Is Panther Apple’s most stable OS? - Macenstein

Is Panther Apple’s most stable OS?

Last night, faithful Macenstein reader TheWarpedOne wrote us asking what to call that gray screen that appears when a Mac running OS X crashes – you know, the one that appears like a descending curtain, telling you in no uncertain terms (and in a half dozen languages) that you’re screwed, and now have to reboot your computer. He called it the Gray Screen of Death, an homage to Window’s Blue Screen of Death, but I knew there had to be an Apple Fanboy term for it. After all, we have the creatively-named Spinning Beach Ball of…doom? Right?

Everyone here called it a Kernel Panic, but I wasn’t sure at first. To my mind, a Kernel Panic in OS X was when white text suddenly starts writing on over your GUI, spilling out the ugly Unix Kernel for all to see – although I realized I hadn’t seen that type of panic in over 5 years. I did a little research, and found that yes, starting with 10.2 Jaguar, Apple found a way to make the Kernel Panic look “nice”, if that’s possible, and that gray screen does indeed mean your computer is panicking. (I guess it’s a testament to OS X that between the 7 or so Macs I’ve used in the last 5 years, I’ve only seen that screen twice.)

So, with no better starting point, I began searching around the Apple discussion forums using the term “Kernel Panic”, and I noticed something interesting (to me, anyway).

If ones does a search for “Kernel Panic”, and restricts the search to specific versions of OS X using the drop down options in Apple’s forum search, you’ll find that in the last 30 days there are 500 results for the term Kernel Panic under 10.5 Leopard, 298 for 10.4 Tiger, and only 71 for 10.3 Panther and (pre-Panther).

By my estimates, there are about 26 million people out there running some version of OS X, and about 3-4 million are Leopard users (Apple shipped 2 million copies of Leopard at launch, and I figure since then, between CPU sales and additional box copies, we have maybe another 2 million or so). This means about 22 million people are running some other, non-Leopard variant of OS X (a figure corroborated by AppleInsider). I was unable to find specific figures on Panther vs. Tiger installations, but suffice it to say, out of those 22 million, there have to be more Panther users than Leopard’s 4 million.

Since Apple caps the number of returns for any search on its forum to 500, the 500 results returned for Leopard unfortunately leave us wondering what the full extent of Leopard Kernel Panics are. However, the point here is that Leopard, with about 4 million users, has close to twice (or more, or possibly even way more) the number of reported Kernel Panics as the other 22 million installed versions of OS X combined, and decidedly more than the ancient Panther, which has many times more users.

Now, I know some of the faithful will rush to point out that Leopard has only received one “point release”, and Tiger (with 11) and Panther (with 9) have more polish, and therefore should be more stable. While I would agree somewhat with this argument, a quick browsing of the listed Kernel panic entries shows they are caused largely by hardware-related issues, such as USB hubs, printers, etc., things that one might have hoped should have been addressed and incorporated into Leopard by now. Also, given that the last Panther update was around April 2005, one could also make the argument that an OS left stagnant for more than 2 years would have more issues with hardware than the latest and greatest Mac OS, yet it proved to have by far the fewest reported panics of any flavor of OS X.

Anyway, those are my unscientific findings, and I thought I would pass them along.

Now, as for the reason for my initial search. Is there indeed a more Mac-centric term for the Mac Kernel Panic screen than the “Gray Screen of Death”? I’d hate to equate something as beautiful as this lovely gray curtain, with its well-rendered multi-lingual error message, to Windows’ bland BSoD.

I say, let’s take back our error message from our friends in Redmond, and start a Mac Kernel Panic naming contest.

I’ll start it off with two quick suggestions: “The Iron Curtain“, or “Steve’s ‘One Last Thing’“.

I’m open to suggestions.

36 Responses to “Is Panther Apple’s most stable OS?”
  1. Vas the Man says:

    “Kernel Panic” or just “Panic” is a perfectly good name for it. And yes, Panther is the most stable version of OS X. I have a variety of machines running different versions of OS X, and Panther is the most stable by far. But it wasn’t all that stable before 10.3.5, and Tiger wasn’t stable enough to be usable before 10.4.7 IMO. I’m waiting for 10.5.3 at least before I use Leopard as my primary work environment.

  2. Rogier says:

    Duhhhh, just think about how many more Mac users there are!

  3. Paul Walker says:

    appears like a descending curtain?

    Now I kind of want to get one so I know what you’re talking about

  4. Oh Yes Paul, you’ll love it. Truly beautiful, although I think for Leopard Apple should have taken more advantage of Core Animation Effects.


    -The Doc

  5. Rowlings says:

    Leopard is pretty, but Panther on my G5 Tower has not kernel panicked in over 5 years. Leopard on my iMac has had 4.

