From Snow Leopard to Lion: a leap towards the limbo

Again, I was a bit stuck with my Mac. SmoothMouse was helping with the mouse handling but not fully solving the issues with acceleration. Sometimes, the pointer was just going away. I cannot believe I loose it so often: it just disappears! I often have to bring the pointer to the top left corner two or three times per mouse action! Mouse wheel also moves super slowly, making it almost useless. I have to give it an hard swing for scrolling to begin. Besides this very frustrating mouse response, side buttons are just not working. Besides trying with all the proprietary solution, probably ending up purchasing each of them one after the other to figure out none of them will work correctly for me, there was another thing to try: Razer Synapse. But it was requiring Mac OS X 10.7, so named Lion.

Moreover, I tried on November 28th 2014 to synchronize my Google contacts with the builtin Address Book application, again without success. I took me almost fifteen minutes to figure out that the instructions I found to do it were inaccurate. They were referring to a sync menu item while the command to sync was an ICON in the top right area! The icons are too tiny so I don’t look at the area all the times in case of something that appears! The sync icon was there: i had to click on it and select the command to synchronize now. After all these efforts, I got no result, again, no sync.

I was also hoping that getting an updated Mac OS X version would give me better chances to import video files into Final Cut Express without transcoding everything to .mov files.  I read that Final Cut Express is using the QuickTime stack which is built into Mac OS X, so a newer Mac OS X implies a newer QuickTime stack.

Last weekend, I decided to try my luck with this upgrade and stop using that dumb machine if it fails or makes the system unusably slow. Easy, I though, just go the the Mac App Store, get Lion, buy and download. No, no more Lion app, just Mountain Lion! Grrrr, AGAIN! I searched on Google once more, and found that Lion can be purchased from the Apple Store. Again… Will I really have to wait for a new shipping?

No, not this time, have I found. The purchase of Lion gives you a content code to download the product. However, the code came only two days after the purchase. What? That means there is a manual process to get the content code? Quite bad design, once again. I also found on a forum people that waited for ten days to get the code without success. They had to phone Apple, not even email support, to get the email resent, the resent didn’t happen, they had to phone again, etc. I found some downloads of Lion on Kickass that I could try my luck on, but there were images for VMWare and VirtualBox, so I would have ended up downloading gigabytes of data for nothing until I find a correct Lion installation!

Fortunately, I got two emails about an Apple License Agreement from Apple Volume Licensing. Opening the first message was giving me a PDF attachment with indications that the password would come in a second email. The second email was providing the password. If I didn’t look at these emails in depth, I would have thought they only provided a somewhat useless license agreement, not the content code I really needed. I think some people did that mistake and just ignored or deleted the emails. This may explain why some people waited ten days for the content code, contacted Apple, got the email resent, waited, didn’t get anything, etc.

The content code WAS in the PDF file! I needed the first email with the PDF, second email with the password, open PDF, and then the code was there along with the agreement!

Back on my Mac, I plopped the code in the Redeem code part of the App store. That didn’t work, because I had to accept the new conditions for the App Store. I had to reenter the code, then that worked and finally started downloading Lion! Before letting the beast install, I made a backup copy of the installation application.

The installation took almost an hour, but at least it worked. This gave me the launch pad as was as iCloud integration. Synchronization of address book now works and I presume I will be able to installer Synapse now. However, the machine is significantly slower since I upgraded it.

I’m slowly loosing interest in exploring the Mac platform. It seems that Mac OS X is now behind Windows in term of maturity and responsiveness. Apple did the exact same mistake as Microsoft a few years ago: stacking more and more useless functionalities on top of a core, assuming more powerful CPU and higher memory will alone compensate lack of judgment from software designers and programmers. I’m quite annoyed to pay for that mistake once again. I know Microsoft fixed that since my Pentium D bought in 2006 started with Windows XP and evolved to Windows 7, while my Core i7 went from Windows 7 to Windows 8 without significant performance degradation (stability and compatibility are other stories…). Maybe this is fixed in Mac OS X 10.9 or 10.10, but the machine I have just cannot run these versions of Mac OS X, so I would have to revert back to my brittle Hackintosh to continue my exploration of the Mac world.


The obsolescence road block

Last weekend, I got to a first dead end: Mac OS X 10.5, installed on my Mac, being deprecated and not accepting any new application, including Firefox, Google Chrome, SmoothMouse, the Razer Synapse driver and probably many others. Besides the difficulties installing applications, I had issues with YouTube playback in both Safari and Chrome (before I broke it). Playback was choppy, especially when going full screen.

