On my way to meet the wife for dinner last night, I stopped by the local Apple retail store in Southlake, Texas to pick up a copy of OS X “Snow Leopard”. The packaging and even the website for the OS proudly claims this version of OS X is “The world’s most advanced operating system. Finely tuned.”
My expectations were high after reading all of the hype over the past few months. I was also anxious to see if Apple had really delivered a 64bit operating system for my relatively new MacBook Pro. What a let down.
Like many people, I popped the DVD into my Mac and kicked off the upgrade. The setup program informed me it would be about 45 minutes until it was complete. The upgrade was painless. All of my applications still worked. I have a short list of apps on my Mac so I wasn’t too surprised.
I decided at this point to see if the 64 bit OS would do what I really want. Virtualization. So I removed the 4GB of memory and replaced it with 8GB of DDR2 PC2-5300 667MHz memory. It appeared at first that all was well but as it turns out, that would not be the case.
Since I own a copy of VMWare Fusion, I figured I’d see what happens when I allocate a bunch of the memory to a Windows 7 Enterprise x64 virtual machine. I started off with a crazy allocation, 6GB. That didn’t work well. In fact, I started backing down the allocation all the way back to 1GB and still had problems. This seems familiar. Time for bed. Investigation to proceed later the next morning.
64 Bit Kernel Mode
Much to my surprise, my Mac was not running the 64 bit Snow Leopard. I give Apple a break up to this point because if they had converted from a 32 bit OS to a 64 bit OS via an in-place upgrade, that would have been magic. But they didn’t so there’s the first strike for the “most advanced” title.
As usual I started digging around the internet via bing.com and google.com to see what I could uncover. I eventually stumble across http://mygrotto.org/2009/06/boot-64-bit-snow-leopard-kernel.php which does the best job of spelling out some of the tricks to force OS X 10.6 to load the 64 bit kernel. I had already checked my EFI version and knew it was EFI64. I implemented the nvram boot-args AND the Kernel Flags in the /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist file.
Neither worked. In fact, holding down the 6 and 4 keys at boot don’t force the 64 bit kernel to load either. WTF? Sorry, a little cussin is warranted at this point. I got tired of messing around with this and figured it might be time to change direction. So I flattened the box.
Flatten the Box
This particular figure of speech is in common usage among geeks. In operating system parlance, it means to reinstall the OS after first repartitioning and formatting a hard drive. It’s a really destructive step and one that “normal” users don’t do very often, if ever. Most users have no clue how to really backup and restore a machine, so the notion that you are going to wipe a hard drive is a scary thought. I do it frequently so I am well aware of the implications regardless of the OS.
Most of the instructions on the internet imply that a clean install of OS X 10.6 isn’t possible with the $29 DVD unless you already have 10.5 present on the target disk. I tested this theory. Sure seems like the theory is wrong. I purposely whacked 10.5 with a hard drive wipe, powered off mid stream, wiped again, etc. I was still able to boot from the Snow Leopard DVD and install.
Where’s my 64 bit kernel?
After the clean install completed, I set out again to force the 64 bit kernel to load. None of the techniques worked. Neither did the program at http://www.macdownloads.com/info.php/id/32252/32–or-64-bit-kernel-startup-mode-selector.
The world’s most advanced operating system? Bull crap. Here I have a rather expensive MacBook Pro that isn’t even two years old and STILL can’t run Apple’s premier operating system in full 64 bit mode. By comparison, the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p I am typing this on is six months older and runs 64 bit versions of Linux, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. In fact, R2 on my recent SSD drive is nothing short of breathtaking. OS X 10.6 is not the most advanced operating system by my standards and I hold a really high bar.
Some Good News – Exchange mail support
After spending way too much time screwing around with trying to get the 64 bit kernel to load, there were some bright rays of light in my OS X 10.6 journey. The new Mail program and it’s support for Microsoft Exchange is rather good at first glance. Setup was easy and the sync process was ultra fast. The preview pane sucks. It only displays at the bottom and reminds me of a circa 1996 email program. It’s threaded discussion view is pretty decent, so there are some aspects I like. It’s also “free” with the OS.
I installed a number of other applications on Snow Leopard. I first re-installed Office:Mac 2008. After that, I headed over to http://www.microsoft.com/mac/downloads.mspx and grabbed Entourage Web Services Edition, Messenger 7 and the latest RDP client.
The Entourage experience was much improved over prior versions I’ve used. The initial sync was fast compared to the positively glacial speed of prior versions. I like the Erage UI and like the OS X Mail client, setup was really easy.
I would hardly call OS X the most advanced operating system in the world. Sorry, it just isn’t. The 64 bit stuff should just work and I shouldn’t have to try and hack kernel settings via configuration files and non volatile boot args. We kick Apples ass in that regard on a much wider array of consumer hardware, at a lower cost. There is no debate on that.
If someone figures out why my Mac won’t run the kernel in 64 bit mode, let me know. I’m probably going to take it to the local store and let the “Geniuses” there take a shot at it. And by the way snarky people, don’t bother sending me a screenshot of your unibody Mac working perfectly. My MacBook Pro hasn’t burned through it’s first Apple “Cares” agreement so this should not be happening on a Santa Rosa based mac.