The more we learn about Leopard, specifically 10.5.2, the worse it gets. I don’t think there are any larger lessons to be drawn here, or meaningful platform discussions to be had. I think you should find a workaround and keep making music. Hey, I’ve been running Mac, Windows, and other operating systems (cough, yes, DOS) for a long time. Some releases are beloved keepers, rock-solid models of compatibility and stability. Others, you move on, and try to erase the version number from your mind. Both seem to come in cycles.
Digidesign has joined its M-Audio unit in responding to our concerns about lagging Mac and Windows drivers, but lest you think this is just a Digi/M-Audio problem, I want to draw attention to this passage by Dave Lebolt, general manager at Digidesign, on the Digidesign user forums:
Many of the problems that Apple addressed in these dot releases [10.5.1, 10.5.2] were critical to improve OS X Leopard operations (you can read about some of them on the support section of Apple’s website). These improvements and fixes were very valuable to a broad base of Mac users. Unfortunately, the currently shipping OS X Leopard release, 10.5.2, contains some changes that actually caused problems with Pro Tools (and some other apps as well). In our case, the problems included audio interfaces not being recognized by the computer, track counts dropping to near zero, and errors coming up during normal operation. Some of you who may have experimented with Pro Tools and OS X Leopard 10.5.2 may have encountered some of these problems.
I certainly can’t recommend Leopard in its current state. If it’s working for you, fantastic. But if you can otherwise avoid it for the time being, I think sticking with your current OS could be a smart move, especially since there’s no real music-specific reason to upgrade. Hopefully a fix is coming soon; maybe 10.5.3 will appear tomorrow and we’ll be rocking out without bugs for Memorial Day Weekend. We’ll see.
This does illustrate the problem — to some, the changes in 10.5.2 were a fix. The issue is, because of the complex, interconnected nature of an operating system, a "fix" can simultaneously be a "break." Being careful with updates is, therefore, par for the course.
We’ve already seen official statements from Serato and Native Instruments suggesting users avoid the update, citing similar symptoms to those above. We’ve heard from users using products from other vendors finding other problems. It’s not just music users complaining — you can read reports from the Mac faithful complaining about the update.
Unfortunately, new Apple hardware comes pre-loaded with the update, although your best bet is to just try it and hope for the best — we’ve heard from readers that new Penryn-based hardware seems immune to audio performance issues for some reason.
Incidentally, I’ve now heard several people suggest that this is some kind of conspiracy theory in which Apple breaks competitive music products. (Wow, that sounds like a great plan, and completely plausible!)
I wouldn’t even bring it up, except to say, let’s all agree now that that’s ridiculous. The changes in Mac OS came from other areas of the OS, not from the audio team. Music developers report that they’re working directly with Apple engineering to fix the problem. Apple doesn’t benefit from stuff being broken, period. And Apple doesn’t even make audio hardware. I think people may just be in denial about how hard it is to develop a desktop OS, and how easy it is for problems to occur, particularly with audio subsystems. So, uh, relax, okay?
Unfortunately, the reality of OS development is that it’s a delicate thing, and fixing one thing can indeed break something else. So, at this point, we’re waiting on 10.5.3 or some other update to resolve the problem.
Now, could there be some kind of engineering and testing effort that makes these problems happen less often on operating systems in general? I’d like to think so, particularly with the rising importance of audio in general computing and the growing significance of so-called "pro audio" (read: sound that works) to Apple’s business, not to mention Apple’s strong track record in the past. I imagine that improving the situation will require effort from both the OS and the developer side. It’s an issue we’ll be watching in the coming months.