OS X "Panther"

About version 10.3.x

The "Panther" update

On 7 November 2003, Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.) released the humongous Panther version of OS X presumably in response to consumer concerns about the gaping security holes in the 'Jaguar' OS X upgrade as well as to entice more Apple users to move onto the latest OS X platform. Unofficially, the 'Panther' upgrade is to help maximise the profits at Apple and keep its shareholders happy.

But who exactly is buying this bloated beast? Perhaps some corporate users and those US students buying a brand new Apple computer which happens to have Panther installed (i.e. no choice really).

To provide a little incentive for people to upgrade to Panther, the US security consulting firm @Stake has advised of three "high level" security problems with OS X version 10.2.8 and lower. The security issues relate to things like:

  • inconsistent file permissions with.dmg files and files packaged by different vendors;
  • the ability to overwrite arbitrary files on an OS X disk and read core OS X files by external users; and
  • a buffer overflow problem when writing long command line arguments causing OS X to crash and possibly allow others to execute commands as root.

The question on everyone's mind is why has it taken this long for a company like @Stake to mention the security flaws in earlier versions of OS X? Why reveal the problems now?

Apple representatives prefer not to give a comment on these security-related problems.

UPDATE
24 November 2003

UBS Securities is helping Apple by suggesting now is the time to invest in Apple shares with a price target of US$23 per share since Apple is said to be "uniquely positioned to show improvement in earnings over the next two years". There is even suggestions Apple has "reinvigorated its brand" thanks to the iPod and iTunes Music Service. And with a number of US individuals and organisations buying the early versions of G5 systems with the promise of extra speed in return for extra heat generated by the G5 microprocessor (you want to make sure the cooling fan is working properly), it would seem Apple's financial position is expected to be strong with an estimated $4.8 billion in cash reserves by the end of 2005.

Nothing like putting a positive spin on the sale of OS X and G5 computers just to get a few more gullible consumers to buy the products!

UPDATE
30 November 2003

The latest OS X version 10.3 known as "Panther" is again suffering from poor security. This time it is in the authentication procedure for IMAP clients. If you have to type a username and password, be aware the encryption procedure for the password has been removed and now the password will just show the . Although not showing the actual characters for your password is okay, Apple has chosen to reduce the security even further by removing the encryption procedure before showing the astericks (*).

UPDATE
19 January 2004

The upgrade to OS X 10.3.x is corrupting the permissions on the invisible /Volumes directory of FireWire 800/400 disk drive "non-boot" volumes as well as the permissions on the NetInfo database for storing user account and other crucial system information. A corrupted FireWire drive may not mount on the desktop and/or critical data may get lost. You will need to use Apple's Disk Utility's "repair permissions" or Alsoft's DiskWarrior to fix the problem. Otherwise, Apple and Oxford Semiconductor has confirmed in November 2003 that Panther users must use the latest firmware version 1.0.5 or higher to at least resolve the data loss issue experienced by some FireWire disk drive users.

The manufacturers of the affected FireWire disk drives include the following:

  • Century Global
  • Club Mac
  • Ezquest
  • Firewire Depot
  • Firewire Direct
  • Glyph
  • Lacie
  • Macpower
  • Other World Computing
  • TransIntl
  • Wiebetech

If you have lost data because of this corruption problem and the standard disk repair utilities such as Disk Warrior 3.0 or higher will not recover all the data from your FireWire disk drive, your final option is to use a tool called Data Rescue X (at extra cost to you if you don't have the software). This tool will not manipulate the directory on your damaged FireWire disk drive to do its recovery job so you'll have a better chance of recovering the data should you decide to send the FireWire disk drive to a professional disk recovery service centre.

UPDATE
July 2004

Apple is cleaning up its act with the latest OS X 10.3.4 update. Fewer security problems seem to plaque this latest "Panther" update. But OS X "Panther" still remains a bugger to network with older Macintosh computers despite turning on AppleTalk! Access to network services is still sluggish and does not access all types of networks.

Alleged improvements under 10.3.4 include better AirPort Extreme connectivity issues for Apple computers having more than 1GB of RAM; system clocks on some eMacs now run at the proper speed (used to run fast under version 10.3.3); less wear-and-tear on the hard drive through the Stickies application (used to save information every 5 minutes even when the computer is idle); launch times for commercial applications especially Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Pro and other Adobe software running under OS X is considerably faster; slightly less RAM usage; and permits the updating of Apple-installed applications that have been moved by the user to another location on the hard disk (previously Apple warned users not to move the Apple OS X applications or any application updates will not function properly).

