Defindit Docs and Howto Home

This page last modified: Jul 21 2008
description:An honest list of Apple Computer OSX problems
title:OSX isses and hints

Table of contents
My List of features
My List of issues


Most of the notes below are from 2007. In 2008 our group installed a
new XServe cluster running Leopard aka OSX 10.5. There have always
been a low level of issues running OSX as a server. NFS mounts have
fairly frequent failures. The NFS mounts are OSX-to-OSX so there's no
blaming some foreign NFS server. Suddenly in July 2008 users are being
locked out of the system after an upgrade on the authentication server
(the authentication server is also OSX). No reason is given in the
logs. I'm a software developer writing and running bioinformatics
software on the cluster. I never login with my password because I'm
using ssh and a public key. When the problem developed, SSH was quite
happy to log me in, and then OSX closes the connection. My account has
been locked out. The sysadmin unlocks my account, and a couple of
hours later I'm locked out again. No clear reason why. The Apache
error log shows that when I run CGI pages mod_auth_apple says that
checkpw has failed authentication. However, the sysadmin points out
that these error can be seen in the Apache logs for at least a year
back. The CGI pages run and load normally. SSH login with OSX can be
very, very slow (10 seconds). Just this morning I had SSH request a
password, even though I've got a public key. After logging out, SSH
let me in as usual.

Historically, on all our OSX machines, NFS is very fragile. This means
that fairly large files which are used read-only have to be copied to
cluster nodes. 

This is all silly. Apple support has no useful answers. Our sysadmins
have been to several Apple training seminars, so the high rate of
problems cannot be attributed to ignorance. Our sysadmins are
dyed-in-the-wool Apple advocates, and long ago I was an Apple
evangelist, so we can't attribute the problems to a subconcious
distaste for OSX. I'm forced to conclude that OSX is not a serious
server operating system.

We manage our Linux machines with no drama. The Linux servers have
very high uptimes and odd problems with unknown causes are rare. We
didn't need to attend many training seminars for Linux (Online guides
and documentation have been sufficient.)

OSX is a good desktop operating system. However, as a server is it
fragile, and has bizarre add-ons that even Apple engineers do not
understand. (If you are an Apple engineer, please feel free to contact
me and clear up these issues.)


This is a little document of what is not quite right about OSX. To be
fair, OSX has many strengths, and Apple ships a nice suite of
software. OSX is more sophisticated than Linux, but then Linux is
free. (The caveat to "more sophisticated" is that many OSX command
line utilities are based on outdated versions of the software. For
instance "date" and "tar" are many years out of date and therefore the
OSX versions lack many useful features.)

Please do not send me email about how wonderful Apple and OSX are, or
how wrong I am. Instead, be realistic about Apple's shortcomings and
do something about them. If you have workarounds for Apple's
non-features, feel free to email me those.

I will happily add them to my hints and tricks for OSX. 
(Most of this is for developers and sysadmins.)

Oddly, OSX lacks many of the user interface features of Linux (and
Windows XP for that matter). Apple claims to be an innovator, but in
the area of user interface, Apple has made few innovations since the
early 1980s. (I invite you to send me a list of innovations in UI
since Max OSX 3.x. It is a short list.) Even worse, Apple locks
everyone into a single user interface style. As much as I admire Apple
and OSX, Apple is the company of dictatorship and a mono-theistic
state-religion way of doing business. The Linux desktop choices and
configuration are very flexible. You can even make your Linux destop
look and work like the Mac (a menu at the top of the screen instead of
attached to each window). Linux is flexible about button placement,
and a whole host of user interface choices. Windows doesn't allow a
great number of choices, but it is fairly flexible, and quite
consistent. You don't have to be part of the Win XP secret priesthood
to use Windows.

My list of features

I'll work on this later. Everyone is always gushing about the Mac, so
there isn't much point in adding to the fervor. I'm more interested in
Apple fixing and innovating instead of resting on their laurels.

- My standard USB 3 button mouse works well. 

My list of issues

- I'm not the only one who has noticed issues with OSX. Here's an
  article that goes through a list of issues noted in a ComputerWorld

- The help for "copy cd" is wrong with OSX Tiger. There is no menu
  item to create a disk image from a mounted disk. It is possible to
  create the disk image by manipulating the "create disk image from
  folder" dialog box. However, Disk Utilities will not copy audio CDs
  as audio, but instead silently copies them as data CDs. There does
  not appear to be a player that will treat a .dmg or .cdr disk image
  as an audio CD.

  iTunes will copy music CDs, however, first you have to read the
  tracks into a playlist (not just into your Music Library). iTunes
  will not burn a CD from music tracks in your Music Library. First
  you must move the tracks to a playlist (or find them in an existing
  playlist). The tracks must be checked. Select the tracks to write on
  to the CD. iTunes will not automatically select all the tracks from
  the original CD, you must do this manually. After selecting the
  tracks from a playlist, a button "Burn disk" will appear in the
  lower right of the iTunes window. Now iTunes will burn a copy of
  your music CD. It is very slow, but works fine.

