Power Mac Woes, part I

Working for a creative advertising agency, I felt the time was ripe to finally move the creative department into the 21st Century and upgrade everyone from crappy Windows technology to the much more modern and secure Apple OS X.

We already use Adobe’s Creative Suite and Macromedia’s (nee Adobe’s) Studio 8, so software was not an issue. Surprisingly, what became issues were — as is typical in the computer world — completely unexpected! Read on….

To prepare for any surprises, I decided to upgrade a willing and able account representative to an iMac first. She is always ready to jump on the latest thing and understands that there may be bugs or compatibility issues which may make her day-to-day work more difficult.

As a corporation, we standardize on Mozilla Firefox for the browser and Mozilla Thunderbird for the e-mail client. Additionally we use Microsoft Office 97 on the PC side and run a proprietary application built on an Access engine which connects to a Microsoft SQL Server.

Office was easy. I simply purchased Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac. Likewise, there is a version of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird for the Mac. The only other issue then was this proprietary Windows application, and I worked around that by setting up the account rep to use a Terminal Services client with a connection to our Terminal Server — a method our remote offices use.

To my great pleasure, there were no major “stoppers” in this trial run that would make me feel as if I couldn’t move forward in procuring Power Mac G5s for the Creative Dept. In all of our testing, the only issue that consistently came up is the appearance of “mystery” folders in her Thunderbird client. That is, phantom duplicate folders of mail folders she already had. Deleting these folders had no affect on the originals, nor did they appear to actually take up room in her profile. They just … appear. And sporadically at that. More later.

So with the company credit card in hand, I ordered up the first of what would eventually be four new Power Macs.

Once it arrived, I took more than ample time to load and test the system before rolling it out. Once deployed, however, the problems began. Here is a quick run down of issues encountered so far:

1) The most critical issue I’ve encountered is one that almost scuttled the entire project. Apparently the Mac chokes on network directories that have lots of files in them. And by lots I mean in the range of 9,000 – 25,000 files.

It can take up to a minute for the file listing to begin to appear and then another 2 – 3 minutes until it’s “browsable.” On the surface, that may not seem bad, but when you multiply the number of times an employee has to access those folders and files per day by 2 – 3 minutes, that time really adds up.

I finally broke down and phoned Apple on the issue and was even bumped up to a second tier tech support rep, but after a week or two of back and forth trading of information, Apple dropped the issue and stopped contacting me. I’m sure they’re hoping I’ll forget about it or something. Instead I decided to blog about it.

Here’s what I do know about the issue, however:

  • If I drag that network folder to the desktop, I don’t have the slow down problem when accessing the desktop folder.
  • Changing the way I view files — list, icon, column — doesn’t affect performance noticeably.
  • It doesn’t matter if I access a file share on a Windows server or a Linux server running Samba.
  • Accessing the folder from a Windows computer pulls up the list of files in 2 – 3 seconds.
  • Accessing the folder from a Linux computer running Fedora Core 5 takes just as long as from the Mac.

Aha! Both the Mac and Linux use Samba for browsing Windows file servers. Though I did relate this information to Apple, they seemed to shrug it off. Probably because the guys I spoke to didn’t know what Samba was even though it’s the underpinnings of the Mac’s ability to integrate with Windows. If they did know what it was, their silence at the word “Samba” sure didn’t lend any confidence to that fact.

So I’m left believing the issue is with Samba and I just don’t know what settings in smb.conf might take care of it — if any. If you have any clues, please let me know.

UPDATE 03.15.06: The only workaround to this issue I’ve found is to physically reduce the number of files in the folders. This seems silly considering Windows and it’s 10+ year old technology can run circles around the (in general) more modern and UNIX based OS X. But that’s what we’re doing. Again, if you have any thoughts please share them in the comments….

2) Adobe InDesign CS2’s import filter is messed up on the Mac version. A few years back, the “creatives” here took it upon themselves to start adding a # in front of their design numbers in the file names. So instead of an image named “123456-bwdog.tif” it might be named “#123456-bwdog.tif.”

On the whole, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you try to place that file from the network into InDesign CS2 on the Mac you get the error message “Cannot place this file. No filter found for requested operation.”

The strange thing is that if you copy this file to your Mac desktop and try to place it, it works fine. Additionally, the error doesn’t always happen — just most of the time — even when placing other network files.

WORKAROUND / FIX: Early on we found that simply renaming the file to remove the # while in the “Place” dialog box will eliminate the problem. This is stupid though. Why should it work from the desktop but not the network? Adobe?

3) Font management on the Mac stinks. Not really an issue when working in the account services department, but it sure became one in creative.

What bonehead decided that there should be “computer” fonts and “user” fonts and … oh yeah, “system” fonts as well? Turns out a single font could be installed in one or all of those locations and that can cause some major problems. In Windows, there’s just the Fonts folder. That’s it. One place to install them. On the Mac, even if I go in to the Font Book and set it to only install fonts to the “computer” so that all users can utilize them, some programs, like Microsoft Office override this and install in the “user” area anyway! If the user area is turned off, then it should be off.

4) And on that note, we have an awful time with font “tearing” in Mozilla Thunderbird and Mozilla Firefox. In other words, when the Power Mac user types something in Thunderbird and then tries to backspace over what they typed to make a correction, for example, the old letters typed on screen “tear” and leave remnants of themselves behind making it nearly impossible to type something new. This same thing happens in Firefox when using webmail.

This problem does not appear on the account services iMac.

UPDATE / FIX 04.06.06: This is fixed! Turns out to be related to #3 above. There were duplicates of important OS X fonts in both the “System” and “Computer” file areas. Once those were eliminated the problem went away.

Okay, that’s enough for today. I’ll continue this next time….

(Republished from ESC!Webs Blogitorials, March 2006. Some external links have been updated.)