Positive improvements aside, some users have noticed new and some familiar problems creeping into version 10.3.4. The problems seem to occur for slightly older Macintosh computers (e.g. PowerBook G3 Series "Pismo", titanium G4 PowerBooks, the iBook, and the early model flat-panel iMac and aluminium PowerBook G4).

In one situation, users reported a problem of not seeing the network on relogging to the wireless AirPort technology. Works fine when you log in the first time. But afterwards you have to reboot the machine for the users to re-establish network access.

In another more serious problem, users have noticed their Macintosh computers getting hot very quickly and the fans going on more often and for longer periods of time. As Joshua Brown, a reader of MacFixIt.com, noticed:

"[S]ince I installed the 10.3.4 client update, my PowerBook G4 800 is heating up very badly. The fan turns on because of the excessive heat after no more than five minutes of less-than-vigorous use. According to the 'top' command from within the terminal, I have over 150 MBs of free RAM, and no process (besides top) is using more than 1% or 2% of the CPU. I have been able to reproduce this problem by putting the PowerBook to sleep, letting it cool down, and then waking it from sleep. I have tried different combinations of open applications with the same result. Very strange. I hope Apple will fix this soon, because even with the fan running, I am afraid this thing is going to overheat!" (MacFixIt.com: OS X 10.3.4 Update: More details; positive experiences; issues. 27 May 2004.)

UPDATE
July 2004

The Finder of the 'Panther' update is also known to use more processor time doing mysterious things in the background than usual. The symptoms are a slowing of the computer even when it appears to be idle and doing nothing and an increase in heat emitted by the processor. As a MacFixIt.com reader has noticed:

"I don't have System Events running according to Activity Monitor under Mac OS X 10.3.4, but from time to time my PBG4's fan starts up and spins for no apparent reason, which is normally a sign of high CPU activity.

This time I 'caught it in the act', expecting System Events to be the culprit. But surprisingly, it was the Finder that was eating up 85% of the CPU cycles! A forced quit/restart of the Finder fixed matters, but I'm curious as to why the Finder would have been grinding away using up so much CPU time."

In yet another example, a repeat problem from version 10.1.5 has crept back (or has continued) into version 10.3.4. One user named Gray Tait has reported to MacFixIt.com of a problem getting into the System Preferences under the Apple sign. Apparently it does nothing unless he goes directly to the application itself inside the Applications Folder and launches it from there. This is the same as the OS9 Chooser application for selecting printers and networks under version 10.1.5. You can normally launch Chooser on the first time through the Dock. But if you try to launch it again, it won't work. You will have to go to the original application to open it properly.

UPDATE
August 2004

Apple has improved the sluggishness in gaining access to a network with the 10.3.5 update of OS X. Installation of this latest update is relatively clean and painless for at least 98 per cent of Apple users running OS X. Good! This is a big improvement. But still not free of defects and other annoyances. For example, you can't install a copy of the latest OS X version 10.3.5 on an external hard disk. You must first install an earlier version of OS X on the external drive, boot off from the external drive, then update the OS to version 10.3.5 before you can switch back to your original OS X on the Apple internal hard disk.

Also there is a problem copying files on an OS X machine to a server over a network. The Finder can suddenly quit and relaunching is not possible. Only a proper shutdown and restart will wake up the machine and restore the desktop to normal.

And backward compatibility with older commercial software such as Quark XPress is being sacrificed. Unless there are patches from the commercial software manufacturers, Apple is not likely to fix the problems to improve backward compatibility.

Apple still has a long way to go before it can call its OS X monstrosity a truly secure (without Apple-specific spyware code and in filling up the hard disk with unnecessary information about what you have and what you are doing etc), accessible to all networks (including the older OS9/8.6 Macintosh computers), and virtually a bug-free piece of software. And even if it does reach this level, the Apple hardware to run OS X is plagued with overheating problems to mention a few. Until Apple learns to provide a quality product to consumers without being obsessed with profit, Apple will still be mucking around with the consumers for a little while longer.

About version 10.3...