- OSX does not appear to have a CD player as such. iTunes will play a
  CD, but it really wants to import the tracks. Quicktime will play
  individual tracks, but doesn't seem to understand how to play the
  whole disk.

- The Mac doesn't even ship with a graphics program. (I couldn't find
  a graphics program, but maybe one exists and the name simply is not
  obvious. Remember, unless you are part of the inner circle of the
  Mac priesthood, the Mac is difficult to use and confusing). I'm a
  software engineer. I was a Mac Evangelist for more than ten years. I
  have a brand new Mac Mini and I can't find a painting or drawing
  program on my computer. I wish people would stop spreading the false
  myth that the Mac is best for graphics.

- The only word processor that is free with the Mac is TextEdit. It
  works, but it isn't a very good tool. Yes, you can download
  OpenOffice, but many users don't know that. Instead of including a
  free office package, Apple includes a trial version of MS Office,
  and a trial version of iWork (which I suspect is some wacky,
  non-standard package that will disappear in a few years leaving all
  your documents ophaned). If your needs are minimal I suggest you try
  Google Docs ( ). If you need a full-featured
  office suite try the wonderful ( ).

- The Mac basically is horrible for games. This deeply ironic fact
  reveals the stupidity of the Win vs Mac debate. Games are cool. The
  Mac can't do games. How can the Mac still be cool? Win does
  business, and Win does games. Win is cool and can do business. 

- Adding a cups ipp printer requires that you enter the hostname as
  ip_address:631 and the queue as printers/printer_name. OSX will not
  browse the queue name. This could be the fault of Fedora CUPS, but my FC6
  box happily browses the queue name. Thus if the ipp host is and the printer is called LJ3 in the host field you enter:

  and in queue you enter:


  I suspect the problem is at the Fedora end, but with the impossible
  state of documentation for CUPS, who can tell?

- When you get to the Registration screen that wants info (name,
  street, etc.)  hit Apple - Q ("apple" is the command key, and is the
  "windows" key if you are using a standard, non-Apple keyboard).  It
  will ask do you want to skip registration.  Say yes and it will
  continue on with the rest of the setup without doing
  registration. How is a new user supposed to know about the command-Q
  feature during registration?

- Apple still has "firmware" and it needs infrequent updates.  The
  firmware update process is improved over the old methods that
  required writing the update to a bootable disk. My gripe is that as
  far as I can tell the firmware is nothing less than Apple's
  irritating strategy to build a hardware monopoly.

- OSX is funny about standard keyboards. Sometimes ours stops working
  (and then starts working a little later). Additionally, since Apple is
  the only system that has the wacky Apple/Command key, the key
  combinations are different from Windows/Linux. On the plus side,
  during the initial configuration, there's a little keypressing
  exercise to determine the keyboard identity, and that worked fine.

- It is a feature that the Num Lock LED does not light. Apple does not
  use the numeric keypad as cursor control. Cursor control is
  performed by the cursor keys, therefore the numeric keypad is always
  in Num Lock mode. I had to ask a Mac guru to learn this factoid
  about the Num Lock LED.

- Wireless and Bluetooth default to active. I hope they are both
  locked down to prevent the computer from being hacked. I disabled
  both features, and will enable them after studying available
  security options.

- OSX won't start up without registering even though it says
  registration is not required for the warranty. Your personal
  information is required. Granted you could (and perhaps you should)
  enter false information. I wonder what happens for computers that
  don't have a network connection.

- The non-server version of OSX can't manually set the uid of a new
  user. This is yet another example of Apple basically admitting that
  their computers are still toys (and Apple has been around 25 years.)

- Dialog boxes of some applications like firefox startup get hidden
  behind one the Finder windows. For those of you who aren't part of
  the Apple club, the "Finder" is just a fancy name for the desktop
  file browser.

- New Firefox windows overlap the Dock when the dock is in its
  standard bottom location. The resize corner of the window is
  partially visible throught the translucent Dock, but you can't click
  it be cause the Dock is always in front. The simple solution is to
  move the dock to the right side.

- Command-tab (the Apple equivalent of the Linux/Windows alt-tab) only
  cycles through applications, not all open windows. Alternatives are
  command-F4 and command-` (command-backtick which is the little tick
  under the tilde next to the digit 1 key). 

  There is a show-all-windows feature on F9 called "Expose" (That is
  Exposé as in Exposee. It's a stupid name for several technical
  reasons, but I'll rant about that elsewhere.)  On the Macs at my
  work, F9 and then tab cycles through the windows in order.  However,
  at home where we have a Mac Mini and a standard 102 key USB
  (non-Apple) keyboard, using the tab key often does not cycle through
  the open windows. The arrow keys can be used to select a window in
  Expose, but it fails why the window arrangement is kind of
  diagonal. As soon as Expose starts arranging the open Window
  thumbnails in diagonals, there are wondows you can't select without
  using the mouse. The selection process does not wrap
  around. Selection begins the select with different windows if you
  start with left-arrow vs right-arrow. If you are crazy enough to
  command-tab while Expose is up, thing really get weird. You can
  easily get into a situation where Expose and command-tab are
  ignoring your keystrokes (the keystrokes seem to go to the
  application that is behind Expose. Apple has an outright lie in the
  first sentence on this page:

"Instantly access any open window with a single keystroke - 
and stunning style that can never be imitated."

