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Data-Chomping Snow Leopard Bug Draws Blizzard of Complaints

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 13, 2009 11:43 AM PT

Apple users are fuming about a bug in Mac OS X Snow Leopard that deletes data when they log into a guest account on their Macs, judging by the rapid growth in the number of complaints on Apple's user forums.

Data-Chomping Snow Leopard Bug Draws Blizzard of Complaints

The data-eating bug was first reported a month ago, shortly after Apple released Snow Leopard in August.

Users who logged into a guest account first and then into a regular account found all their data missing and their accounts completely reset. The guest account lets people other than a Mac's owner use the computer with limited privileges. Guest users can't make permanent changes or leave files in the operating system, as these are deleted automatically.

Perhaps Snow Leopard is deleting data in the user's account instead of the guest account when the latter is used. "It is quite conceivable that this started off as a sort of security feature to deal with intrusion, but something appears to have gone awry at some point," Al Hilwa, program director for application development software at IDC, told MacNewsWorld.

Apple has reportedly acknowledged the problem and is working to fix it. However, it did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Rage Against the OS

Apple reportedly said the bug occurs rarely, though when it does strike, it appears users have been quick to vent their frustrations on online forums.

Apple's Snow Leopard installation and setup forum includes posts on topics such as "Snow Leopard is a bomb," "Permanent crashes -- I hate that snowbeast!" and "Going back to 10.5 until drive problem resolved."

Topics in the Snow Leopard account and login forum include "Snow Leopard Data Deletion Bug -- post your story and stats here," "Cannot login with Active Directory Account," "Logged into Guest, Logged into Primary, lost everything," and "Installing a new application requires authentication every time."

Under what kind of scenario would anyone log into a guest account first then into their own user account? By accident, perhaps, according to the postings on the Snow Leopard user forums. User dbferrari had accidentally clicked on the guest account on his iMac and, after it had loaded, hit the "Enter" key to return to the log-on screen and get into his user account.

At that point, the user found that the entire home directory had been replaced and all files had been deleted, dbferrari wrote in the Snow Leopard account and login forum. The same thing happened to user cymx5, whose computer reset itself to its factory settings after the user accidentally logged in as a guest.

Marketing Is a Double-Edged Sword

The volume of complaints about Snow Leopard could be partially due to Apple's very successful marketing campaign to promote its adoption. Apple charged only US$29 to users upgrading to Snow Leopard. It slashed multi-user pack prices and launched an active campaign to get users to upgrade.

That sent sales skyrocketing. Sales of Snow Leopard in the two weeks after its release were double the initial release sales of Leopard, its immediate predecessor, and almost four times those of Tiger, which came before Leopard, according to NPD Group.

The strong sales can be attributed to a combination of aggressive pricing, strong marketing and the ease of upgrading, said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at the NPD Group. However, he said, pricing was the key.

Software is almost always at least a little buggy when it's first released, and had users been slower to buy Snow Leopard, Apple may have had the time to resolve some of them before more users picked up the product. "All software contains bugs of some sort, but most of the obvious ones and quite a few of the obscure ones are weeded out during the development and testing processes," Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with the 451 Group, told MacNewsWorld.

Those bugs that make it into the final release can only be flushed out over time during real-world use. That's because a new software release enables or disables certain styles of user behavior that sometimes bring out dormant bugs or increase their visibility, IDC's Hilwa explained.

Could Apple's Tiptoe Into the Enterprise Be Slowed?

The data-eating bug isn't the only one to plague Snow Leopard users.

For example, Binghamton University Mac support specialist Cheryl Tarbox complained in the Snow Leopard account and login forum that she could not authenticate to Microsoft Active Directory after installing the latest version of Snow Leopard , OS X 10.6.1, for testing in her labs. "I have been authenticating to Active Directory since [using Mac OS] 10.1 and I have never seen anything like this," she wrote.

Problems like these may hamper Apple's penetration of the enterprise. "The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro tend to be sort of fashion statements that executives are getting clearance to use," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told MacNewsWorld.

"In many cases, these executives are going to have key company strategy documents and key information in their notebooks," he said. "Would companies want to risk that data on machines that have so fundamental a problem?"

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