Updates 10.3.0 to 10.3.9 — Known as the 'Panther' updates, 10.3.x is designed to improve the responsiveness and speed of OS X and fix a plethora of yet more security bugs (you should try version 10.3.5 for the least number of security problems and restrictions and for the most stable OS X ever produced to date). Now, for the first time, OS X is capable of running at almost the speed of OS9 (even without a G5 system)! Some hidden secrets from Apple are slowly being embedded in these updates. One of the biggest secrets is how Apple has decided to force Macintosh users to buy the latest Apple computers. How? The updates draw more power from the battery and AC power adapter to run the older Mac computers for some strange reason. The result: a reduction in the lifespan of various computer parts (mainly the TFT screen and the rechargeable batteries of Apple laptops). Upgrading to the latest G5 desktop computers may solve the problem (hardly any reports of problems on G5 machines). However, the early generation of G5 microprocessors generate too much heat even without the "Panther" update (imagine how much hotter the processors are now with "Panther" running) and these are likely to suffer a shorter lifespan as well. So basically you're stuffed here too! Just to make things a little more difficult, there is also a deliberate attempt to make it harder for OS X users to network with Macintosh computers running OS9 or older systems. Now the AppleTalk control panel and Chooser of OS9 doesn't work and file sharing is seriously restricted to OS X and the latest Windows systems. Much thanks has to go to Apple for this lousy decision. This observation appears to be supported by OS X users such as Elly, a MacFixIt.com reader:

"I will confirm that when I started using my new 15" 1.5GB Powerbook, even with 10.3.4, and later with 10.3.5, I experienced the described file sharing quirk (unable to find Macs through Network browsing, but could through IP). At first (possibly only with 10.3.4) I could sometimes access it through the Network browse feature, after playing with the settings of the local Mac, but could never isolate a specific thing that would trigger it showing up on browse. I resorted to using connect by IP, after eventually failing completely to have it show up on browse. Then today, to write this confirmation, on testing it appears correctly through the Network icon right away! So I will confirm the history of it being buggy, but inconsistent and not reproducible." (1)

Another OS X user named Robert Gross supports this view:

"I have had the same experience on multiple computers. It is sporadic and can almost always be fixed by rebooting. This is not new to 10.3.5, though. I have seen this in 10.3.4 and possibly earlier versions as well. Using the direct IP address always works in these cases." (2)

UPDATE
20 September 2004

Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.) has released a Security Update for OS X version 10.3.5 which now permits users to launch the Chooser in OS9 in Classic mode so you can access OS9/8/7 Macintosh computers. It appears the bad publicity has finally forced Apple to wake up.

And still, after the update, you have one other problem to contend with on version 10.3.5: Anyone with a G3 or early model G4 computer capable of running OS X 'Panther' version 10.3.5 will almost certainly experience intermittent blank screen on wake up from a computer that had been put into sleep mode. You may have to reboot the machine to get the screen working again (and hence the extra wear-and-tear on the machine). So why the different screen behaviour from 10.3.4 to 10.3.5? One factor that seems common is how connecting a USB device and waking up the computer often creates the blank screen problem. Is the USB device drawing higher amounts of current from the computer which is somehow affecting the current going into the screen (the voltage has to be a certain level before the screen turns on properly)? The fact that G5 (and OS9) users aren't complaining suggests the quality controls from Apple must be restricted to G5 machines. Anyone else will have to complain long and hard to get Apple to fix the problem for older systems.

NOTE: The blank screen problem is forcing users to keep the computers running longer and avoiding the sleep mode. Such a decision can only mean one thing: to further reduce the lifespan of the screen, hard disk and other internal parts. Silly isn't it?

NOTE: Making further Security Updates for OS X 'Panther' version 10.3.5 or going for the latest 10.3.6, 10.3.7 together with other Security Updates will not solve the "blank screen" problem (you may have better luck with version 10.3.9). Nor will it solve the situation for customers changing locations on how long it takes for ethernet connections to a network to reestablish itself — now it takes several minutes to reveal the new network instead of immediately once the ethernet information is entered. It is likely this is Apple's way of preparing customers for the release of the 'Tiger' upgrade. Either that, or Apple is hoping to annoy the small group of anonymous people who illegitimately try to get onto another network using OS X searching for free stuff.

