Sorting Through the Mac OS X 10.5.3 Update

Eight months into the Leopard era, Apple unleashed the third update to Leopard, with Wednesday's release of OS X 10.5.3. By way of comparison, the 10.3.3 and 10.4.3 updates both came within five months of the release dates for Panther and Tiger, respectively.

As with most of Apple's recent OS X updates, the 10.5.3 version just screams for a broadband connection, weighing in at more than 400MB, depending on which Mac you have and which version your machine deems you to require. So what do you get in exchange for your download time investment? Apple details many--but not all--of the changes in this Knowledge Base document. I won't bother repeating everything listed there, but here are a few of the more important highlights:

Spotlight searching on mounted AFP volumes has been improved.

Wireless connectivity has been improved, both for AirPort in general and when using Time Capsule.

A number of Automator bugs have been fixed, which is great news for many people, myself included. One in particular--a bug wherein a Finder plug-in wouldn't work if the first step was "Get Selected Finder Items"--had affected a number of plug-ins that I use regularly. These now all work in 10.5.3.

Some bugs with Spaces have been fixed, including one where switching to another application via the Dock takes you to another Space, even if that program had an active window in the current space.

A number of Time Machine bugs have been fixed, and Time Machine backups can now be run when your Mac is running on its battery. Previously, you had to connect to a power supply before Time Machine would run.

There are fixes in other programs as well, covering programs such as iCal, iChat, Parental Controls, Voice Over, and the Finder, all of which are detailed in the linked Knowledge Base document.

But what else has changed in OS X 10.5 that Apple hasn't told us about? I've been digging through the new release, looking for any areas that have received updates beyond what's been disclosed. The only substantive visible change I found is in iCal, where there's a new setting in the General section of the calendar app's preferences for controlling how scrolling works in Week View mode. You can now choose between scrolling by weeks (the way OS X 10.5.2 worked) or by days.

It would've been nice if Apple gave us a hidden key override to toggle the settings in real time while scrolling (i.e. holding Option would scroll by weeks if you had the pref set to days), but if the update offers that, I can't find it.

Beyond that visible change, there are many behind-the-scenes changes in 10.5.3, including both major and minor alterations. Here's what I've discovered--and this is by no means a comprehensive list, so feel free to add your own observations as you use this latest update.

Something that's not mentioned at all in Apple's note, but is clearly quite important, are the revised graphics drivers for ATI and Nvidia graphics cards. The 10.5.3 update supposedly delivers improved graphics performance--something that was hinted at in this week's news on Delicious Library 2.0, which shipped with a warning that those not running 10.5.3 will experience graphics slowdowns. Digging through the installer file, I can see that there are updated extensions for a large number of ATI and Nvidia cards (including on-board video in the mini and MacBooks) in the 10.5.3 update.

Other system extensions have also received updates--everything from AirPort to the keyboard backlight to fan management to power management to RAID to storage management. The Multitouch gesture capabilities get an update, as do USB, FireWire, and Bluetooth. Networking technologies are updated, as are file systems such as NTFS, SMB, UDF, and WebDav.

There are a ton of modified files in the CoreServices folder, where many critical features of OS X reside. Changes here include the Dock, the Finder, file synchronization, the installer, various menu extras, and the process that manages Time Machine, among others.

A number of Dashboard Widgets have been updated. Dictionary, Stocks, Weather, and iCal widgets all have new code (though I'm not sure if they have any new functionality), and Unit Converter and Web Clip contain changes only to non-English files.

There are quite a few updates to Macromedia's Shockwave plug-in, but unfortunately, it's still a PowerPC plug-in that's not compatible with Intel Macs (unless you run your browser in Rosetta mode).

iSync added support for some new phones from Samsung.

A number of other applications received updates of some kind, but the changes were either minor (noted in parentheses below), or I can't find any detail on what's changed. Items on this list include DVD Player, Dictionary (something to do with Wikipedia support), Exposè, Photo Booth, Preview (related to PDFs and images), Safari (some language changes on preference panels; help files), Activity Monitor (changes in some phrases), Bluetooth File Exchange, ColorSync Utility (changes in filters and profiles), Directory, Disk Utility (changes in many plug-ins, including those that handle disk first aid, info windows, partitioning, and RAID), Keychain Access, Migration Assistant (lots of changes and a new version number, 1.2.1), RAID Utility (changes in the main window and menu), Remote Install OS X, and X11.

Whew. That's a heck of a lot of stuff to update, and it's nowhere near complete--these are only the things that seemed worthy of highlighting, out of more than 35,000 changed files in this update.

As an aside, if you're curious as to how you can see what's been installed by the 10.5.3 update yourself, the key is reading the "bom" file that's created when you run the installer. You'll have to use Terminal to read the file, but here's how you can dump its contents to a text file in one command. Open Terminal and type the following, then press Return:

You can then open the 1053changes.txt file (which will be on your Desktop) in any text editor, and see each and every file that was modified by the installer. Keep in mind that just because a given file was changed, that doesn't mean you'll see new features in that program--the changes could have been behind-the-scene bug fixes, or minor changes in language that only appear on certain screens. Still, scanning this file gives you a good sense of the breadth of this update.

In my limited time with 10.5.3, I haven't found any new bugs that this update has introduced. That doesn't mean Apple has fixed all the bugs in Leopard, of course--I'm still waiting for the ability to view more than three columns in Spotlight's search results, as but one example. But Apple's focus on continual improvements in OS X 10.5 is good news for all of us consumers.

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