Apple updates Leopard, speeds up MobileMe sync

Apple Inc. boosted the sync performance of its MobileMe online service today, months after it rolled out the service to so much criticism that it felt obligated to extend users' subscription.

As part of the Mac OS X 10.5.6 upgrade released today, Apple included fixes to MobileMe, the company's online synchronization, storage and Web application service. "Contacts, calendars, and bookmarks on a Mac automatically sync within a minute of the change being made on the computer, another device, or the web at me.com," Apple said in the update description it posted online Monday morning.

MobileMe -- the successor to Apple's earlier.Mac service -- was plagued by problems and knocked by users from the start. Almost immediately, users griped that information they entered on their Mac and PC calendars and address books wasn't pushed instantly to the MobileMe servers, even though Apple had marketed the $99-per-year service as synchronizing "automatically, instantly and continuously."

In July, Apple confirmed that upstream synchronization from Macs to MobileMe was done only once every 15 minutes in Leopard and only once per hour in Tiger, aka Mac OS X 10.4. Several days later, Apple apologized for the trouble-prone launch and added 30 days of service to all MobileMe users' accounts.

At the time, the company specifically called out the slow sync problem. "Another snag we have run into is our use of the word 'push' in describing everything under the MobileMe umbrella," Apple told subscribers. "Even though things are indeed instantly pushed to and from your iPhone and the web apps today, we are going to stop using the word 'push' until it is near-instant on PCs and Macs, too."

Although Mac OS X 10.5 MobileMe users should now see data synchronized every minute, subscribers running Windows XP or Vista remain on the slow train. "Windows XP and Vista (with MobileMe Control Panel 1.2): Contacts, calendars, and bookmarks changes sync every 15 minutes" when the setting is on "Automatically," a just-revised support document on Apple's site now reads.

The support document was also more ambiguous about the synchronization speed than was Mac OS X 10.5.6's accompanying description. The former, for example, said, "...generally within a minute of the change being made on the computer, another device, or on the web at me.com." The latter omitted the word "generally."

Mac OS X 10.5.6 also includes 37 other improvements and fixes for applications ranging from the Address Book to Mail, and for features such as the operating system's wireless, networking, printing, parental controls and automatic backup.

Among the networking changes were performance improvements to Apple File Sharing, reliability fixes for TCP connections, and both performance and reliability enhancements for AT&T Inc.-branded 3G wireless cards. Apple said it had fixed bugs in Time Machine, Leopard's integrated backup and restore application, when used with Apple's Time Capsule storage device, and in Safari.

Apple last updated Leopard in mid-September. MobileMe was also one of the target applications then, too, as it was in late October when Apple revealed it had made nearly 30 additional fixes to the sync service in a separate, behind-the-scenes update to its servers.

Mac OS X 10.5.6 can be downloaded manually from the Apple site or installed using Mac OS X's integrated update service. Also included in the upgrade are patches for 21 security vulnerabilities that address bugs in Flash Player, the operating system's kernel and its CoreTypes component.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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