If you have to run OS X 10.3 on your Mac, you are best to go for version 10.3.5 plus the first Security Update released by Apple after this version. These two combinations of updates is reasonably stable, smooth during installation if you use the OS X Combo 10.3.5 updater (and fix file permissions using Apple's Disk Utility), and provides much better access to network services. We do not recommend upgrading to 10.3.6 or 10.3.7 (or even the latest 10.3.9). Too many bugs are creeping into the system once again from Apple after version 10.3.5 in an attempt to prepare people to pay the upgrade to Tiger (the preferred option for Apple), or downgrade to version 10.3.5 (the cheapest option for you). But this will necessitate a clean OS install. For example, people who upgrade to 10.3.7 have noticed CD-Rs and some commercial DVDs will not mount or, if they do, cannot be easily ejected from the Finder. The icon of the CD or DVD may also disappear when trying to copy it using Toast. Also some DVD/CD burners are no longer being supported probably in favour of newer burners with special copy-protection measures. Also the Apple DVD player has been poorly updated with complaints that the moving images are looking more blurry on the screen than ever before making the viewing of DVD movies or any movies you create yourself using iMovie or any other movie editing software of unusually poor quality. The ability to use Software Update is also seriously hampered. Resolving the latter problem can now be achieved using Panther Cache Cleaner, but why should customers have to remember to download this utility when this aspect of OS X was working fine in version 10.3.5? It is just wasted time and brain matter. There are more important things to do in life than waste it on OS X.

NOTE 1: It you must update from 10.3.5, go straight to 10.3.9. Otherwise stick to the only really stable and useful version of OS X (which is 10.3.5) for anyone stuck with this OS.

NOTE 2: Apple's latest release of version 10.3.8 is an improvement on version 10.3.6 and 10.3.7 in terms of stability and some improved security. The main issues of concern with users of version 10.3.8 are the changes made to give the impression from Apple that improvements have been made when such changes were not necessary. For example the sensitivity of the automatic screen brightness feature in the latest PowerBook has, for some reason only known to Apple, been modified to the point where the screen brightness literally changes with annoying regularity at a certain common ambient light level in the room. Before the update, no one had complained about this feature. Yet Apple saw the need to tamper with it, only to raise complaints from users to MacFixIt.com. Please note that such rapid changes in screen brightness is considered just as bad as a screen remaining too bright for too long. Rapid changes in screen brightness can wear down the transistors emitting the light in the screen very quickly. Also the Apple driver for running the latest G4 iBook trackpad has been changed to increase the sensitivity of anything that touches it. All it takes is some fluff or the cuffs of your sleeves to cause the cursor on the screen to jump around erratically. Very annoying!

UPDATE
January 2005

Problems with mounted volumes such as keeping them mounted when running disk repair utilities such as Alsoft Disk Warrior has suddenly crept into the OS X version 10.3.6-10.3.7 updates. Now it seems the only way to solve some of these problems is for you to reinstall OS X once more. Sounds more like Apple has noticed too many 'Panther' OS X machines on the internet (more than what they have sold) and are now getting pissed off at the people who aren't purchasing their own licensed copy of the operating system. Additional techniques to track down the pirates include storing details of the original configuration of the OS X Dock at time of installation. Although you can remove and add applications to the Dock, OS X records the original configuration. In that way, pirates cannot pretend later that they didn't have a copy of the illegal software if the machines are inspected by someone (usually an auditor). You can find this out by downloading a copy of K2Dock 1.0. But you better hurry, we hear the utility is getting harder and harder to find online.

UPDATE
13 January 2005

Now that Apple has seen a fair bit of what Apple users do with iTunes when they are online, the company has decided to provide a major security upgrade to version 4.7.1. In return for what is believed to be greater security, you now have an MP3 player that will provide low-quality MP3 encoding facility (high-end frequencies are cut back) and lose a couple of useful features from older iTunes versions. For example, if MP3 files are stripped of header/metadata information thereby rendering the files anonymous (unless you play the music), iTunes 4.7.1 may not play the file. As Steve Godun has discovered (and not mentioned in the release notes from Apple):

"With iTunes 4.7, Apple has apparently taken steps to make it more difficult for people to manage their music libraries. I routinely rip MP3 files using Cleaner as I've found it to be a bit faster than iTunes and doesn't lose as much on the high-end during the encoding process. After I rip the CD I drag the files into my iTunes library, select them, and select "Get CD Track Names" from the Advanced menu. Up until iTunes 4.7, this process worked flawlessly.

I upgraded iTunes to 4.7 yesterday and tonight I ripped a CD in Cleaner. When I went to "Get CD Track Names" I was greeted with a new alert box telling me that "iTunes cannot get CD track names for songs that were not imported using iTunes. To allow iTunes to look for CD track names for this song, import the song again using iTunes." This is just dumb; I can't imagine what purpose disabling this useful feature serves other than to annoy Apple's users. Any ideas?" (www.versiontracker.com)

As a result of this fascinating discovery, Apple has quickly issued a news release showing users the benefits of the update — namely the major security problems it has managed to fix. If it weren't for the excellent user interface of iTunes and the ability to play in the background without interruptions from other applications, the software would be close to being useless now.

