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OS X Hell

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It’s not hard to find cosmetic and functional problems in Mac OS X and I have written about many of those here before. But currently – while travelling – I am discovering much more grave problems. Problems that make Apple’s hard- and software look like a giant pile of crap.

USB (Modem)

Let me begin with a real kicker: I attached my dad’s Apple USB modem to the machine. It was recognised all right (if you take lack of localisation for such ‘details’ as en-par for Apple these days) and worked right away. When I wanted to connect a camera to the machine later that day, the camera didn’t appear in iPhoto. It didn’t even appear as a USB device in System Profiler either. Definitely not a problem of the camera. Puzzling.

Restarting the machine solved the camera problem. But when I used the modem the next time, I lost all USB connectivity. And I really mean all there. Even the internal keyboard (and its NumLock light) stopped working and I had to force restart the machine to get it running again.

As a consequence I can’t really use the USB modem on my machine and I have to rely on the good old Pismo and internet sharing to get abysmally slow Internet access.


I’ve been using a fast internet connection for many years now. From university networks to reasonably fast DSL I kept forgetting about the practical sides of the ‘size does matter’ aspect of the internet. I’d think yikes, 300MB updates suck ass and then go ah well, it’ll at most be a few minutes anyway. The problem remained theoretical. And – reading sites like Pierre’s – it has long been known that Apple hardly give a shit about people on slow internet connections. I could witness that first hand now that I was pushed back to 1990s internet speeds using a modem.

A particularly annoying culprit was X.5’s Mail application. Usually I have it check for new messages in five minute intervals. And, using such a slow and shared internet connection, I received a photo which took a few minutes to download. Long enough to run into the next five minute interval. What would be the stupidest thing for Mail to do? Trigger another message download while the initial one is still running. Now guess what Mail does…

It took me a while to figure that out as I usually don’t use Mail’s status displays. The fact that Mail manages to display wildly distinct statuses in the activity panel that its X.5 version can display beneath the source list and in the activity window, wasn’t all that amusing either.


I use OS X’s feature to lock the screen and require a password when waking from sleep. I wouldn’t consider this a true security feature as I tend to see it fail a few times a year (with the machine continuing to work after wake without any authentication), but it’s better than nothing at all.

Another aspect of that feature has always been that it seems quite poorly implemented. My expectation would be that I open the machine, it turns on and – bang! – the authentication dialogue appears on screen waiting for me to type the password. In reality, however, there are many variants of this. They range from having to wait for quite a while until the authentication window appears, to the window appearing but not having keyboard focus, to the window not appearing at all. In the latter case, it’s usually necessary to close the computer, wait an eternity for it to go to sleep again and then open it again, hoping that the authentication window will appear. Which it usually does.

This time, however, the window didn’t appear. And thus I was left with a completely useless machine once again that needed a forced restart. Waking it from sleep gave me a black screen with the mouse cursor and nothing else. Close, Wait, Sleep, Open, Wake. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

I don’ think there’s any excuse for problems like this. I have the suspicion that connecting an iPod to the sleeping MacBook for charging may have helped triggering this as OS X’s handling of USB connections during sleep has been traditionally shitty, but I don’t think I want to ‘test’ this any further. Which in a way closes the circle and brings me back to the initial USB point.

13.03.08 19:18:19 kernel PM notification timeout (pid 24, securityd) 
13.03.08 19:18:19 kernel PM notification timeout (pid 20, mDNSResponder) 
13.03.08 19:18:19 kernel PM notification timeout (pid 37, loginwindow) 
13.03.08 19:18:19 kernel PM notification timeout (pid 37, loginwindow) 
13.03.08 19:18:19 kernel PM notification timeout (pid 37, loginwindow) 

Just Works™ would be Just Fine for me, thanks.

March 14, 2008, 23:00

Tagged as Mac OS X.


Comment by Dave2: User icon

What are you doing to your machine that you’re having such problems? I leave the screen lock on wake feature with five separate Macs and have never had a problem. :-)

I have, however, run into the annoying USB port issue with a variety of different USB devices. There never seems to be any rhyme or reason to it.

Mail in Leopard is a steaming pile of crap. There are so many problems with it that I’m almost desperate enough to try another solution until Apple gets things fixed. I used to love Mail. Now I hate it… positively HATE it.

March 15, 2008, 3:14

Comment by Mattias: User icon

Oh yeah, I can do nothing but agree with you when it comes to the “lock screen” feature; I often travel by train, and my MBP behaves like this all the time (just yesterday, it happend not less but two times within a four hour slot). Often, the problem is solved by closing the lid, waiting for the MBP to go to sleep, and then open it up again. Other times, a simple press at the power button forces the computer to show the login dialog. Quite inconsistent, and quite stupid.

March 15, 2008, 9:47

Comment by ssp: User icon

I am using the machine, that’s all I’ll admit. I have seen the slow/unreliable authorisation window on all of my machines and OS X versions since my G4 Powerbook / X.3, though.

I can usually live with Mail – particularly since Apple finally managed to introduce nickname support in it. Yet, I have my own series of favourite bugs in it. But my Mail usage is not particularly adventurous.

March 15, 2008, 11:57

Comment by Antonio Cavedoni: User icon

I’ll add another voice to the choir of people who experienced slow/unreliable authorisation windows. Feh!

March 15, 2008, 13:17

Comment by tom: User icon

I have similar sleepy problems with USB - difficult these days with iPhones and the like which you want to be able to unplug without disturbing anything, but sometimes causes them to fail. Add to that USB or Firewire external hard drives which may or may not have wobbly chipsets and there is trouble to be caused. Things do seem better with Leopard, but still not perfect. And the waiting an age for the authentication thing is deeply annoying - esp problematic and rickety if running low on disk space, I find!

Keep up the in-depthness!

March 17, 2008, 23:24

Comment by Simone Manganelli: User icon

Yes! The authorization window delay is SO FREAKING ANNOYING. I’m glad I’m not the only one having that problem, but it would be super-nice if Apple did something about that.

March 17, 2008, 23:42

Comment by Neil Maller: User icon

My only disagreement is that Mail.app was a steaming pile of crap before Leopard too, particularly for users with rather large mailboxes. I’d hoped that this might be improved with 10.5’s Mail 3, but apparently not. However Mail’s handling of overlapping schedule actions should be filed with Apple as a bug report. A bug is clearly what it is, and it could easily be fixed.

On the other hand, having it check your email every 5 minutes makes you the slave to email, rather than the reverse…

March 18, 2008, 15:32

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