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Tiny Mac OS X 10.6.1 Update Fixes Some Bugs

Hewing to the traditional two-week lag between a major release of Mac OS X and the first bug-fix update, Apple has now released Mac OS X 10.6.1. The quick release shouldn’t be surprising: software engineers start working on .1 releases of software as much as four to eight weeks before a .0 release ships.

Oddly, the release is tiny – only 9.8 MB via Software Update on some Macs and about 70 MB on others. The version Apple posted on the Support Downloads site weighs in at 71.47 MB, a fraction of what we’ve become used to with updates to Mac OS X.

Network administrators also get to join in the fun with the release of Mac OS X Server 10.6.1 Update, a 71.57 MB download that appears to address the same issues covered below as well as offering improved reliability of services using Grand Central Dispatch and fixing a problem with duplicate serial number alerts on servers with multiple network interfaces.

We suppose it’s possible that architectural changes to Snow Leopard allow Apple to ship much smaller updates, but it seems more likely that Mac OS X 10.6.1 was pushed out quickly to address only a small number of particularly egregious bugs.

We’re pleased that Apple continues to provide some useful detail about software updates, a change that kicked in several months ago. Now, we’d like to encourage them to hire short-story writers and humorists to flesh out some of the more obscure bullet points. (We’ve made a pass ourselves.)

The 10.6.1 release notes are brief, calling out only nine specific improvements in a KnowledgeBase article:

  • Improves compatibility with some Sierra Wireless 3G modems. These modems are used for mobile broadband connections, and it’s not surprising that the initial version of Snow Leopard had problems with them. “I gazed across the room, thick from the smoke of too many netbook batteries dying smoldering deaths. The light on her USB dongle was blinking. ‘It’s…Snow Leopard,’ she said. I took a deep breath. ‘I have the answer,’ I whispered. ‘Download 10.6.1.'”
  • Addresses an issue in which some printer drivers might not appear properly in the Add Printer browser. This is a broad statement, and it’s not clear what was specifically changed. We’ve received a number of complaints about some printers not being supported in Snow Leopard. One reader escalated a support call to HP through multiple levels until someone finally told him that the 10.5.3 drivers for his HP Color LaserJet 2600n would work in Snow Leopard, even though the printer was not listed as being compatible with Snow Leopard. Since most of the industry expected Snow
    Leopard to ship at the end of September, anecdotal reports indicate that printer manufacturers especially seemed unprepared for the release. (We threw in the towel and reverted to ASCII art and dot-matrix printing during the last two weeks.)
  • Addresses an issue that might cause DVD playback to stop unexpectedly. People still watch movies on DVD when it’s so much easier (and quieter – no drive noises!) to rip the files to hard disk and watch from there?
  • Addresses an issue that might make it difficult to remove an item from the Dock. We suspect this had to do with someone spilling Mountain Dew in the source code.
  • Resolves an issue in which the Command-Option-T keyboard shortcut would sometimes bring up the special characters menu in applications such as Mail and TextEdit. Also, pressing Command-Shift-Option-Left arrow while dancing no longer causes milk to come out of our noses.
  • Addresses instances in which auto account setup in Mail might not work. This is likely related to the next bullet point, or it could have been Mail just being snarky. “Mail won’t set up right / A thousand notes are unsent / Snow Leopard Mail FAIL.”
  • Resolves issues when sending mail with certain SMTP servers (see “Apple Mail Sending Issues in Snow Leopard,” 2009-09-03). Apple changed the order in which Mail tried to connect to outbound SMTP mail servers; Apple described this in a KnowledgeBase article as changing the order in which ports are tried. The article provided some help, but this update should resolve the problem for anyone who left the settings as they were, or who upgrades to Snow Leopard from now on. (The technical issue: Some mail servers use port 587 for authenticated outbound connections, and port 25 doesn’t support authentication. If Mail tried to communicate with
    port 25, authentication would fail, and messages would not be sent. In other words, someone in the mailroom was paying more attention to Facebook than to distributing mailbox keys.)
  • Addresses an issue in which Motion 4 could become unresponsive, a bug that was fixed by Apple’s special irony SWAT team. [Editor’s note: Tonya gets 100 points for correct use of the word irony.]
  • Includes an update to the Adobe Flash Player plug-in version (The 10.6.0 installer installed an earlier version of Flash Player.) Various earlier versions of Flash Player have exploitable flaws, and Snow Leopard overwrote user-installed updates of newer versions. This update gets everyone back into parity. (For more about Flash Player and 10.6.0, read John Gruber’s rundown at Daring Fireball.) As Gruber wrote in a followup, “Hard to believe we survived without it.”

That said, there are clearly other changes. In our use of 10.6.1, we’ve already found that a number of minor inconveniences have been removed:

  • The “black screen” problem with screen sharing that appeared for some users and not others appears to be solved on some systems. With four remote systems that previously displayed a black screen, and required “jiggling” the View menu to get an image, the remote screen appeared immediately or with a 1-second delay. On another computer, the problem remained. (See “Solve Snow Leopard’s Screen Sharing Bug,” 2009-09-07.)
  • In iChat, we found that at least a couple of us couldn’t send files back and forth. With 10.6.1, that problem has gone away. Good to know that we can let the carrier pigeons take a break after pressing them into service under 10.6.0.

On the downside, some bugs remain, including this one:

  • Preview’s handling of multi-line URLs is still broken (see “Two-Line URLs Broken in Snow Leopard’s Preview,” 2009-09-01). In fact, since we published that article, we’ve learned that the problem is worse than previously realized. There are some URL formats, the permanent links to TidBITS articles included, that Preview doesn’t recognize. So, if you saw in a PDF (one that has a proper PDF link box on top of the URL), clicking any part of the URL before “article/” would take you to, which isn’t a valid page on our site. Clicking the article number, because Preview doesn’t recognize it as part of the URL and thus honors
    the PDF link box, works properly. Given how much the Take Control ebooks rely on URLs working, we can’t find anything amusing to say about this bug.

And at least one new bug was introduced (and reported):

  • For Glenn, the 10.6.1 updater wiped out nearly all his login items, including those set automatically by software that adds daemons or agent startup scripts and those he had added manually. Other TidBITS staffers did not experience this problem.

All in all, we recommend that you take a screenshot of the Login Items view for your user account before you install the update. That way, if your login items are toasted, you’ll at least remember what they were. (If you can’t recall your screenshot keyboard shortcut, check the Keyboard Shortcuts view in the Keyboard system preference pane. In Snow Leopard, your screenshots are no longer named “Picture 1,” “Picture 2,” etc.; instead look for a file on your Desktop called “Screen shot 2009…”.) Once your screenshot is in place, you too can share in the spills and thrills of the Mac OS X 10.6.1 update.

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