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Furore over Mac Leopard 'blue screen of death'

Finger-pointing over Mac OS X upgrade flaw

The creators of APE (Application Enhancer) on Saturday denied that their application-enhancement framework is responsible for blue-screening Macs being upgraded to Leopard. Apple, however, blamed the software in a support document advising users to delete APE from their machines.

Within hours of Leopard's debut on Friday, users began reporting a "blue screen of death" that appeared after running the default Upgrade option. On affected Macs, the blue screen stymied the required restart after the install, locking users out of their computers.

The Installation and Setup forum on Apple's support site was quickly flooded with messages, including one that fingered Unsanity LLC's APE, software required to run Mac customising haxies such as ShapeShifter, as the culprit. A user identified as Chris Mcculloh posted instructions on manually deleting APE using the Unix command line to kick the Mac through the restart.

Others spread Mcculloh's instructions to new threads on the Apple forum, and reports of success poured in. "This fix seemed to work perfectly for me," said TuHolmes.

Trouble is, said Unsanity in an email to PC Advisor's sister title Computerworld US on Saturday afternoon, it's all bunk.

"APE has an artificial block implemented so it refuses to load," said Rosyna Keller of Unsanity. "It checks the version number and, if it is 10.5, bails. No other code is executed from APE and at no time are any APE modules loaded." Keller said he had installed Leopard on three different APE-equipped Macs without problems.

"The only possible way APE could even remotely, theoretically be involved is if they are using an over two-year-old version of APE (1.5.1 or 1.5, May 2005). But if they're on an ICBM (Intel chip-based Mac), this is not a possibility as we never released an APE that was compatible with the ICBMs that did not have the system version check."

Unsanity added a caution to a standing compatibility note on the home page of its website on Saturday: "Please make sure you have Application Enhancer 2.0.3 or later installed before you upgrade to Mac OS X 10.5." It also sent email to members of its mailing list that contained the same advice.

Apple, however, appeared to have decided that APE was the cause of some, if not all, of the blue screens. In a document added to its support database late Friday, the company said "third-party 'enhancement' software" may be the cause, then listed as one of two possible solutions deleting the same four APE files as Mcculloh had highlighted earlier.

Keller said Apple got it wrong, too. "In this case, it's the deletion of Library/Preferences/com.unsanity.ape.plist [one of the four files marked by Mcculloh and Apple for deletion] that shows that no one has actually bothered to troubleshoot this issue," he said. "This file does nothing. It only exists to tell APE to disable itself if you open the APE prefpane and click 'Temporarily Disable.'

"You'll always have people suggesting voodoo solutions to problems (like repairing permissions) and then claiming it works when simply rebooting was the fix," Keller added.

Some users reporting blue screens - who had reinstalled Leopard, the second time successfully, by using the Archive and Install option - swore they did not have APE on their Macs or that the fix did nothing to fix the problem. "I've tried both fixes posted in this thread - Archive [and] Install and Application Enhancer removal - to no avail," said rweissman01 on the Apple support forum.

In a series of follow-up emails late on Saturday, Keller was adamant that APE wasn't to blame because, well, it couldn't be. "We have not been able to reproduce this issue with APE 2.0.3 on any computer we've tested it on running 10.5. [And] the instructions for 'solving' the issue, if older versions of APE were to blame, cannot work."

Keller pointed out that the instructions posted by Mccoulloh, spread by others, reprinted in the Computerworld story on Friday and originally posted by Apple in its support document not only "won't work" but "may lead to unexpected data loss".

"No one, not even the original poster from the Apple thread, bothered to check if the commands did anything," said Keller. "So I'm not really sure how anyone originally attached this problem to APE other than the standard 'blame APE for everything' mantra."

See also:

Mac OS X Leopard's 10 most undervalued features

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: first review

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Time Machine

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Automator 2.0

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Safari 3.0

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Spotlight

Mac OS X Leopard: good news for Windows Vista?


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