Will Leopard Provide Real Rollback?

by Chris Howard May 16, 2007

One of the problems of installing updates to your system is that any bad effects are sometimes not immediately apparent. Consequently, even if you can rollback, you might have moved on too far for it to be worth the effort.

At the moment, it’s good practice to back up your system before applying an OS update. Most of us probably don’t because there hasn’t been a seriously dud update since the early years of OS X.

However, from time to time some updates do cause smaller problems that initially go undetected. Windows XP has a System Restore feature. How good it is is unknown to me, but its intention is appealing. A search of the net didn’t turn up any similar rollback feature in OS X.

Two recent incidents highlighted the need for a rollback in OS X that could step back through system and application updates without affecting user data. Because of the way OS X is hung together, it is a difficult task with standard backup systems—even SuperDuper. It also means running and keeping a backup before every update, which kinda gets to be very annoying and disk consuming (unless you’ve got a Neiman Marcus diamond-encrusted 2TB hard drive from Seagate-Sothebys). The longer between the update and the discovery of the problem, the more difficult rollback via current methods becomes.

My problems began sometime after OS X 10.4.9 in March. Certain things on my Intel-based iMac have always been slower than my old Powerbook, but after 10.4.9, slowdowns have become my companion. No longer do I brag about happily running 20 or more apps at once. At the moment I have only five apps open. By comparison to how it used to be, how embarrassing! A search of the net did turn up one other person who felt his system was noticeably more bogged down since 10.4.9, so I’d expect there are more.

Since 10.4.9, I’ve been shutting down apps if I haven’t used them that day. Especially browsers. For instance, Safari, with only two windows and six tabs open, is sucking one 1GB of the virtual memory and 300MB of real memory (out of 1GB) at the moment! Also I’ve even taken to rebooting every few days. Again, how embarrassing!

My impression is the problem has something to do with memory management rather than CPU overload. The CPU graph is usually pretty happy and yet my system will be beachballing. A check of the memory panel in Activity Monitor showed most of the time my free real memory, out of 1GB, to be less than 50MB. Right now with Safari, Mail, DevonTHINK, Adium, and SuperDuper! open, free memory is only 100MB and virtual memory is nearly 11GB.

Now I know I run lots of crap on my system, but the abruptness of this decline in performance pointed to something more specific and, upon consideration, I realized the 10.4.9 upgrade corresponded with the performance hit.

Initially I did think it was Firefox as it had upgraded at a similar time. However, testing with other browsers showed the problem still existed. That said, either 10.4.9 has affected Firefox more adversely than other apps, or its update has, because it is definitely performing much worse than other apps.

Everything points to needing a memory upgrade; however I’d feel a bit ripped if an incremental upgrade is going to force that upon me.

The other recent incident where rollback would have been useful was last week when my printer’s driver stopped working sometime after I’d installed the latest OS X security update. In the printer dialog, it tells me that the printer’s panel is not compatible with my computer. That is, it is suggesting it’s not Universal. So now the printer’s extra dialog panels are only available when printing from Rosetta-based apps. Although I’d only had the printer a few days, I am reasonably sure I had printed fine from non-Rosetta apps before that. Plus a check of HP’s website says the driver is universal.

Now if OS X provided rollback of the system and applications, it would be an easy matter of testing and proving one way or the other both these issues I encountered.

OS X does provide “Archive and Install” which will take your system version right back to the version of OS X on your CD/DVD. But then you have to carefully apply the proposed updates of Software Update, lest you end up getting your problem update back. And it’s all time consuming. Generally speaking, rollbacks are meant to be simple and reasonably quick.

So, hopefully, Time Machine in Leopard will allow rollbacks that do not affect user data. Reading the info on Apple’s website doesn’t fill me with confidence though. Maybe someone who has played with it can vouch one way or the other.

What I want is a calendar driven rollback system that shows the update applied for each day and lets you individually roll them back. But for now? I’d just be happy if Apple’s updates had uninstallers.