  6. Ben says:

    One thing you have to keep in mind – a lot of the “squeaky wheels” are also the ones on the bleeding edge. So, they will get leopard first, and complain loudest and fastest if they have problems.

    I run a mac network of 50+ macs running Tiger in a production environment. We occasionally get a kernal panic, but since 10.4.9, we have almost eliminated them.

  7. gopher says:

    Apple Discussions is not a good way to do this search. The vast majority of people have upgraded to Tiger and Leopard, and almost anything older than a year and a half gets deleted from the forum. It does not keep back posts. So the sum of currently installed base is what you are seeing here as far as Panther and not its stability. As for kernel panics, they can happen with just as much frequency as in Jaguar, Tiger, or Leopard. The key causes are outlined in the FAQ:

    So if you have one, check that out.

    Also Panther was the greatest offender of the firewire bug:

    Though some instances of it are still being seen with Tiger and Leopard.

  8. Gopher,
    When you say “The vast majority of people have upgraded to Tiger and Leopard”, do you have any stats supporting that, mentioning the number of Tiger users vs. Panther, and earlier?

    I could not find any posts with updated stats to link to, but I remember reading somewhere that not even close to 1/3 or 1/2 of OS X users had migrated to Tiger by the time Leopard came out.

    I’d be grateful for any current links.

    -The Doc

  9. Nick says:

    In my experience Tiger has been the most stable OS, and despite being a very heavy-duty user I haven’t had a kernel panic for years. One factor to be considered is that in my experience Tiger has also been the best OS version for avoiding directory problems. Jaguar was particularly bad in that respect and I know of a number of systems that have needed re-installing over the years for this problem.

  10. Snafu says:

    The worst part of it is that descending curtain number: that exquisite pause, when everything freezes and you know it… YOU KNOW ITS GOING TO HAPPEN… and the curtain descends. slowly, and your soul sinks along. Chinese torture (well, actually, there is Chinese in it).

    I’d rather have it appear in a flash: quick, painless, like a bullet in the head.

  11. I’m running leopard on a “tuned’ PPC G4 and it runs kind of smooth, but I have encountered those messages more times than I can count on my both hands .. Even Tiger gave me those errors over and over again, but then again, I am working with a rather old machine which is running as fast as it can, even with all the new technology on the inside ..
    I ‘ve been calling the error screen “friend”, since I’m getting more and more used to it everytime it appears.


  12. Kevin says:

    Coincidentally, I just bought an A-Data 2gb keychain thumb drive and it causes Tiger to kernel panic almost every time I plug it in; however, it runs flawlessly on Leopard.

    I have named the screen, “The Grey Banshee” as its more of a forecast of doom than anything.

  13. thomas says:

    @Snafu: it’s japanese, not chinese (yeah, I have to be a smartass)

  14. Hobbs says:

    On an unrelated note, I found that my MacBook Pro crashed more often than my PowerBook G4-both running Tiger. May be a subject for your next blog/post?

  15. Nicholas Post says:

    I use MacPro Dual-Core 3.0 GHz Intel Xeon with Tiger in it’s latest version and, so far, I didn’t any problem, like Gray Screen of Death, at all.

  16. scott says:

    We’ve always called it the “semi-translucent multilingual gray screen of death”

  17. pooh says:

    My G5 DP Tiger system, the machine on my desk at work that is has an uptime of 148 days at the moment. It’s running 10.4.10 and the reason I didn’t yet install 10.4.11 is because I really wanted to know how long it would survive without crashing. The previous record was 78 days with 10.4.9. This machines is used intensively every weekday, it is also the backup server of our company and server for some other stuff. While 148 days is quite a normal uptime for a random unix server I’m quite impressed that it is also possible for a workhorse desktop system. Not what I would call unstable. I’m running uptimed to be able to compare systems. The same machine’s previous OS versions’ records are: 10.3.9: 28 days and 10.2.8: 27 days.All the top-entries are for 10.4.The machine is up since 3-2003 (10.2) and has a total of 50 reboots since then, many due to software updates of course.

  18. Nitewing98 says:

    I’ve owned a G3 iMac, a G3 iBook, and a PM G4 and none of them have every panicked. EVER. That’s through Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger. I wonder what y’all are doing that causes such things?

    Since the old term for a crash was the “bomb box” (so named because it had a cartoon bomb with a lit fuse as an icon), I’d suggest the descending gray curtain is the “blast shield” there to prevent you from becoming irradiated when you Mac explodes…

  19. ArtOfWarfare says:

    Have you considered the possibility that most people who are still running Panther are probably not as computer savvy and wouldn’t know to call it a Kernal Panic? Or they might not even visit the Apple website, they would probably restart their computer and think nothing of it figuring that crashes and other weird things happen and you just have to live with them (more of a PC user thought really…)

    I’ve never had a Kernal Panic that I can recall. I can’t even remembering my computer ever crashing (although I’ve had individual programs crash,) and I’ve used a computer nearly daily for as long as I can recall.

