, son has 2, and friends have them. NO Problems.

I usually wait a week after there are updates just to see. But I have never had a problem. Macs just work!

Of course, I’m not installing all those 10th party crap apps either. But then, I don’t need too.

I’m really sick of whining wimps. Perhaps you should all be sentenced to at least 30 days of losedoz only. Then you will appreciate what you have with Apple products.

Thank You Steve Jobs for providing a GREAT always working product!

Larry

Dogman….putting the “Girl” in FanGirl.

Seriously I admin 50 or so Mac’s and 2000 or Windows boxes. The Mac’s no less or more problems than Windows machines. Just got a battery replaced in a 3 month old Macbook, as it lasted only 10min tops, today. Yesterday bad LCD on a brand new Dell. Both are working just fine today.

Jesse

I run IT (the sole IT guy) for a shop of about 75 macs. (pharma badvertising)

It’s you. I have plenty of 10.5 users, the PPC people, (makes up about 40% of the mac’s here right now) 10.5 is no more or less stable than 10.6

I would say my sample size beats yours, so should i get a blog? Of the MANY users of macbook pro’s that I’ve updated to 10.6 (at least 15 or 20 MBPs) i’ve only ever heard people say they ran faster. No one said it was slower.

You know what it is 99% of the time when i have to fix software? user error. I believe that to be the case here.

ishcabittle

this cat knows what he’s talking about. snow leopard has been nothing short of awesome on all of the macs i administrate.

Matthew

Seems that like many others, I am not familiar with any of your problems. SL runs great for me on many macs. Seems you have a lemon.

Mike Perry

My main gripe with Snow Leopard is one that Apple probably considers a feature. Selecting Print in 10.6 wakes up my printer even when my objective is saving a PDF file to disk. That’s a lot of printer wear-and-tear, as well as wasted electricity to occasionally save a few seconds of print time.

Apple could bypass this problem by creating a new default menu item, perhaps called “Digital,” that’d include saving to PDFs and other digital formats such as EPUB. Printing to paper is becoming less and less important with each passing year.

Larry

On the 9 macs I own, all clean installs, time machine eventually fails with errors.

I have tried everything, reformation the hard drives they back up to, buying new drives etc. The only thing that fixes this issue is a complete re-install of OS X.

I also have some friends that have the same problem. I have stopped using time machine at this point.

Cold Water

The only problem I’m seeing is that sometimes interrupting the screen saver puts the desktop in a “weak lock” state where login prompt is up, but the desktop is fully visible and usable.

Pressing Cancel throws you back to the screen saver, and interrupting it a second time will give you the blacked out screen and modal login prompt you expect.

Walt N

Running SL on a 2008 24″ iMac, a late 2008 15″ MBP and a MacBook Air. No problems whatsoever.

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