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December 24, 2012

Mountain Lion Installation woes…

Filed under: Mac,Private,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 15:38
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Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

Mountain Lion. Philadelphia Zoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is December and, just as last year, it is the time for an upgrade of OS X. Last year it was Lion (and I did write down my experiences back then); this time it is Mountain Lion. I decided to make a short note of my experiences because, maybe, by sharing those I will save some time and energy to somebody else. In general, I have not hit any major issues, I must say, just nuisances, but it did take me some time to get around those…

1. The installation process itself was fairly straightforward except that… it was nerve wrecking some times. While installing, the screen duly had a progress bar with a text underneath, saying something like “the remaining time is 25 minutes”, “the remaining time is 5 minutes”, “the remaining time is less than a minute”, then… it stuck. Stuck for a long time. Nothing moved, the progress bar was full. And then an even stranger thing happened: it said something like “the remaining time is -20 minutes”. WTF? Because I have experienced quite some crashes in the 30 years that I am in this business, of course I got nervous. Should I reboot? What will happen then? Is my disk fully destroyed now?

Luckily, I had the instinct not to do anything but take my iPad and look up the Web. And sure thing: there are reports elsewhere saying that the progress bar implementation of the installer, including the time estimate, is buggy, and that I should just wait and things would turn out to be all right. And they did indeed, after around 30 extra minutes. Phew!

2. Everything installed, get to login… and it seems that there is still some installation and/or file adaptation to do at that time, because it took about 4-5 minutes after having typed in my password before any of my windows showed up. Again, WTF? I became wiser, and just waited, and things got back to normal. Note that, since then, everything is fine when I wake up the machine, although I have not rebooted it yet to see if a login would again lead to such a delay.

3. I knew that, in Mountain Lion, Apple decided to remove the simple system preference flag to start up a local apache automatically (having the local apache running is essential for me: I have a partial copy of a Web site on my machine to test pages before they go public). Although I never understood why this decision had been taken, I was prepared; there are a number of sites giving advice on what to do (e.g., the one I looked at), as well as an extra small preference that one can install.

What I did not count on is that that the installation would wipe out the old apache configuration file (i.e. /etc/apache2/httpd.conf). (I do not think the Lion installation did that, at least I do not remember.) To make things even more difficult, that director is not accessible through the time machine (why?) so I had to reproduce my changes. It took me a certain time because I adapted that file for my needs three years ago and I forgot all about it, of course. Advise: make a copy of that file before upgrading!

4. I need some command line tools like gcc or cvs. That means I had to install a new version of Xcode; I counted on that. However… cvs was still not there after installation. Sigh… did they remove cvs as an obsolete tool? But no, gcc was not available either.

As usual, the Web and Google are your friends; I found a note with an explanation. It turns out that Apple no longer installs the “developer” command line tools by default. That includes compilers, make, cvs, and the like. You have to install them explicitly: start up Xcode, and then look for Xcode→Preferences→Downloads→Components and click on the install button next to the command line tools. (Again the same question: why this arbitrary decision?)

5. I was pleased to see that the Note application is now available, and is supposed to synchronise with the note application on my iPhone and iPad. I knew that, and I was looking forward to that. On Lion, the notes were bound to the email accounts and appeared in the Mail application; I always found that setup odd.

But… things are not that simple because Apple again made some unexplainable decision. On Lion, I could assign notes to the various email accounts I had, I could do the same on, say, my iPhone, and things worked properly. Not so in Mountain Lion; indeed (as I understood after some google-ing…) Apple has discontinued this synchronisation except for iCloud. Ie, you have to regroup all your notes under the iCloud account (if you have one, that is) to achieve a smooth synchronisation with your mobile devices. It is not that bad at the end, because you can define folders for notes that you can use those for your own categorisation; but, until I realised all that and got everything running, I again lost quite some time, had some dead ends, etc. Sigh…

6. I also had some small woes with the latest Safari. For reasons that again I do not understand, there is no more preference setup in Safari to set the right font size. The only way is to do that is through a CSS style sheet (see also a relevant note I found). Although my personal problem was that the default character size was way too big for my taste, as the author of the note rightfully said, not having the possibility to adapt the size easily can be a major accessibility issue for some.

Frankly… I love my Mac, and I still find it vastly superior in usability than other machines. It is, nevertheless, disappointing to see Apple making such arbitrary decisions and making the transition to a new system unnecessarily tedious. This should not happen.

(By the way, this just reinforced me in my selfish decision not to upgrade to a new system right away. Having waited half a year meant that all my issues were solved relatively easily by looking at notes published by others…)

December 30, 2011

Mac OS Lion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Filed under: Mac,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:33
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The poster of the 'The Good the bad and the ugly' MovieI have made use of the winter recess to install Mac’s Lion on my powerbook. I must admit I hesitated for a while (I was not sure that it was worth the trouble) but then, partially driven by sheer  curiosity, I did it. And, as usual, there are pros and cons… Maybe others will find my experiences useful.

