The attack of the Leopard. Ouch.

I’m a technology gadfly, not an expert, but I’m going to weigh in about Apple’s new operating system, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, anyway.

Most Mac users had a smooth experience with installation, but a sizable minority — a larger minority than usual — encountered problems. Because I have two Macs, and had two very different installation experiences, I flatter myself that I can add something to the discussion.

Installation of Leopard on my Intel iMac (one of the early Intel iMacs) was quick and flawless. The only glitch I noticed subsequently was having to enter the WEP key (password) for our WiFi system.

Lulled by that experience, and emboldened because my little 12″ PowerBook (a just-before-Intel machine) is merely a convenient travel machine and holds no significant data, I popped the Leopard disk into its DVD drive and began the install. (For those of you raising eyebrows and betting that the 12″ PowerBook was not a Leopard-eligible machine — nope, it is. The chip is plenty fast. Read on.)

The installation verified the DVD and began to install. But I returned an hour later to find a vague message that the install had failed.

I tried again. On the second try, a message informed me that the installer needed to wipe my drive and install fresh. Sighing, I realized this meant something on my machine was annoying Leopard, and I’d probably need to reinstall the software, piece by piece. But I agreed.

And was quickly surprised when this journaled install failed. But now I had no original OS on the machine to boot with — just the install DVD. At this point, I looked up pricing on the new Intel MacBook and considered reinstalling Tiger on the PowerBook, selling it, and getting the mid-price MacBook. Definitely an option.

I went to the Apple support site and read the discussions, found a few people also struggling with non-Intel PowerBooks, and noted that indeed the problem seemed to be software on the machines that was confounding Leopard. Vaguely intending to configure the options section of the install to address this, I figured “what the *,” and installed again.

To my amazement, it worked. Of course, I ended up with a complete vanilla system, which I now need to reconfigure and repopulate with software and data.

Fortunately, I have my Address Book contacts, browser bookmarks, and calendar all synced through .Mac, so by registering the drive with the new OS on it with .Mac, I had downloaded all that data to the machine in a few minutes.

Over the next few days, with the help of VersionTracker, I’ll be re-installing and re-downloading my basic software for the travel machine. As for data…well, perhaps this is my opportunity to explore the Mac-connecting features of Leopard, or just put the PowerBook in target mode and drag the stuff over.

To sum up the experience, I should have been suspicious about the 12″ PowerBook. I know it’s not like Apple to be overly solicitous about “legacy” machines. I’d be willing to bet that the older your Mac, the more frustrating glitches you’re likely to experience. So — do check out that new MacBook. It comes with Leopard already purring away.

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