I ended up ordering the Snow Leopard DVD from online Apple Store. That worked better than I expected. I got it on Wednesday. UPS left it at my door, so even if I wasn’t at home, I wouldn’t have to go pick it up somewhere I cannot reach or make a phone call to them to schedule another delivery.

I sticked that DVD in my Macbook on Friday, December 12. The installation process happened to be simpler than I was expecting. Inserting the disk poppped up a wizard proposing me to upgrade to Snow Leopard, directly from Leopard, no need to boot from the DVD. I did that, but the upgrade took more than 45 minutes, longer than any Ubuntu or Windows installation ever, at least for me. Then I had to download and install the combined upgrade that bumped the system up from 10.6.3 to 10.6.8, then another set of updates for iTunes, Java and security.

After this, I was able to access the App Store and connect to it using my Apple ID. When I did it, I felt I was binding this machine to me, this was becoming a bit more mine.

The day after, I was able to toss in Firefox, latest and greatest version. I installed Razer Synapse, but that failed to start. I had to uninstall and reinstall to get rid of the partial non-working installation done in Leopard, but that finally worked and got rid of this damned mouse acceleration that was starting to drive me mad and creating pains in my wrist. However, font size is still too small, making the use of this machine prone to awful pains in the neck. If I don’t have to schedule an appointment with my physiotherapist before the end of this nightmare, I will need to spend a significant amount of time thanking God.

However, as soon as I started to feel this great, things went south once more. The machine became incredibly slow, starting to load from the hard drive almost endlessly. Clicking on the menu bar, including the Apple menu, was freezing the machine for a few seconds. Switching tabs in Firefox was taking a couple of seconds. And the hard drive, almost put to the torture, was never never stopping to spin like crazy.

Yesterday evening, I decided this was enough and worth trying a clean fresh install. For this, I inserted the Snow Leopard DVD once more, hooked up a USB keyboard and turned off the machine. Then that’s when the fun starts. There IS a somewhat reliable way to reach the boot manager. You need to wait for BOTH the chime and a sign of activity on the external keyboard. So I powered the Mac on, and stared at my keyboard’s lower part. As soon as I heard the chime and the Razer logo lit up, I pressed the Alt key. Pressing the key before will not send the Alt KeyPress signal to the Mac, so it will NEVER know I pressed Alt! And pressing too late gives OSX the time to boot off from the hard drive. It also seems that sticking a disk in the DVD drive, any disk, will slow down the boot process enough to leave more time for the USB keyboard  to power up. This time, that worked, so I had the menu allowing to choose between the hard drive and the DVD drive; I selected the DVD drive and pressed Enter.

It took more than three minutes, if not five, to boot up from that DVD. After that, I was in the Mac OS X installer.  From there, I launched the Disk Utility, wiped the hard drive, exited the Disk Utility, and started the installation. This took more than half an hour, I don’t know exactly how much time. After that, I tossed the combined upgrade in once more, then the other updates. I discovered with desperation that Razer Synapse was only available for 10.7. Did this changed suddenly or did Google lead me to a web site that just offered me the download? So I was maybe installing something for 10.7 on 10.6 or 10.5. I thus tried with SmoothMouse instead, and that worked great. Mouse acceleration stopped driving me crazy, and I knew it would work for ANY mouse, not just Razer ones.

The formatted machine was faster, no doubt. It wasn’t freezing when clicking on menu items, Firefox was usable, but things went bad once again when I went to The hard drive started to spin like crazy, scrolling became choppy and playback was almost impossible, even without going full screen. I tried with the HTML5 video player instead of the Flash player; that helped a bit.

Then I got issues with LibreOffice which was working somewhat correctly at start, but froze completely when I was searching for a way to automatically format dollar amounts in Calc. Right-clicking on its icon in the Dock had no effect. I tried to access the menu: no response. The menu was locked up as well. I would thus have to switch to a different machine, search on the Web and find the ackward impossible to remember combination of keys to shut off a program forcibly. Tired of being blocked by all possible applications, even on a freshly installed OS, I yanked the plug and put that damn machine away.

This morning, I sent a new message on the Apple Support forum about the issue. What I got just confused and discouraged me quite a lot. Somebody replied to me that this October 2006 MacBook Pro wouldn’t accept more than 2Gb of RAM and would not upgrade past 10..6.8, and that would be pushing to limits. Ideally, it seems I should order yet another DVD, this time to downgrade to 10.5 and have no possibility of installing any application. This is as frustrating as if I got a 2006 laptop, would install Ubuntu 6.06 on it (the most recent at that time) and would end up not being able to upgrade past this!

