April 10th 2002
By Mike Flaminio
Last week Apple released a security update for a number of Darwin applications. The new versions bring these programs a little more up to date for recent security issues.
The update had a side effect on my machines with sendmail. A look in the mail.log once again showed the system's permissions were reset so that sendmail could not function. I ran another "chmod 755 /", rebooted and was back in business. It'd be nice if this could be fixed so that I don't need to keep changing the permissions.
X-Plane has been updated to version 6.12. This is a final version from the latest round of updates that offers stable OS X support to the flight sim. I'm a big fan, as frequent readers know, and I'm thrilled that the simulator now works well in Mac OS X. The key stickler had been joystick support. With a few settings tweaks, X-Plane now runs pretty well under OS X. The biggest new feature in the new version is the addition of enhanced scenery CDs.
As a side note to X-Plane, the simulator package has gained FAA approval for training applications. When using an X-Plane-driven Motus simulator, pilots can log simulator time for commercial certification, instrument rating and airline transport pilot certification. For those of us without a $150,000 Motus simulator in the guest bedroom, you can still practice on your Mac knowing you're close to the real thing. Also, note that the price of X-Plane will be raised to $99 from $89 after May 31. I believe this includes a set of the new high-res scenery, which itself runs $40 for North America.
Symantec System Works 2.0
As I noted last week, SystemWorks 2.0 includes Norton 7 and Anti-Virus 8 for Mac OS X, but only versions 6 and 7 for OS 9. Clearly SystemWorks 2.0 is intended as an OS X upgrade, at least for those who have SystemWorks 1.0.
So last week I fired up the venerable utility suite. It was nice having something run native in Mac OS X, although Apple's disk utility is no slouch. The program seems to run pretty well, much like the previous versions although, if you boot from CD, you're running Mac OS 9 with the 6.0 version.
The key new feature seems to be Mac OS X support. Other than OS X versions, I haven't noticed any significant new features. SystemWorks 2.0 includes Norton Utilities and Anti-Virus for OS X, plus demo/free versions of Retrospect, DiskWarrior and Spring Cleaning for OS 9, in addition to a few other utilities.
Speaking of included utilities, SystemWorks installs some background utilities into Mac OS X. This is similar to the auto protect utilities includes for the earlier Mac OS versions. I noticed that the installer put these utilities into the system, configured to start up automatically when the Mac booted. I was a little apprehensive because I've had mixed results with their Mac OS 9 counterparts. I thought I'd give them a chance, mainly because I figured that I was running OS X and what could happen?
Well, I figured wrong. But first let me diverge for a little OS X background. Under OS 9, control panels and extensions are often used to add functionality to the Mac OS. This software integrates with the OS to do special things, in the case of Norton Utilities, it will check your hard drive when your computer is idle, or it will check your drives when you shutdown/restart. These are nifty things, but since they're integrated into the system, they have the potential to compromise the OS. If something goes haywire, it's very likely that this system extension will crash the computer. OS X changes this since the operating system is locked up tight, and this type of functionality is achieved through plain programs. If something goes haywire, the effected program crashes out, leaving the OS and other programs running. But what happens when the program is doing something important when it goes haywire? As I found out, very bad things.
I had been running with Norton installed for about three days when it did its bad thing. I was getting ready to shut down for the day by logging out of OS X and my Mac crashed with a kernel panic. I looked at the error and it indicated that the Norton Auto Protect was to blame. I rolled my eyes, rebooted the machine and turned off the monitor.
When I got ready to log in the next day, the screen was frozen at the login screen. I rebooted, and this time it froze after I hit the log in button. Rebooted, tried again, same problem and again with a different user. Time to boot in single user mode. I ran fsck, and found errors that it couldn't repair. Apparently the Norton auto thingy crashed OS X while it was doing something delicate. Before I go on, I also want to disclose that I did run Disk Doctor before installing the program, so if there was something wrong with the disk, it was a recent development.
At this point I started to get a little worried. This was my first major problem with OS X. To old time Mac users, OS X uses on a lot of freaky stuff to make it work. The thought of something going wrong and not sure what to do is a little unnerving. Troubleshooting OS X is a bit different than OS 9, and certainly worthy of a future column. Anyway...
The next step for me was to boot from the OS X CD. From there I ran Apple's drive utility, and found oodles of problems with the drive's directory tree. I got that all fixed up, booted back into safe mode, ran fsck again, found and fixed more problems, then finally rebooted. To my relief, all was well again. I promptly removed the Norton "auto" utilities from my /Library/StartpItems/ and rebooted before something else happened. Unfortunately, there is no custom install for the program to only install the Norton applications. The SystemWorks installer does, however, include an uninstall utility for the auto tools. Oddly, the installer is a Classic application, which requires you to boot from the CD or OS 9 to remove the items from your OS X volume. For the curious, below is what I manually removed via Terminal. As far as I can tell none are needed to run the SystemWorks applications.
Just to be clear, Norton Utilities by all accounts is a great program, although I'll never let those "auto" utilities touch one of my systems again. As I mentioned, the OS 9 version of these utilities was hit and miss for me. They both helped, but also caused great irritation. For now, I'll just stick to a regular routine of scheduled maintenance, rather than depending on "auto" utilities.
The silver lining to this one is not only did I manage to solve my OS X problem, but I did it without bailing to OS 9. A gold "X" for me.