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The Northern Spy
October 2002

Running With Jaguars, Working with Clydesdales

Rick Sutcliffe

The usual shill suspects

(say that quickly) at the various Mac mag rags universally laud the advent of Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) as though it were the Olympic 100m, the Stanley Cup, and the return of Elvis rolled into one. The Spy has an alternate view.

Throughout the OS X era thus far, I've regarded the new look as experimental, running it only on one of my four machines and staying with 9.1 or 9.2 on the others (depending on age). However, when the three Jaguar disks arrived the other day in my developer mailing, I had some time so decided to give it a whirl on my twin 1G Hz tower, which was already running 10.1.5 moderately well. After all, if Ma Apple is telling us we'll be too old and grownup a year from now to be allowed to have 9.2 any more, the Spy oughta live up to his namesake, don't you think?

Here's what happened:

Inserted the first disk and clicked on the installer. Got told the machine must reboot to do this (naturally) so let it go ahead. Some minutes later, told the newly rebooted CD to proceed. Waited thirty-seven minutes for matters to conclude, then learned on the next reboot it needed to use disk two. This took another six minutes, after which I spent more time installing the developer tools.

Booted the new system. It took several minutes to start, and soon proved to be the least stable Mac OS out of the box I've ever seen. Applications required much longer to launch, were missing parts of their windows, and quit at random intervals. To be fair, 10.1.x saw this behaviour as well, but not nearly so frequently.

Rebooted with the installer disk. Its menu boasts an option to do disk first aid. Selected this and gave it a whirl. DFA allowed a file permission repair scan (which made an immediate speed difference). Not all problems are resolvable here, one part of the permissions scan changes some manual permissions and a later part changes them back. Both claim an error. 'Course this will appear on all subsequent scans, too.

However, to do a subsequent full first aid scan here, one must at least quit DFA back to the installer and then return, as it does not properly put the target disk away after repairing permissions. When I did return, DFA discovered directory problems and claimed to fix same, but a subsequent scan (never believe a utility the first time) revealed the problem was still present.

Next, used cmd-S at the next boot to enter single user mode and issued the command fsck -y (file system check, yes to fix problems). This also turned up troubles, claimed to fix them, yet issued the same complaints on the next scan. Note to self: Even when this command achieves good results, it should be used repeatedly until no further problems are found.

Rebooted with the Drive 10 disk and asked it to repair the hard drive. It works for a couple of hours, then freezes. OK, this sometimes happens with directory problems. Good old Norton used to die under similar circumstances.

Booted into 9.2.2 and ran DiskWarrior. It worked much more quickly, detecting and corrected numerous problems with the directory (your kilometreage may vary). For good measure, followed this with another fsck -y and also another go with the directory permissions repair on the boot disk (which purportedly then fixed more problems).

Along the way, learned that a CD can be ejected during the startup sequence by holding down the mouse button and that the startup manager can be invoked on booting with the option button held down. Also learned the startup manager selects by partitions, not by folders (limiting its utility) and that it sometimes freezes. And found out that using a KVM switch between the machine I was repairing and the one I was doing real work on does not always produce a clean transfer to X. However, if I moved the switch to position four (where no was computer attached), then back again, the errant machine would usually unfreeze.

After a day's work, ended up with a Jaguar that appeared to have its legs intact and could show its spots, though left with the nagging feeling I may still have to do a clean install of both 10.2 and all my apps. 'Fact, the next day, I repeated the cycle of install, directory permissions, DFA scan just for good measure, and things improved again. May be temporary. We'll see.

Down To Particulars:

Jaguar (10.2) is certainly faster. Windows snap open and closed, bootup is slightly faster, applications launch more quickly, and the new OS is reported to be more polished and error free. The new cursor is larger and watching it spin is less annoying. The new iChat can communicate with other users using AOL IM or Mac.com, there is a central address book, Mail has been enhanced, and Sherlock replaced. The help application is faster and it can sit atop part of the active window so help can be read while you type elsewhere (didn't notice this before, but...). Classic appear more stable, so far.

Other benefits:

When I copy my Eudora mail folder from the backup I make at home to the X machine at work, thus overwriting the settings file, X no longer temporarily disconnects the alias I keep in a Drop Drawer for starting Eudora. Thus, the first time I open the program, I no longer have to drill down to the settings file and click on it. Score a point for bug fixes. No doubt there are others I haven't noticed yet. The old 9.2 functionalities continue top migrate into X, the latest being spring loaded folders. All good.

There can be little doubt that X is our future, for much better reasons than Pa Steve says 'tis. X offers an openness we haven't seen from Cupertino since the Apple ][ days. Many Unix utilities have already been ported and more surely will. It's much easier to write programs. The XServer shows off the strength and stability of the underlying FreeBSD, and these factors all bode well. Not only may we see a return to the intellectual excitement of the industry's foundational days, market share is sure to be affected positively--at least eventually. OS X is built on concrete; the competition on sand.