UPDATE
1 March 2005

Security Update 2005-002 is allegedly designed to plug security holes in Java applications and Java-enabled web sites. Or in Apple's language, the security problem the company is finding is that there are far too many independent third-party Java-based P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing applications working outside the Apple framework and need to be curtailed somewhat, including LimeWire. A strange idea of security from Apple! It will be interesting to see whether the makers of LimeWire are able to get their application running smoothly again. If not, it would be a classic example of Apple helping the major industries in covering up areas people might be using for illegal purposes.

UPDATE
18 March 2005

More restrictions for the unweary iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie users. Apple has kindly reduced the number of users able to access the shared music library in iTunes 4.7.1. And Apple has kindly closed a loophole that allowed Linux, Mac and Windows users to buy iTunes music from the Apple store without the built-in copy protection code via tools such as PyMusique (3). Furthermore, the encoded music cannot be played on iTunes below versions 4.7 because of a different form of cryptographic system used in the protected music which only iTunes 4.7 or higher can recognise. But as Jon Lech Johansen reports as of 23 March 2005, he claims to have bypassed the latter restriction:

"So sue me

'The iTunes Music Store recently stopped supporting iTunes versions below 4.7 in an attempt to shut out 3rd party clients. I have reverse engineered the iTMS 7.7 crypto which will once again enable 3rd party clients to communicate with the iTMS." (http://nanocrew.net/blog/apple/itms47.html)

This technique of shutting out third-party developers from supplying plug-ins and other specialised tools for a particular commercial software version is quite common. For example, FileMaker, Inc. has decided to stop too many 3rd party plug-in developers of FileMaker Pro versions 4.x to 6.x from developing tools to extend the functionality of databases beyond what the manufacturer had intended. This is done by changing the External() function of pre-FileMaker Pro 7 databases for calling up plug-ins to [pluginname]([parameter1], [parameter2]). It is a change not entirely to the benefit of the customers and developers, and the manufacturer could have retained the previous calling architecture. But for the purposes of reducing the number of powerful plug-ins and forcing people to purchase FileMaker Pro 7, the manufacturer has decided on making this change.

As for iPhoto and iMovie, iTunes-purchased music tracks from Apple's Music Store have a special code such that when the music is embedded in a slideshow or movie, they will not play for anyone else who receives it except for the original owner. Unauthorised users attempting to run the restricted slideshow or movie will receive a message saying, "This computer is not authorised to play the file [name of file].mov."

As for the owner, there is no message to let him/her know of the restriction.

To bypass this restriction for your own personal use among friends and family members, the owner will now have to re-save the music file using another non-Apple utility, or re-digitally record the music. Otherwise you may have to lend your computer to other users (not recommended in our opinion)!

Another downside to the 10.3.8 update is that you will no longer be able to print PDF documents from older Adobe Acrobat Reader versions (i.e. 6.0 or older). You must update to 7.x or higher. Strangely the printing problem does not occur with any other application as far as we can tell.

UPDATE
14 April 2005

The 10.3.9 update contains all of the generous restrictions and security updates up to 10.3.8 courtesy of Apple plus, as alleged by the company blurb, enhanced reliability of file sharing and directory services with networked Macs and PCs; a fix for the new trackpad problems in the latest aluminium G4 PowerBooks built after September 2004, greater reliability of the Apple's Mail.app (except it is more sluggish unless you use an older version of the application), Safari (see the major unreliability problem below) and Stickies applications (Did Apple make Stickies perfect? Amazing!); combined security updates of the past (including the Java updates affecting third-party file sharing applications); compatibility for more third party applications (obviously not the file sharing applications) and devices (no latest firmwares); and fixes to the newly created problems of 10.3.8 (e.g. excessive fan noise and problems of waking the machine from sleep).

Despite the improvements (if you can call it that), the main problem you will discover with 10.3.9 (yes, Apple wouldn't let you be free without one), assuming you can live with the abovementioned restrictions from 10.3.6-10.3.8 on iMovie, iTunes and the Java components through Java 1.4.2 Update 2, is the second instalment of significant security updates for the Java components. As Apple described it:

"This update closes a vulnerability that allowed remote websites to load javascript to execute in the local domain." (Apple Knowledge Base article #301327)

In return for this useful security fix, Safari in its current updated 1.3 version (as of April 2005) has been made suddenly unstable. In other words, people running java applets on Safari will now crash the internet browser. The crash does not occur on Microsoft Internet Browser or Netscape Navigator. Safari will also add, without your consent, bookmarks to the web sites you visit as chosen by Apple.

