Problems With Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Join The (Sizable?) Minority

We’ve given it seven days, hoping that there would be a resolution. There hasn’t been. So now we’ll ask the question that’s been on our minds more or less since last Friday: what the hell is going on with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard? [Editor’s Note: A new article with possible Snow Leopard crash fixes / solutions is now available.]

Fifty or sixty percent of Snow Leopard users we’ve spoken with say that they’re having no problems with it. None. It’s a little faster, consumes less space, and adds those tiny but nice UI improvements you’ve probably read about already.

The other forty or fifty percent are in a situation like mine: multiple machines upgraded, all with serious, awful stability problems of some sort. Safari’s crashing. Photoshop’s crashing. Apps you didn’t even know could crash (like TextEdit) are crashing. They’re crashing when we save files, crashing randomly when we’re not saving files, and so on. iChat is putting out error messages about being unwilling to send text-only messages, seemingly at random. Some machines are hanging on restart; others boot up every time without a problem. The new feature we’re seeing more than any other is the updated crash reporter—something that hasn’t been as extensively reported upon as, say, changes to how the screen dims when you click and hold on an icon in the dock.

I realize that there is a temptation to ask how the Mac-focused media has failed in this situation. Merlin Mann, discussing problems exactly like the ones mentioned above, calls out the Mac crowd (warning: NSFW, funny language) for apparent fanboyism, saying: “I realize you’re having a big, beardy lemon party about all these homeopathically non-obvious new features, but come on. Don’t wag your finger at people like me for pointing out [something] that shipped empirically broken.” Yet this doesn’t seem like the standard case of media drooling just to get featured on Apple’s “Hot News” page. Of iLounge’s editors, most are having no problems whatsoever with Snow Leopard. And yet some of us are having such profound, awful problems that we can’t rely on the stability of our production work machines. The thing that’s crazy: people with problems and people without problems are using the same model Macs. So it’s not like Apple tested Snow Leopard on only some of its computers. There’s something else going on here.

 

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Whatever the causes may be, the symptoms are becoming quantifiable. Adobe has posted a document noting some of the same problems with saving, and an increasing number of users have been registering complaints across multiple applications. As noted, however, the symptoms are not affecting everyone. One of our editors is using Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 and experiencing no problems with saving, but I’m using it on a seemingly identical machine and experiencing crashes virtually every third time I save a file. Another problem with uploading files using Safari—spread across multiple web sites, from Facebook on down—was repeatable in Firefox and Opera, as well. All of the programs crashed doing the same thing. That leads us to think that it’s not the programs, or at least the programs that are crashing; it’s Snow Leopard, not properly handling some plug-in, some accessory, or maybe something else.

Worth noting, as well: those of us with problems have been trying all the likely solutions—going through and checking for stray, naughty processes, plug-ins, and other things that might be causing instability. Nothing seems to work; I personally run extremely clean systems—no input managers, no other hacks—and there was almost nothing to remove, yet even after removing basically everything, the problems have persisted. There’s no Apple tool to help users diagnose what the problems might be, and apparently, whatever Snow Leopard installation process was supposed to quarantine incompatible files did not work properly to do so. This is, without question, the most problematic Mac OS install I have personally ever had, and the first where I’ve had to downgrade one of my machines to the prior OS just to get stability back. (On a wireless Time Machine connection, that only took 12 hours.) If I thought I could wipe the other machine completely clean—the Redmond solution, I call it—and have it work perfectly, I would, but at this point, I’ve heard too many stories of people having problems with perfectly new installations to go through all that effort for nothing.

Obviously, it’s not this way for everyone. A lot of people are running Snow Leopard without issues. I (and the other people with serious problems) would love to be among them, because other than the instabilities, the new system seems great. But a lot of us are wondering right now how Snow Leopard could have shipped with such serious instability problems—given that this is supposed to be a stability-focused release, compatible only with a far more limited number of total Mac models than ran Leopard—and why it seems that literally none of the people who received advance copies of Snow Leopard from Apple are reporting on these problems. Cat got their tongues? Or is something else going on?

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