According to MacTracker, the machine would accept up to 4Gb, although only 3Gb are addressable. It would also accept Mac OS X 10.7. Whether it would work well with 10.7, even with 3Gb of RAM, remains to be determined. Moreover, I’m not sure at all the MacBook Pro would happily work with the SO-DIMM chip I would find for it. What if I cannot get 667MHz DDR2 SO-DIMM? Would the MacBook Pro and/or Mac OS X live with a 800MHz DDR2 SO-DIMM, of course using it as a 667MHz one? I have no way to know, because Internet is not reliable anymore, sellers in local sellers all tell me they don’t support Mac and Apple is just helpless unless I schedule an appointment with a tech during work hours, bring up that machine to an Apple Store I will have trouble finding and pay an undetermined amount of money, possibly to be told one week later, maybe even after the upcoming Christmas holiday, that it is worthless to do anything with that old laptop.

I am also suspecting issues with the graphic card, because from my extremely bad YouTube experience, even on OSX 10.5, it seems there is no graphic acceleration at all. Maybe the video memory is flawed and the OS/graphic hardware works around in some clunky way.

The best way to know about this would be to boot from a Ubuntu Live DVD or USB. Ubuntu will not apply such workaround, so if the graphic hardware is faulty, it will crash, freeze, hang, etc. If Ubunt works correctly, that means that Mac OS X took the same bad route as Windows, becoming slower and slower with releases. A better CPU will just compensate bad programming, nothing more.

Same issue happened when switching from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, from Windows 98 to Windows XP, etc. Ubuntu is less prone to this, because if the system becomes too slow for the machine, switching to a lighter UI will usually help (e.g., using LXDE instead of GNOME or Unity). Windows and Mac OS X not having this modularity, users are stuck.

With a UNIX base, Apple could have done differently from Microsoft, but they just misused that UNIX base, simply grabbing a BSD kernel to make publicity about illusion of openness.


The Leopard dead end

Finally got it, trapped myself into a dead end. This afternoon, I wanted to get AdBlock Pus back into my own account’s Google Chrome on the Mac. I found out that extensions wouldn’t install unless I update my Google Chrome. I tried it, but that stupidly installed a version of Chrome incompatible with Mac OS X 10.5 and I just cannot revert back to the old Chrome. It cannot be downloaded anymore from Google and apparently anywhere else. So I end up with only Safari as a browser on this machine. I cannot get Chrome anymore, no matter how hard I try. However, one hour ago, after I put away this damned machine, I found out I was able to get Firefox 16, the last Firefox usable on Mac OS X 10.5. This wouldn’t get me access to Sync for my bookmarks and history (now requires Firefox 33 or something), but at least I would get a browser I’m used to and that supports HTML5.

Well, at worst, I can live with Safari as the only browser, but getting blocked to Mac OS X 10.5.8 is a more and more an handicap. It prevents me from getting Firefox with Sync, Chrome, SmoothMouse or Razer Synapse, I don’t have access to the Mac App Store so cannot get back my screen capture utility I started using on my Hackintosh, and cannot obtain XCode, which I would need to obtain MEncoder through MacPorts. MEncoder would be useful to encode videos into the QuickTime variant Final Cut Express prefers for optimum performance, as soon as I find this out, and assuming there is such an optimal format that would avoid lengty rendering or at least reduce its length.

The golden upgrade path: from scratch to Yosemite!

I was imagining an upgrade path capable of leading me to Yosemite. I was over-enthousiast with this, thrilled by the possibility it may be doable. The idea would be the following:

  1. Backup as much as I can the data from the hard drive.
  2. Optionnally replace the hard drive with a 120Gb SSD I don’t use anymore.
  3. Install, from scratch, the Mountain Lion I got during my Hackintosh venture.  The USB key Unibeast produced me is just a wrapped up prestine Mac OS X installer that can boot on MBR-based PCs. The Mac’s EFI will just ignore that part, find the EFI loader from Apple and boot that, bypassing the hacked part of the media. I was thus hopeful to get a fresh Mountain Lion system installed from my hacked USB stick! After all, I paid for Mountain Lion, so it was nice to be able to get a return over investment.
  4. Upgrade to Mavericks through Mac App Store, maybe even directly to Yosemite.
  5. Update to Yosemite through Mac App Store if I had to go through Mavericks.
  6. Find a way to get back Final Cut Express, maybe I will be able to copy it back from backed up hard drive, maybe not.
  7. Enjoy!