  • The System Restore feature in XP actually works very well. It automatically creates a restore point and you can create a restore point as needed. I’ve had to use it a couple of times & I had no issues what so ever. This would be a great addition to OS X.

    dleboubon had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 17
  • Come to think of it, I believe that XP updates have uninstallers as well. I’m not sure because I never had to uninstall an update, but I think they are listed in the Add/Remove Programs…......I better put on some flame retardant gear, that’s two positive statements on XP in 10 minutes!

    dleboubon had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 17
  • I have used the System Restore feature in XP and found it to be completely useless.  My father-in-law, who knows almost nothing about computers, used it completely successfully.  My guess is that the tinkering I did with XP was not sufficiently undone by whatever System Restore does.

    Some XP updates have uninstallers, some do not.  I certainly do not think that you can uninstall something like SP1 or SP2, but I think some of the others are not “un-doable” either.

    luomat had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 10
  • If anyone knows differently, please let me know, but it seems to me that logging off and logging on again should be enough in most cases. Logging off terminates all programs and processes, logging on starts everything up again. Most often, that’s enough.

    I asked a tech support guy for Windows if it was really necessary to restart all the time, and he admitted that it was most often overkill. He said it is easier to tell people to restart, and then, since you are working in the blind over the phone, you know what you are dealing with.

    Hugmup had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 40
  • OS X really doesn’t need a system restore.  You can reinstall the operating system over the existing one, restoring all your system files to what was shipped.  All your apps, settings and data remain on the machine.  Windows isn’t capable of that.

    Regarding memory, OS X will use all the memory available to it by caching information so it doesn’t need to go to disk as often.  When it needs more memory it will remove some of the cache from memory.  Even running one application OS X will gradually use up memory, that’s just being efficient. 

    You might see a system slowdown if you let your hard drive get too full.  OS X can’t manage the data as well in that case.  Try to keep 25% free.  I’ve had system slow downs a couple times on my Power Book and it was a sign the hard drive was going bad both times.  Might check that.

    Diran had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 2
  • From what I know of Time Machine you’ll be able to roll back system files if you know which one you want.  I don’t know if you specify a date/time to restore to.

    Diran had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 2
  • The question of knowing which one(s) you want is a MAJOR problem for something like rolling back to before the last major update.

    The real point is: undoing apple’s updates is a bad idea from a security point of view even if the latest versions HAVE slown down your Mac. Have other people been finding the same? That’s the first important question.

    Benji had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 927
  • And should that be slowed down? Really can’t think…

    Benji had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I noticed some slowdown with safari and tossed out concierge and safaristand. I have a feeling things work better. Certainly Virtual M got down a lot.

    WAWA had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 89
  • Hugmup: I tested a problem on the Mac’s where I study this morning and I had to fully reboot to fix the problem. Logging out didn’t work. (The problem was my user fonts were disabled).

    Reboot is best because it’s only one step. If logging out doesn’t work, then you’ve got to reboot anyway. Reboot totally cleanses the system - whether OS X or Windows. So as a former PC support person, I’m much more in favor of reboot.

    Diran: Problem with rolling back using your system disk is you then have to reapply masses of updates - especially when the OS is 2 years old and you’ve got the original 10.4.0 disk. And you also run the risk of reapplying the dodgy update without any choice. eg Software Update would apply 10.4.9 combo. To avoid that you’d have to manually trackdown 10.4.8 combo.

    Ben: Yeah. I can see why Apple wouldn’t want rollback regards the security issue.

    slown? Probably ye olde English. I use it though. Maybe I’m olde. smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 16, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • “The System Restore feature in XP actually works very well. It automatically creates a restore point and you can create a restore point as needed. I’ve had to use it a couple of times & I had no issues what so ever. This would be a great addition to OS X.”

    It would be indeed. The system restore feature on Windows works quite un-Windows like, i.e. not flawed, and I would love to see this implemented on Mac OS X as well.

    (Speaking of which, I have to admit that I am a regular participant of OS flame wars and this is the one nuclear weapon that I have no appropriate rebuttal for. :p )

    Cool 'n' Casual had this to say on May 17, 2007 Posts: 8
  • As I have been made to understand, Time Machine, as it is implemented at the moment, allows for the kind of functionality you’re looking for.

    Although I shouldn’t say this (sorry Apple!) and it’s as always subject to change from here to October.

    l0ne had this to say on May 19, 2007 Posts: 1
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