After four weeks of freeze-free computing, I'm finally ready to declare victory in my struggle with Apple's OS X 10.2 (Jaguar). It seems that my hunch a few weeks ago was correct, and that the problems that had my computer locking up on a regular basis were traceable to my failure to follow Apple's instructions and update my computer's firmware before installing the new operating system. Since I went back, updated the firmware, and reinstalled the system, there's been not a hint of the problems I had been having previously. Word has crashsed on me a few times, but we all know whose fault that is.
My initial post chronicling my problems with Jaguar drew a record number of hits for this site, thanks to a link from you know who. No doubt only a tiny fraction of that number will see this post, which attributes the problem to user error rather than to anything intrinsically wrong with Jaguar. People love reading about Apple's failures, it seems; they're less enthusiastic about its successes.
But this should hardly be regarded as an unqualified success for Apple in any event. Although my problems were frustrating, they were relatively trivial and easily cured once I figured out what had gone wrong. The same can't be said, though, for all Mac users. People who neglect to update the firmware on some older iMacs, for example, may find their video hardware inoperative after installing Jaguar. They would then have to follow an elaborate and poorly publicized procedure to restore their hardware to working order. Many would probably just conclude that their Macs were irrevocably broken.
One of the subjects I teach is products liability. A basic principle of product liability law is that a manufacturer that supplies warnings and instructions with its product cannot be held liable for defects that the warnings and instructions reveal, even if the individual consumer who suffered damage did not herself read the warnings and instructions. This rule applies even though we know, as a practical matter, that many consumers (myself included, obviously) either do not read the warnings and directions or read but do not heed the warnings and instructions.
There are of course a number of limitations on this broad principle, one of which is the warnings and instructions must be sufficiently conspicuous to come to the consumer's attention and must adequately inform the consumer of the nature and extent of the product's hazards. By this standard, Apple clearly falls short. Although Apple's initial installation instructions told users to upgrade their firmware before installing Jaguar, and although a new Apple Knowledge Base document posted to the web this week informs owners of slot-loading iMacs that they must ugrade their firmware before installing Jaguar, none of these materials spell out the consequences of failure to follow the instructions. As warnings, therefore, the Apple materials are utter failures.
Another exception to the general principle is that, where a particular danger can be avoided by an economically-efficient design change, the manufacturer should implement the design change rather than simply rely on warnings and instructions. Here, too, Apple falls short. Apple's software is clearly able to determine the status of an individual Mac's firmware—we know this because firmware information is available in the Apple System Profiler software that comes with every Mac. It would, you would think, be a simple matter for Apple to write its operating system installer in such a way that it would check for the appropriate firmware before proceeding with the installation, would guide users to upgrade their firmware if necessary, and would prevent installation in the necessary firmware upgrade had not been installed. But the Jaguar installer does no such thing, as I and numerous other users of non-current Macs have discovered to our detriment.
I don't mean to suggest that Mac users who run into trouble installing Jaguar should line up to sue Apple. The software license that accompanies Jaguar contains numerous disclaimers and limitations of liability, and such disclaimers and limitations are usually enforceable in situations where the harm from the product is purely economic. But Apple, which more than most computer manufacturers relies on the home consumer market, needs to be more proactive in taking care of its customers, regardless of its potential legal liability. The instability that I encountered was bad enough; if, by installing a software upgrade, I'd seemingly destroyed my hardware, I'd be inclined to look elsewhere for a new computer. And with its small market share, Apple simply can't afford to alienate customers with its own carelessness.