Unfortunately, things didn’t go so great. First, installation of a SSD would be a great undertaking, requiring almost tearing apart the whole laptop. Then I found out, by running uname -a from a terminal, that Apple did the same stupid mistake as all other manufacturers until Windows 7 comes out: supply a 32 bits OS on machines with a CPU capable of 64 bits operations!

But Apple went one step further: hard-code the EFI to boot only 32 bits loaders!!! There is apparently no work around. A PC with a 32 bit EFI could be worked around by using the legacy boot, which would allow an OS with 80×86 code to switch the CPU into 64-bits mode. But Mac’s EFI can only boot EFI executables, and EFI executables are incapable of switching the CPU mode, at least as far as I know. I didn’t get confirmation of this from EFI spec, so I may be surprised later on. So if EFI is 32 bits on a Mac, that Mac an only run 32 bits OSes!

Why is it so bad? Well, Mountain Lion and later versions only supply a 64-bits kernel, so they won’t run on a 32-bits EFI, no chance it can happen. So not only I am blocked to Mac OS X 10.7, but I don’t have the needed media to jump there.

This afternoon, I confirmed this theory by attempting to boot the Mac off my hacked Mountain Lion USB stick. Although the EFI displayed the loader from the USB stick, that simply resulted in a forbidden sign, no more.

From Leopard to Lion

Without an access to Mac App Store, getting my hands on Lion will be as hard as getting Mountain Lion. I would have to install an hacked version of Mac OS X into VirtualBox or rebuild my Hackintosh, use Mac App Store to download Lion (assuming it would let me do so without meeting requirements) and transfer that onto a USB stick or DVD.

Any Google search leads me to the need for purchasing the retail DVD of Snow Leopard from Apple Store. That would require ordering the disk online, waiting for it forever and it will be delivered to me while I am at work (unless I spend the whole week working from home, and maybe even then). Ideally, I would purchase a download link to an ISO image and burn it.

However, things are not as simple. This afternoon, pissed off beyond imagination, I tried to search for a Torrent that would allow me to grab that damned ISO. It found several, but I discovered that the ISO file was 7Gb large, so doesn’t fit a DVD. So even if I could download the ISO legally from Apple, I wouldn’t be able to burn it on a DVD. Somebody managed to unpack the ISO on an iPod Classic and installed Mac OS X from that through a Firewire port. Wow! I don’t have such an artillery, nor the iPod classic, nor the Firewire cable. Would I get some luck with a USB stick or external hard drive? Maybe, maybe not.

I kind of lost hope at this point. It seems that a Mac either works out of the box as it is, or requires divine intervention from an Apple technician. But getting an Apple technician to work on the machine is another headache, requiring scheduled appointment, probably during day time, so I would have to interrupt my work day to get that damned computer checked, and probably the tech, when looking at the empty battery slot, would stop there and simply recommend I purchase a brand new Macbook Pro, that would have not just Snow Leopard but prestine all-new super-great super-cool Yosemite. Yeah! But that would cost me more than 2000$, and still no more Final Cut Express.

I don’t know what to do at this point. I’m oscillating between switching gears and reinstalling my Hackintosh, ordering this damned Snow Leopard DVD and see or getting it (illegally, unfortunately) through BitTorrent and fiddling with external media workarounds to accomodate the oversized media. If I can get my hands on a couple of dual layer DVD+-R medias, maybe my burner would be able to write the large ISO on that, maybe not, I never tried.

I finally decided to try ordering the retail DVD. I tried upgrading to expedited shipping to make sure to get it a day I know I would be at home. I also found out that upgrading to Lion would require bumping up memory to 2Gb, so I will have to figure out how to replace the SO-DIMM modules before going from Snow Leopard to Lion.

Note that I also found out that the Mac has a 120Gb hard drive. As a result, if I later on switch to use my 120Gb OCZ Agility 3 SSD, I will have the same amount of disk space, with more speed.

Can this Mac be saved?

If I cannot get a more supported Mac OS X, can this machine be freed from this limiting plague which seems to be Mac OS X? The best thing I could install it is probably a Ubuntu version of some sort. But searches about this are not so positive. Some people succeeeded, but they used an hacked Ubuntu version. Some people are telling it is possible to install a 32-bits version of Ubuntu 14.04 from a DVD or USB stick (EFI could boot the live CD), some didn’t have success unless they used an hacked 12.04 DVD and jumped to 14.04. So this promises to be a very frustrating weekend (and maybe even whole Christmas holidays) of trial and errors! I’m not sure I want to venture into that.