1. The Good

My tactic of waiting, i.e., not to install Lion when it was still a cub, paid off. I have seen many stories on the Web, mostly dated back in July, about installation difficulties (e.g., issues about the installation of Xcode). Well, none of these for me. It installed easily, relatively quickly (after download, the installation process was about an hour, with an additional round with the installation of Xcode). Most of the things worked without further ado, although I did have to update some programs (e.g., iTunes, Safari, mercurial, some additional tools for Mail like GPG or Mail Act-On). But these were to be expected and otherwise the system worked smoothly. For example, my local apache server started and worked as before, in contrast to the stories I saw on the Web. There were also some user interface adjustments I had to make (sorry Apple, I do not like the “natural” scrolling, and I also like to have the scrollbar always on), but the web is full of references to the necessary tricks to do these.

The system is faster. Not hugely, but faster in booting, in logging in, and also some applications, like Safari, got some speed improvements. That is always a welcome feature!

I quite like Mission Control. I used “Places” on Snow Leopard, but mission control is nicer, and works well with the full-screen feature. B.t.w., the full screen feature is also great.

I use Mail App as my primary mailer and there are (as far as I am concerned) two major improvements. On the one hand, it has a nice “conversation” feature; the particular aspect I like is that it manages conversations and “related” mails across mail folders (and I have loads of them) regardless of the fact that I use IMAP. This is great. The other nice feature is the improved search, both in speed and in the various options it gives you. Mail is my everyday workhorse, so such improvements made the upgrade to Lion already worthwhile.

I love the fact that, at last, I can resize my windows easily. I change screens often (I have an external screen at home, another one at my institute, and they are different in size…) and the fact that, on Snow Leopard, I had to grab the lower right hand corner of a window to resize it was really a drag.

At this moment I am not at my usual place, meaning I am without an external screen; I can just refer to what I read, namely that handling external screens became smoother in Lion, too. I hope that is true, the old way of closing, restarting, whatnot, was also a pain.

There are a number of additional small improvements (e.g., better spellcheck in Safari; really helpful as I write these lines:-). I am sure I will find out more as it goes.

2. The Bad

Of course, not everything is nice and rosy:-(

I miserably failed with iCloud. I tried to use it to synchronize my iPhone and iPad easily with my Mac. It simply did not work reliably as far as the calendar was concerned. I regularly ran into the problem of adding an event to my calendar on, say, my iPhone, and the result was not visible anywhere else (I tried explicit synchronization when it was clear how to do it, wait for half an hour, etc; no success). I tried it through the built-in calendar application on the iPhone (which I do not particularly like, b.t.w.) as well as some other calendar apps, to no avail. After a while I just gave up, and reversed back to my previous self, i.e., using iTunes’ synchronization. Taking into account that, with IOS 5, one can also sync from iTunes over the Wireless, it is so easy to synchronize that it does not really bother me. It is, nevertheless, surprising that Apple comes out with such a much heralded feature that simply does not work properly.

I did run into some awkwardness in the user interface of the Mail App, too. For example, one would think that this application is a prime candidate to be used full screen. However, beware: if you reply to a mail in full screen mode, you cannot switch windows (e.g., you cannot reply to two mails in parallel, stuff like that) which might make it awkward. In a sense it is understandable, but it was a surprise nevertheless. Another issue is with the conversation feature: I display my mails with increasing date order but, within a conversation, Mail keeps on using decreasing dates; I have not found a way to change that…

And then there is Launchpad. Having it is a great idea, in fact. If set up properly, it gives you an easy way to get to applications, it reduces the size of the Dock (which can be an issue on a small screen), etc. If set up properly, that is. But… I did run into several issues. Some examples:

  • At the start I saw loads of duplicate entries. This is because I organized my Application collection to my own taste before, with subdirectories, aliases, etc; I have too many applications to leave them as a flat list. This led to a bunch of duplicates. Which is understandable, but it is fairly difficult to remove application from Launchpad: although the “official” version is that one can do the same as on an iPhone (pressing an icon, and using a big X on it), but this method did not work for most of the applications. (No idea why.) Fortunately, I have found a program called Launchpad Control, which can do that for you (thank you, Andreas Ganske!)
  • There are missing entries. Hence the big question: how does one add an application to Launchpad? Answer: no idea. I have seen proposals on the Web (e.g., move the application’s icon on top of the Launchpad icon on the Dock or create alias and put it to ~/Applications): none worked for me (Maybe if I restart? I did logged out and in again, that did not change, and I did not want to restart the computer only for this.) For the time being, I gave up on that.
  • Launchpad is the typical case of an application that asks for a keyboard shortcut to start. I have found, after all, a way to do it; but does it have to be that complicated? (Actually, I saw some notes on the Web that the keyboard shortcut will disappear after reboot. I hope that will not be the case…)

Bottom-line: although I will use Launchpad, probably, it is not what it should be. Hopefully later releases will improve this.

3. The Ugly

No new item here, just a remark: it is really surprising to me that Apple would come out with such unfinished products like iCloud or Launchpad. It is perfectly o.k. to come out with Lion, add these programs in the state they are in, and make it clear to people that this is work in progress. Everybody would understand that. But doing it this way simply reduces the credibility of Apple… Pity.

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