Other programs affected by the Java components update include the popular file sharing tool known as Limewire, and iRecordMusic.

In essence, Apple is forcing you to update the Safari 1.3 application again when the company is ready without doing the quality control. Or is trying to get users to perform a clean installation of OS X 10.3 and update it to 10.3.9 before reinstalling the OS X applications (an unofficial policy of making life difficult for software pirates as well as people doing the right thing).

Otherwise wait around and hope third-party developers will update their software.

In the meantime, the best solution to the Java/Safari problem is to try the full Combo 10.3.9 Update (a clean installation of OS X 10.3 may be required, otherwise don't use the delta updater and go for the full combo update) and repair permissions to all files. Alternatively use the full Combo 10.3.9 update and either reinstall the older Security Update 2005-002, or try the recent Java 1.4.2 Update 2 by using the unpkg 1.4 utility to unpack the Update and manually place the files (not the folders) into the appropriate locations. Installing the Update 2 normally will not work. Unfortunately this latter workaround solution is not guaranteed to solve the problem and it is likely to affect the latest security fix — you may lose the security fix until Apple updates Safari to a more stable version (or hope Java-enabled websites and applications from third-party makers will be updated).

Another possible solution is to disable the Safari plug-ins in the Security section of Preferences. More specifically, some third-party plug-ins could be seen by Apple to be unstable or insecure and may cause Safari to crash (e.g. AcidSearch.bundle in the /Library/Application Support/SIMBL/Plugins). NOTE: AcidSearch.bundle has been immediately updated to version 0.41 to handle the latest OS X.

And as another possible solution, try deleting the Safari preference file called com.apple.Safari.plist in the folder /Library/Preferences. Restart Safari for the improvement to take place.

Again why should customers have to worry about this? Didn't Apple have the time to check Safari 1.3 and the OS X 10.3.9 update on all versions of 10.3.x computers? Already we have seen Apple pull down suspect OS X server updates before a new replacement arrives. Will we again revisit another 10.3.9 Update revision just to ensure everything works smoothly again? If Apple doesn't make the improvement, customers will have to view the 10.3.9 update as Apple's way of quietly forcing customers to buy the latest OS X version 10.4, which we understand has just been released, or reinstall all your software.

One other oddity we should mention concerning the 10.3.9 update. Apple recommends Safari should be kept in the Applications folder for the update to do its job. Yet the funny thing users are discovering is how you can leave Safari in the Applications folder and make another copy of Safari for safe keeping in a different folder location (usually outside the Applications folder), then the 10.3.9 update will somehow locate this other copy and update it. So either Apple is incorrect in claiming the updates are only performed on applications inside the Applications folder, or Apple is trying to do funny things.

NOTE: If you want to keep an old copy of Safari, use Disk Copy to create a.dmg or.iso archive file.

As for users running the Classic Environment, things are beginning to look very shaky. Could this be the first signs of Apple doing away with the Classic Environment by forcing users to buy purely OS X software? Fortunately users have discovered by accident the solution of disabling the Apple Menu Options control panel of OS9 to make it stable again (so why hasn't Apple notified users of this?), or reinstall the full 116MB Combo 10.3.9 updater (is anyone still using the Delta updater?).

Microsoft's Virtual PC 7.0 is also likely to be affected by the update. As one user has written to MacFixIt.com:

"Since updating my wife's dual 2.5GHz G5 to 10.3.9 she cannot run Virtual PC. We have the latest version, but two weird things happen: starting the start menu kills access to the dock. When we stop the start menu, the dock returns. Also, Virtual PC is not recognizing keyboard input."

Virtual PC users may have to wait for an update from Microsoft to resolve incompatibility problems.

And still the problem of unreliable mounting of removable media continues to affect users despite the level of refinement we should have reached with 10.3.9.

UPDATE
18 April 2005

Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.) acknowledged there is a problem "with Java applications and Java-enabled websites when using Safari" according to the Knowledge Base article published by the company titled Java and Safari issues after updating to OS Xv10.3.9 (changed to About the Java Update for Mac OS X v10.3.9). Unfortunately the solution provided by Apple is no different from the users who discovered by accident the Security Update 2 and using the Java 1.4.2 Update 2 solutions (with support from MacFixIt.com). How about being a little more original and try giving an improved Combo and Delta 10.3.9 update to solve the problem? If it means updating Safari 1.3 to 1.3.1 to solve it, then so be it.

