The Day The Hard Drive Didn't Die: Firefox Gets A Likely Black Eye
Two weeks ago, I shared with you a bizarre problem I was having with my newly repaired Apple MacBook Air. Judging from the substantial reader interest in the topic (as measured by website traffic statistics), I thought an update might be in order.
My issue, in brief, centered on system return from sleep mode. The MacBook Air would occasionally lock up, and after it did so and for the next few hours, I’d be unable to reboot from the hard drive. Then, magically, everything would seemingly return to normal. The lockup behavior would happen randomly, of course, which complicated my debugging efforts.
As of two weeks ago, I’d fingered the Flashblock extension for Firefox as a potential culprit, based on some Internet research I’d done on other folks in similar-sounding circumstances. For several days, after disabling Flashblock, all was well and I thought I might have nipped the problem in the bud…but then the system failed again for the third time, exhibiting identical symptoms to the first two iterations.
My next step was to completely avoid using Firefox v3.5, relying instead on Google Chrome v5 as my primary browser. For nearly a week, I was lockup-free, suggesting (albeit not definitively concluding, based on the past randomness of the issue’s emergence) that Firefox was the issue’s nexus. But although Chrome had its charms, performance and memory footprint among them, it functionally felt like a step backward for this long-time Firefox user; integrated PDF viewing was hit-and-miss, search engine support was incomplete, heavily relied-upon Firefox extensions didn’t have Chrome counterparts, and for goodness sake, Chrome didn’t even provide a print button in the menu bar!
So throwing caution to the wind, I decided to upgrade to Firefox 3.6 and return to Mozilla’s offering as my primary browser. Happily, as it turns out, only one of my extensions (and a flaky one at that) didn’t survive the upgrade; Print Preview. Google Gears doesn’t work with Firefox 3.6, either, but I’m not using Gears any more since Google has depreciated Gears support in favor of HTML5. And ever since migrating from Firefox 3.5 to 3.6, the system lockup problem hasn’t re-emerged. It’s only been a few days, so I’m not yet ready to call the issue licked, but I’m cautiously optimistic. However, I’m still a bit baffled as to why a browser crash would render a hard drive un-bootable for several subsequent hours.
That a browser could bring down an operating system isn’t terribly surprising to me…I’ve endured plenty of BSODs in my Windows past, along with wayward kernel processes in my OS X present. But the only conclusion I can draw with respect to the HDD amnesia is the same one I postulated two weeks ago; the browser-then-kernel instability temporarily locked up the hard drive and/or chipset logic, and the system’s embedded battery prevented me from more speedily resolving the issue by completely yanking power and therefore fully hard-rebooting the Mac.
p.s…It seems like just yesterday that I first wrote about Google Chrome, but the browser’s already two years old as of late last week. In honor of the occasion, Google unveiled ’stable’ version 6. The browser is supposed to auto-update upon launch if it detects a newer version available, but all of my Macs remained stuck on v5 until I downloaded the v6 installer and manually updated them that way. Windows and Linux users might have better luck.