Until fairly recently I was running OS X Mountain Lion on my late 2009 iMac but on October 22nd I noticed that Mavericks was available as a free upgrade, so after doing a Time Machine backup I went ahead and installed it. The upgrade ran smoothly and once I was running Mavericks I checked for updates and found that new versions of the iWork and iLife applications were also available at no cost, so I installed them too. This is not going to be a general review of Mavericks because John Siracusa has already done a far more thorough job than I ever could in The Ars Technica Review. What I will do is document the problems I had and and the solutions I found, but first a couple of general comments.
This is the first OS X upgrade that Apple have made available at no cost and that is obviously a factor in its rapid adoption. According to this live tracker hosted by analytics firm GoSquared, less than 24 hours after public release over 7% of Mac traffic was coming from machines running Mavericks. It was not clear initially whether this free upgrade was a one off thing but during the financial results conference call on October 28, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer indicated Apple will continue to offer iWork, iLife and OS X for free for the foreseeable future (see Richard Padilla’s article at MacRumors).
One of the first things I noticed in Mavericks was the new Maps icon in the Dock. I don’t own any iOS devices (I only have an ancient dumb phone) but I was aware that iOS had a Maps application and I suppose it was only a matter of time before an OS X version appeared. I opened it to have a look and it seemed I was being limited by the restricted set of Multi-Touch gestures recognised by the Magic Mouse. I figures this was a good time to invest in a Magic Trackpad so the following day I went out and bought one. It took a while to adapt but I am glad I switched and with two fingers I can now not only zoom but also rotate the map.
The main problem I had was with QuickTime. I use get_iplayer to download programmes from BBC iPlayer and because I had not bothered to install ffmpeg the downloads were all .flv files (Flash Video). These files were not supported by QuickTime so I used to use the Perian QuickTime component in order to be able to watch them. The first time I tried to open a .flv file under Mavericks QuickTime displayed a message saying “Converting…” (I had never seen that before) and a progress bar which got half way and then stopped. According to Activity Monitor there was a CoreMediaAuthoringSessionHelper process hogging the cpu and not responding, which I had to force quit. Upon investigation I discovered that Perian is not compatible with Mavericks and since it is no longer being developed it never will be, so I uninstalled it. Now when I open a .flv file QuickTime displays the same “Converting…” message briefly but then bails out. Clicking on “Tell Me More” takes me to Media Formats Supported by QuickTime Player which has a note near the end about Mavericks. Basically QuickTime can now only play H.264 (.mp4 or .mov) – other media formats are converted when opened – which may require third-party codec components. Other than Perian I wasn’t aware of any QuickTime components for .flv but I had a couple of other options. I could have installed an alternative media player that supports .flv but it is nice to be able to view video using Quick Look so I decided to try converting my .flv files to a supported format using ffmpeg, which can be installed using MacPorts. That would have the added benefit of allowing get_iplayer to do the conversion automatically for future downloads.
OK, so all I needed to do was “sudo port install ffmpeg” right? Unfortunately it was not that simple. Installed ports were still working but could not be updated and new ports could not be installed. This was actually to be expected because MacPorts always needs to be reinstalled after a major OS update. I waited until a Mavericks package installer became available then followed the MacPorts Migration instructions. Once MacPorts was running I installed the ports I use for my email setup (mutt, msmtp, gnupg, lbdb, urlview, aspell) and then the ones recommended for use with get_iplayer (perl5 and certain modules, rtmpdump, mplayer, atomicparsley, id3v2, ffmpeg). At this point I tried downloading something using get_iplayer and it was successfully converted to a .mp4 file which played fine in QuickTime.
Now how to convert my previously downloaded .flv files? Fortunately it turned out that they didn’t need decoding and re-encoding because that would have taken a very long time (I am talking here about files downloaded from BBC iPlayer, some other .flv files may well have to be re-encoded). Only the container format needed changing using a command like “ffmpeg -i file.flv -codec copy file.mp4” which took only about the same time as copying the file. My newly downloaded file was also tagged by get_iplayer and I worked out how tag the previously downloaded ones using “get_iplayer –history –tag-only”.
Everything important was now working again, but under a shiny new OS that does seem to have a lot of nice features. The live tracker I mentioned earlier is now showing 16% of OS X traffic coming from machines running Mavericks, compared to 31% still running Mountain Lion. I am vaguely aware that some users have been complaining about Mavericks or even reverting to Mountain Lion, and this is probably deterring others from making the switch. In particular the iWork applications have dramatically new user interfaces and some say have been “dumbed down”. I don’t use them much but I have tried the new Numbers and not had any problems opening and working on pre-Mavericks spreadsheets.
Was it worth my while spending time upgrading to Mavericks? Probably not for any immediate benefit, but I am planning on sticking to the Mac platform for the foreseeable future and would have to upgrade at some point (anyone out there still running Cheetah?) so I figure I may as well stay on top of it. Of course some people do have incompatible hardware, for example a friend who is still using my previous iMac which I bought in October 2006 will not be able to install Mavericks because it requires a mid-2007 or later iMac (but then she is probably still running Leopard, from which you can not directly upgrade to Mavericks anyway). It will be interesting to see where OS X goes next, I gather that the 10.10 release will go some way towards converging the iOS and OS X user interfaces.