For the ultimate in layered OS experiences, one might even want to try running OSX under Linux, apparently possible according to a company called Mac-on-Linux which offers the means to have Jaguar running in a window under Linux/ppc. See http://maconlinux.net/ for further information.


This was not a seamless upgrade. The Spy has seen numerous reports of defective disks (Apple will replace them), and of the same slowdown-and-spontaneous-quit problems I experienced before repairing permissions. I suspect a nuke and full install is yet in my future. While some of my more persistent difficulties were apparently due to a damaged directory structure, all this illustrates the fragility of the total package. This was the longest and least successful OS upgrade the Spy has ever undertaken (and he's seen 'em all). Things should not have gone wrong with permissions and directories so easily, Apple should have given instructions to do appropriate checks and repairs before and after installation. Quality control on upgrade disks should have been much higher. Moreover, having to put all applications into the same partition as the OS (and you can't be sure they'll work if you don't) raises the bar on a reformat-and-clean-install far too high for someone who installs hundreds of applications.

Turning to minutiae, part of the boot speedup is illusory, because the Apple logo shows on the screen for a while before anything else happens. Once it vanishes, the rest does go very quickly, but if you clock total time, the improvement is undramatic. Also, Jaguar still cannot handle partitions correctly. If you mount or eject one partition, it applies the action to all partitions on the same device. Some applications that worked correctly in 10.1.5 are now broken, albeit not seriously. One example is Mozilla 1.1, whose Java support and window handling has become problematic.

Finally, the Sherlock replacements baffle me. The action of finding on the local disk has now been delegated to a separate headless (no menu bar) app with a pedestrian interface. Sherlock has not only given away this functionality (which may make sense if its focus is to be the net), but also appears to have lost the ability to turn search locations off and on individually. What if I don't like some of the provided search engines and want to use others? Can I not configure the new Sherlock at all? Moreover, unlike other applications, the new Sherlock is considerably slower (may take minutes to load Internet) in Jaguar and help is all but nonexistent. Indeed the help application, though quicker to arrive on the desktop now, seems to deliver little content. Am I missing something here, or are these major steps backwards?

Mail now has some nice features including the ability to learn about spam by example. Although I use Eudora still I did fire up the new Apple Mail to have a look, found it seemingly impressive. Lots of new features, a nice look, and generally appeared more robust, though I didn't give it a substantial workout. 'Course, the first thing it offered to do was to go to my iTools account and fetch my mail from Mac.com, thus reminding me of the looming expiry of my account there, and of my resolve not to bother paying for something that was worth it when it was free, but no longer is. I can't imagine many people forking over the money for this; it's just too, well, too lite to be worth the $49 for old customers, let alone twice that for new ones. WebNameHost.net sells fully functional Web Site accounts with five or more mailboxes and the standard Linux goodies for a mere $50. All that's missing is the Apple fluff I don't need and doubt many people use.

The bottom line (so far):

Although the code name of Jaguar seems deserved, there's not much of substance here besides speed (and that inconsistently), despite the marketing bumf. What was reportedly given with Mail was taken away by Sherlock, and the installation problems and inconsistent speeds afterwards are unacceptable. If you are a developer with free access to the disks, I recommend repairing permissions and scanning the disk with Disk First Aid before doing an upgrade. Otherwise, obtain the full disk set, have someone with lots of time on their hands reformat the boot partition and do a clean install, then re-install all your apps. But if you have to pay real money ($119) don't bother. It's not worth it. Wait at least for 10.2.1 and slightly more stability, or stick with 9.2 for production work. When you do upgrade, nuke the drive and start from scratch.

Sorry, the magazines are wrong. It's not time to switch, not if your livelihood depends on things working reliably. I plan to stay in experimental mode of the tower, not converting my workhorse TiBook until I see better stability and more native apps in X. There's a good foundation here, with some gold, silver and precious stones above, but there's also some wood, hay, and stubble. Clear the decks, Steve, then I'll climb on board.

--The Northern Spy

Post-publication postscript:

A few days after the above was written and submitted to Call-A.P.P.L.E., Apple made available the 10.2.1 update via the software update mechanism and download. The first method once again created problems, apparently due to some files not being properly updated and/or more permissions difficulties. Downloading the updater file and running it, then using the original Jaguar install disk to check the boot partition and its permissions once again resulted in a system that worked.

This latest version (10.2.1) is faster still, except in Classic, where it is slower. Sherlock remains slow. On the other hand, stability has improved and crashes are less frequent. Apple is making progress, but still has work to do before OS X has the polished feel system 9.2 does.

--The Northern Spy

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