And while the company is at it, might as well include the latest Security Update 2005-004 just released on 20 April 2005 to fix a buffer overflow problem in iSync. As Apple reported:

"The iSync helper tool mRouter contains a buffer overflow vulnerability. This could result in the execution of arbitrary commands as root by local system users. Security Update 2005-004 fixes this issue by providing a patched version of mRouter. Credit to Braden Thomas for reporting this issue."

UPDATE
21 April 2005

A number of FireWire devices seem to be affected by the latest 10.3.9 update — they may not mount or, if they do, not consistently. The solution it would appear is to download the latest firmware from the web sites of the manufacturers of these devices (yes, that means you doing the work of fixing the problems in what we must describe as Apple's lousy attempt at an improved customer service policy). The same is true of any other third-party software (e.g. FireFox, Mozilla, Camino and LimeWire 4.8.1 Pro) you use which seem to misbehave under the latest OS X.

Naturally all this work must make some people wonder exactly what Apple was trying to say to customers when it said in its Knowledge Base articles about OS X 10.3.9: "...compatibility for more third party applications and devices"? Perhaps Apple should have said, "...compatibility for more third party applications and devices so long as you do all the updating and upgrading (at your expense) yourself, which will definitely involve lots of crossing of your fingers in the hope that the third-party plug-ins, FireWire devices and other software will be updated by the developers."

Now that would make a whole lot of sense to everyone.

UPDATE
23 April 2005

Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.) has, much to its credit on this extraordinarily rare occasion, released a 1MB update to fix the Java problems introduced by OS X version 10.3.9. The update is not a proper fix. We call it the classic Clayton update. It is a fix designed to remove the problematic set of Java classes in an area known as Java Shared Archive (JSA) responsible for many of the Java-related problems. This should hopefully minimise complaints from most users. As Apple puts it:

"To reduce the memory footprint of Java applications, the HotSpot Java Virtual Machine (JVM) in Mac OS X makes use of a Java Shared Archive (JSA). The JSA contains the preprocessed internal HotSpot JVM representations of common standard Java classes that would otherwise be found and processed from the standard classes.jar file. Mac OS X 10.3.9 has exposed an issue in the use of the JSA, by which the virtual memory location of libhotspot.dylib can become incompatible with the current JSA. This can result in Java crashing on every execution.

The Java Update for Mac OS X 10.3.9 addresses this issue.

After installing the automatic software update and fixing the issue, Java no longer has a Java Shared Archive (hence the optional steps above). Users that run a large number of Java applications simultaneously will see an increase in memory pressure (usually 3Mb per application), because there is no Java Shared Archive."

Apple assures us the JSA is not needed to run Java applications. It is only needed when users are running large numbers of Java applications and OS X needs additional Java code to coordinate the applications appropriately.

Given how many applications are made in Java these days for OS X, this is going to be a hell of a lot. And that means a lot of users will be affected. Now users will have to be a little sparing in the number of Java applications they can run simultaneously or they will run out of memory very quickly. Sounds like Apple will be enjoying another bout of memory card upgrades from gullible consumers.

However, the latest 1MB update doesn't get to the heart of the problem. It just delays the job of properly fixing the Java issue so Apple doesn't have to see too many complaints from users and also convince users to see the benefit of the latest OS X version 10.4 "Tiger" upgrade. Come to think of it, how many users are finding problems with their Java applications and Java-enabled web sites using OS X version 10.4? Information at hand suggests no one is complaining!

Doesn't this speak volumes about Apple's decision to provide a "Faulty Towers" 10.3.9 update to users?

We recommend reinstalling the 10.3.9 update, but this time try the full Combo 10.3.9 Update file. Yes, this is the whopping 116MB file designed to freak out your local ISP with heavy bandwidth use. There seems to be a general consensus the Combo updater does a much better job of keeping the JSA without all the hassles. We are also hearing no problems exist if you wipe your hard disk clean and do a full installation of OS X 10.3.0 and update to 10.3.9 (Apple loves this idea). If you do this, remember to backup all your critical files (Apple hates this idea).

UPDATE
30 November 2005

Apple has released Security Update 2005-009. A noticeably speedier starting up and running of OS X (both 10.3.9 and 10.4.3) this time.

If you want the least amount of updates necessary to get the latest and most stable form of OS X 10.3.9, we recommend installing the following Apple updates in the order shown:

  1. From OS X 10.3.5, install the Apple Combo Updater to bring it to OS X 10.3.9.
  2. Install the OS X Interface Update (improves OS X 10.3.9 performance).
  3. Install the Security Update 2005-009 for Panther.

