Shattered Macintosh illusions

I have been Macified. After not owning a Macintosh for more than 12 years I finally decided that the undeniable coolness and beauty of the hardware and particularly of OS X meant that it was time to get religion!

The beast, which arrived a few weeks ago, is a Power Mac G5 with dual 2-GHz processors and 1.5GB of RAM running OS X Tiger. What a gorgeous piece of engineering! It is an elegant design even under the hood: When you need to take off the side to, for example, add extra RAM, one latch frees the panel. And all the subsystems are plug-ins, making it incredibly easy to work on. Heaven.

First I fooled around checking out all the cool new features. Tiger has a lot of really well-implemented new stuff that makes it significantly more powerful.

Next I decided to load my photographs into iPhoto. My photo collection is fairly large, weighing in at 14,618 files for a total of 18.7GB.

I copied the files to the Mac from my Windows desktop, an XP system that is misbehaving to the point where it is time to wipe it and start again.

So now that I had the image files on the Mac I could start loading them into iPhoto. All seemed to go well with iPhoto doing its indexing and thumbnailing, then it finished — crash.

I restarted iPhoto. The program ran for a couple of minutes then, thud! I re-imported the photos. IPhoto finished the import, stayed up again for a couple of minutes, then thud. In the middle of this the 10.4.1 release of OS X came out, which apparently included some iPhoto improvements, but nothing I could find mentioned the problems I was seeing. I applied the upgrade and resorted to clearing out about 5,000 pictures and iPhoto seemed to become stable again.

Now, let’s review: This was a brand-new machine, the system detected no problems and iPhoto hadn’t been used before, but handling just less than 15,000 images made it blow up.

According to discussions I’ve had on lists and in Apple forums, there’s no obvious explanation for my problems with iPhoto. According to Gary Stock, CTO of Exfacto: “From a Mac perspective, the surprising part is that iPhoto even tried, rather than warning you when you crossed some threshold or advising you to reduce the dataset.”

Exactly! Which makes me think the problem is more fundamental than bad error-handling in the application, unless you are willing to believe that Apple’s programmers are not very skilled.

From my experiences with Windows and now OS X, maybe when it comes to sophisticated, multimedia applications it doesn’t matter what platform we’re using. It may be the case that humans are not capable of creating stable software for the level of complexity required.

Maybe there’s a sort of code-complexity limit that we have crossed in the latest generations of computer systems that makes software stability probabilistic rather than deterministic.

Despite these snafus I still love the Mac. It is just that my illusions are shattered.

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