  It always takes at least two more keystrokes (arrow, enter) or a
  mouse-click to select any open window. As for the style being
  imitated, Linux may have such a feature, and from screen shots of
  Microsoft Vista, it looks like Vista has such a feature, but with an
  improved user interface. 

  There seems to be a feeling among Apple evangelists that everyone is
  born knowing how to use the Macintosh. They claim is it easy and fun
  to use. In this document I show several examples that are far from
  obvious. Expose is a good example. Unless you spend quite a bit of
  time reading about the Mac user interface, how would you know that
  the F9 key gives you a window chooser? There is a long list of wierd
  and wacky "featurs" of the Mac that you either need to learn by
  reading, or from someone who is already part of the secret Apple
  club. I think Windows is somewhat easier for beginners than the
  Macintosh. Linux would be easier except that getting Linux fully installed
  requires a Linux guru. The Mac is a good machine, but I hate Apple's

- Terminal has some interesting bugs. For paste, if there is high
  ascii in the clipboard (For example, hex 0x2E, the HTML character
  — ) in the string being pasted, then Terminal pastes the
  portion of the text before the 0x2E and simultaneously transmits
  meta-v to the server. In some cases it seemed to paste the second
  half of the text, but I haven't been able to reproduce that
  behavior. If you happen to be using Emacs, meta-v is the "page-down"
  command. The problem also occurs when using the mouse to select
  Edit->Paste. I can't tell if this is yet another example of Apple
  programmers breaking Apple's own user interface rules, or just some
  stupid bug.

  Terminal doesn't transmit page-up (and similar keys) to the
  server. Instead it captures them and scrolls back in the buffer. 

- The location of the window close/min/max buttons is fixed. Windows
  can only be resized from the lower right corner. Placement of new
  windows seems somewhat random. Perhaps it is akin to FC's KDE "smart
  placement" option.

- Does removing the dashboard from the dock cause the dashboard
  application to exit, and save some ram? Probably not.

- The extra cursor keys (Insert, Home, Page Up, Delete, End, Page
  Down) pretty much do not work. They have different actions in
  different applications. As far as I can remember, these keys are
  consistently mapped in Linux and Windows. Only Apple sees fit to
  change the key mappings between applications. Home and End scroll
  the window, but do not move the cursor (often). In "Terminal" they
  change windows (which has nothing to do with scrolling or cursors). 

- What is being saved by the "save" option in the Terminal? How does
  one create a ".term" file? Non-obvious, but I haven't read the docs

- When a .dmg gets downloaded, and auto opens, a wacky dialog appears
  with the new application's dialog box. This box has an application
  icon, some weird "+" icon and the Mac Finder's Application folder
  icon. Now what? No tooltips, no hints. As far as I can tell, the
  application will run from the .dmg, and I have to wonder how many
  people are still running Firefox from the downloaded .dmg because
  they don't know how to copy Firefox to the application folder.

- While Apple doesn't support the open media standards like Ogg, I was
  able to get some iTunes compatible file format support from Xiph.

  As part of my continuing rant: Apple is just as guilty as Microsoft
  when it comes to creating new proprietary standards as an attempt to
  lock-in customers. Apple is fundamentally like Microsoft, but less
  successful. Ogg Vorbis and FLAC are wonderful open music encoding
  standards. Apple could even open source (with a free license) AAC.

- Terminal allows the window with focus to be behind the front
  window. It has been a long time since I saw this feature (actually a
  bug) in a graphical user interface.

- SSH is controlled via Sharing. I had to ask a Mac person. Searching
  Google was no help. If you are going to use a Mac you need to learn
  the non-intuitive Apple nomenclature. Apple is not inclined to use
  standard names for things.

- I'm still trying to find out if OSX will do NFS (client or
  server). It appears to be as easy as Finder > Go and then enter
  nfs://hostname/directory and choose a local mount point.

- My Mac Mini has trouble waking up. Half the time it blanks the
  screen after waking up, and has to be "awakened" again. It could be
  that OSX has some minor incompatibility problems with generic
  keyboards and mice.

- Microsoft is clear about versions of XP: XP Home, XP Professional,
  etcetra. Apple just says your computer comes with OSX. You have to
  do some research to find out that what you get on the normal

  Macintosh is the home version of OSX.

- Apple created a new windowing engine called Darwin (or Quartz?)
  instead of using the standard unix X Windows system. Keep in mind
  that OSX is unix. In fact OSX is BSD, and OSX runs X. However, the
  normal Apple appications only work with Darwin, and not with X.

  X Windows has issues, but Apple could have overcome these with less
  work than it took to create a new system. However, if Apple used X,
  then all their software would be compatible (at least display-wise)
  with current Linux machines, and Apple would have a smaller

- The Mac Mini cannot be repaired with normal tools, i.e. screwdriver