This should give you the most stable and quickest OS X 10.3.9 for your computer. But don't try to over do it by getting the latest iTunes 6.0.2 (ask yourself, "Why do I need this software?"). This MacFixIt report released on 13 January 2006 suggests Apple's own Disk Utility suddenly fails to repair your disk because of something funny in the latest iTunes software. One solution to this annoying problem is to remember to drag the entire iTunes folder out of the Applications folder (to the Desktop is fine although you may be tempted to move it into the Trash when you hear below of other bugs) before running Disk Utility.

Or simply delete iTunesX.pkg and iTunes.pkg (from ~/Library/Receipts).

And now rumours have it that the real reason Disk Utility is misbehaving is because iTunes 6.0.2 carries Intel code for compatibility with the new Macintels (to arrive in February 2006), but not for Disk Utility in OS X version 10.3.9 or less. Some observers have suggested a utility called TrimTheFat will help solve this problem by removing the Intel code and so make iTunes 6.0.2 behave properly with Disk Utility on OS X version 10.3.9 PowerPC machines.

If you can't find this utility, try stripping the Intel code using the following Terminal commands:


sudo ditto rsrc /Applications/iTunes.app /Applications/iTunes-thin.app

sudo rm -rf /Applications/iTunes.app

sudo ditto arch ppc rsrc /Applications/iTunes-thin.app /Applications/iTunes.app

sudo rm -rf /Applications/iTunes-thin.app
 

How it works is that the command "ppc" represents the code you want to retain, stripping (or thinning) all other executable codes. This idea was suggested by Frank Kittie.

NOTE: If you want to strip PPC code in favour of Intel code only, replace "ppc" with "i386".

Actually there are other bugs in iTunes 6.0.2 you may wish to avoid by downgrading the application. For example, we hear that creating a smart playlist and setting the "my rating" as a criteria has a bug where you cannoy set three stars. The PC version of iTunes 6.0.2 is fine, but not the Mac version. Apple has quickly acknowledged this problem a few days after users discovered it. And there are problems when synching with iPod. And how can we forget the ability through iTunes 6.0.2 to rename MIDI files automatically to a default name. The files are identified by iTunes as QuickTime Movie files. But clicking on the song in iTunes could be enough to cause the name to change.

If you find all this incredibly annoying, remove iTunes 6.0.2 manually by deleting:


(i) The iTunes 6.0.2 folder (located in /Applications)

(ii) com.apple.iTunes.plist (from ~/Library/Preferences)

(iii) iTunes.pkg (from /Library/Receipts)
 

Now install iTunes 6.0.1. Wow what a difference this makes!

However, downgrading can have its own problems as well. As MacFixIt.com reader named Mike discovered:

"These problems with 6.0.2 have me especially concerned since ITMS will no longer allow me to purchase anything unless I upgrade to at least iTunes v6.0! I've been happily using iTunes 4.9 under OS 10.3.7 on my MDD G4 at home with no problems. Now I apparently must not only move to v6.0, but must D/L 6.0.2, and face a new round of Apple software problems." (MacFixIt.com: iTunes 6.0.2 (#3): More on Disk Utility's inability to complete repairs; Smart playlist bug; more. 13 January 2006.)

While most versions of iTunes are reasonable, this latest version can best be summed up by a quote from another MacFixIt user:

"I think it's fair to say that we can put the iTunes 6.0.2 release in the "what the hell was Apple thinking?!" file. What a disaster! Ya, know... Apple... it wouldn't hurt to do a little more beta testing before you waste your customer's time dishing out CRAP like this. Please don't become Microsoft..." (MacFixIt.com: iTunes 6.0.2 (#3): More on Disk Utility's inability to complete repairs; Smart playlist bug; more. 13 January 2006.)

The most stable OS X "Panther" version

Currently the most stable version of OS X "Panther" is 10.3.9. As there are no further updates to OS X "Panther" other than the usual Security Updates, there isn't much you can go wrong with this version.

NOTE: There seems to be a trend from Apple that the most stable version of any OS X is when it reaches 10.x.9 (e.g. 10.3.9, 10.4.9 etc). If you want to get away from the nonsense of updating applications for better compatibility with the latest OS X and a more stable OS X experience, wait for the final release of any OS X version and make sure the version number ends with 10.x.9 (and not 10.x.10 or 10.x.11).