  20. Chris says:

    We should resurrect some variation of the “Guru Meditation”. (This is a test, name that computer system)

  21. hilo says:

    If you want to KP you comp just pull the airport card out while the unit is running.

  22. Mark says:

    I like both of your suggestions, the iron curtain and Steve’s, one last thing. More seriously though, I don’t think that is a very accurate way to tell looking at the posts on the forums as I’d certainly expect the new OS to be the most talked about. Since switching back to Mac 4 years ago, I can remember off the top of my head getting the ‘iron curtain’ or whatever 2 times and both were in Tiger for reasons I cannot remember anymore and were easily solved. I would be the first to say Leopard certainly has some annoying issues, in fact more than I’d normally expect from Apple, but I don’t think its as bad as people are moaning on about either and I haven’t had one of those messages yet since using it from the 1st day of release constantly. That being said, I am eagerly awaiting the next .2/3 release to fix some of these annoying little bugs.

  23. Simon says:

    Dr. Macenstein,
    When you say “The vast majority of people have upgraded to Tiger and Leopard”, do you have any stats supporting that, mentioning the number of Tiger users vs. Panther, and earlier?
    I could not find any posts with updated stats to link to, but I remember reading somewhere that not even close to 1/3 or 1/2 of OS X users had migrated to Tiger by the time Leopard came out.

    I don’t know how typical it is of OSX users as a whole, but the stats from Omingroup’s software update show their users are overwhelmingly on either Tiger or Leopard.

    Panther was very stable for me, but so was Tiger after a slightly flakey start. Leopard is still in its flakey phase. It definitely still has a lot of bugs.

  24. Chris, Guru Meditation is from the Amiga.

    I’ve personally never had a Kernel Panic under Leopard but even under Tiger I all the ones I did have (about 5 in total) all were due to 3rd party apps.

    Don’t blame the OS for the mistakes of others. Tiger and Leopard are stable OSs it’s the software that makes them crash.

  25. Alan says:

    How about a pool term? The “scratch” screen. By the way, I’ve seen a KP once since I bought my MBP on Leopard launch night. My last machine was a G3 iBook and it had probably 10-15 KPs in its lifetime.

  26. Alan says:

    Forgot to mention that the iBook was running Panther and that three of the 15-20 KPs were due to incompatible RAM.

  27. niclet says:

    Tiger was the fastest and painless OS on my PowerBook G4 1.5GHz – 1.25G RAM.

    Leopard is brilliant but it wasn’t an effortless transition and still draggy.

  28. Zac says:

    While it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Panther is the most stable version of OS X, your methods for determining that are completely worthless. Tiger has by far the most users in the OS X crowd (Panther is not even in the ballpark anymore) so Tiger will of course have more reported issues. In terms of Leopard’s high number of reported Panics, it might mean it is still in a very buggy early stage, but it also just may indicate that people with a brand new OS are more likely to report issues. You really can’t conclude anything from this information.

  29. Cubert says:

    I prefer Widespread Panic.


  30. Russell says:

    I have been using Mac OS X since the public beta, and have used every single version since. I only remember getting the “grey screen of death” two or three times, once on an iMac Core 2 Duo, and maybe twice more on a Titanium PowerBook.

    I agree with Zac that the data here is a bit shaky in order to say that Panther is the most stable OS. Conclusions shouldn’t be based on conjecture.

  31. Nerg says:

    Less people simply used Panther, there were still a lot of OS 9 machines in use, you would expect higher numbers as more people and the generally less informed moved to newer OS versions.

  32. Matti =) says:

    How much people uses panther? hahaha
    just think about it and before this put me to think how OS is much stable

  33. Johnny says:

    i have found that if you are UPGRADING to leopard will will have much more issues then installing a FRESH CLEAN install of leopard

    when i upgraded i got the Kernel Panic all the time (opening apps, closing them, looking at porn, checking email, etc..) it was a mess

    after i wiped the drive clean and install leopard it has been rocking i have yet to have a Kernel Panic and i really do abuse this thing

    so the rule of thumb (just like in windows) Upgrade = BAD

    Always Fresh install if you can for the best preformance

  34. Feldwebel Wolfenstool says:


  35. haunts says:

    15″ PowerBook G4, running Panther, still; no problems, ever.

  36. Panther is the most (for work) nicest system. Of course on a G5 Combo machine.

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