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The Leopard has landed

11/05/07 | by Adam | Categories: Macintosh

Radio Adam, after a recent outage, is back on the air and has migrated platforms again. Initially on Linux, then on Windows XP, it has migrated over to Leopard on a refurbished Mac Mini (the older PPC version, rather than the newer MacIntel variant.)

But this isn't really about Radio Adam; this is about the newest OSX upgrade: OSX 10.5, aka "Leopard".

While I have a current(ish) MacBook that Leopard will be put onto eventually, I didn't want to upgrade it until other people had run through the gamut of problems first and Apple (and other software vendors) have had a chance to patch over incompatibilities. I still wanted to try it out so I elected to install one of my five licenses (Apple gets kudos for the their household/family pack licensing here!) on an older Mac that I wanted to set up as a server. It would replace the late lamented "Wittgenstein" and "Hobson" (both Fedora systems; one died of old age, the other of some sort of fatal but otherwise undefined hardware failure; a third, "Collingwood", didn't last long enough for me to get to know it...) In addition to serving up the radio station, I also wanted the Mac Mini to take over the role as a Time Machine backup server and a webserver for Stephen Vermeulen's excellent PictaTrove, something the otherwise good DLink DNS-323 just can't handle.

The Mac Mini ("Sirius") was recently retired by its former owner as being painfully slow under 10.4 (aka "Tiger") which indeed it was. One of the major reasons for that was it was still the default specification with a rather limiting 256 MB DIMM. I figured that if I just used it as a server the speed wouldn't a problem so tried to install Leopard as a fresh install. Bad idea. After twenty minutes of DVD-ROM gronking, the installer for Leopard decided that 256 MB was simply not enough and exited. Unfortunately it exited without ejecting the DVD, so when the computer restarted it did so from the Leopard install disc and tried and failed to install again. As this is a Mac Mini, I was using a standard PC keyboard rather than an Apple-branded one. Non-Apple keys lack the DVD eject key and the mapping is a bit different in terms of the Apple and Command keys. After several reboots and key-mashing I finally convinced the Mini to release its hold on the DVD and eject it. I had thought about turning it off and using a paperclip but Apple designed that feature out of this model so I had to do it via software.

The next was boring but uneventful: since I was unable to run Leopard, I opted to go with Tiger. This Mac is a bit old though -- it shipped with 10.3 (Panther) -- so I had to install that followed by an upgrade to 10.4 which took a while. I installed the USB FM transmitter that's the heart of Radio Adam with no problems, added all the MP3s to iTunes -- that took about five hours, although fortunately I wasn't required to be in front of the system for that -- and was back in business.

The following day I swung by the Alberta Computer Warehouse to pick up a new 1GB DDR PC3200 DIMM; fortunately despite being an obsolete format there was one still in stock. Dismantling the Mac Mini to install the new memory was not fun. While there are good lots of instructions on how to do it, it always feels as it you're about to snap something while pulling the case apart. After the upgrade, I reassembled the case and started on installing Leopard.

That bit that took twenty minutes before it failed last time? This time I got to more or less the same point in about a minute. The memory makes that much difference, plus now Leopard was willing to install. The installation was very simple as I defaulted everything. For the third time in two days, I still had to tell Apple I wasn't interested in paying for .Mac. It's a persistent selling job they're doing on that one.

Visually I don't like Leopard as much as Tiger. It's darker and feels murkier. On the flip side, the interface is much better laid out and it seems that the Windows network integration is far superior. However, this is a server system (or more accurately a desktop that I won't be using directly) so the graphics are basically unimportant so long as I can configure the machine over a network.

I plugged in an external drive for the Time Machine backups and OSX actually prompted to see if I wanted to use it for exactly that purpose after I reformatted it in HFS. The Mac then spent several hours duplicating its operating system and related files onto the backup with no further interference from me.

Getting PictaTrove up and running has so far foxed me. While Python, the primary engine behind the software, is already installed under Leopard, there's also a requirement to have the Python Image Library (PIL). There's no OSX build for PIL unlike Windows so you have to compile from source. In turn that means you need GCC or XCode which in turn means you hit the underlying UNIX aspect of OSX. After several hours of trying to trace down all the required parts -- in true Linux/UNIX fashion there are strands everywhere and each part requires something else different -- I gave up. Either the bits I needed weren't in PPC format, or they weren't Leopard compatible, or the server that hosted the needed files had gone away or you had to figure out how to appropriately mangle the generic command line interface, or... Well, you get the idea. This is exactly why I moved away from running Linux boxes so I'm sad to see it rearing its ugly head on the Mac. Sorry, Stephen, but it'll be a while before I can beta-test the next generation.

One of the most annoying parts of this has been using the Apple remote desktop. It's a rebadged VNC server and actually works quite well but by and large the VNC clients for Intel Macs are terrible. I've ended up using UltraVNC on a PC to do the work as it's faster and more reliable than any OSX client I could find. It's disappointing that Apple hasn't supplied a standalone one themselves given their heavy dependence on the tool (Leopard's version is hidden within the network access for compliant machines.) I should note that Chicken of the VNC actually works well with the Leopard server but is utterly useless on PC and UNIX VNC servers due to appalling redraw times.

Anyway, that's where I am at the moment. More to come as I spend more time with the cat.


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